Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before? U.S. Remakes of Asian Films Are a Mixed Blessing

January 4, 2008 at 9:08 am Leave a comment

 

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One of my favorite foreign films is “Shall We Dance?” (1996), a small, slice-of-life story about a Japanese salaryman who secretly takes ballroom dancing lessons but has to hide his hobby from everyone in his life, especially his co-workers and spouse. It was critically acclaimed and won the Japanese version of an Academy Award. My friends couldn’t understand why I was so upset when I heard it was going to be remade in 2004 for the U.S. market, starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon.

“There’s no way the central conflict will be convincing in a U.S. remake!” I insisted. “The subtleties of the original won’t translate.”

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Here’s what film critic Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said: “Miscast, misguided and woefully misbegotten, this clumsy American remake of the deftly delicate sleeper hit from Japan is too blah to bludgeon.”

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On the other hand, remakes of Asian horror films have fared quite well. I loved “The Ring” (from Japan’s “Ringu”) and “The Grudge” (a remake of Japan’s “Ju-On”, with the same director) and both were huge hits with sequels in the U.S.

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The trend continues in 2008. First up is “One Missed Call” (tonight) starring Edward Burns and Shannyn Sossamon. It’s a remake of the 2003 Japanese film “Chakushin Ari” in which voice mails from the future reveal the dates, times, and circumstances of people’s deaths.

Next is “The Eye” (February 1st) starring Jessica Alba. In this remake of the Hong Kong movie “Jian Gui”, a young blind woman’s cornea implants come with a terrifying side effect: she can see ghosts.

Not to be outdone, Sarah Michelle Gellar will return in “Possession,” (February 29th) a remake of a Korean thriller called “Jungdok.” Gellar plays a wife whose husband dies but seemingly returns to her in the body of his brother.

Next time you find yourself re-arranging your Netflix queue or actually browsing titles at a rental store (I admit I do both) consider picking up an original Japanese film with subtitles. That way, when the remake comes out, you can tell all your friends you saw it first.

Sarah S.

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