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Hollywood remakes of Asian Films: What makes them work?

There is a thin line separating remakes that work and those that don’t. In the case of Asian films remade by Hollywood for quite some time now, there has been a varying mix of masterpieces, mediocre stuff, and dismaying flops.

As Hollywood looks for new flavors and fresh concepts overseas, Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan have been some of the most popular sources for foreign films getting a Hollywood treatment.

According to Korean-American producer Roy Lee of the Los Angeles company Vertigo Entertainment, many filmmakers see much potential in Asian countries as a market of ideas. Lee is often referred to as the “Remake King” for paving the way for many Hollywood remakes of Asian works. Some of the more popular ones he produced include Hollywood versions of films coming from Korea like “The Uninvited,” “My Sassy Girl,” and “The Lake House,” Japan with “The Ring,” “Dark Water,” “The Grudge,” Hong Kong with “The Departed” and “The Eye,” Thailand with “Shutter,” and the Philippines with “The Echo.”

Economic and Pop Culture Advantages vs. the Film’s Legacy and Cultural Significance

In general, the acquired rights to an original film’s story is primarily a business endeavor for both the interested Hollywood studio and the original film’s owner. At some point, it extends as a certain form of pride with the film franchise getting the attention of the global market. However, the main problem encountered by most Hollywood remakes is how the westernized treatment results in losing the very core of the story because of the loss of cultural sensibilities of the original. With new actors, settings, and plot points, a remake usually misses much of the needed emotional and cultural significance.

For instance, in the case of the Cannes-winning Korean film “Oldboy,” which has been long-rumored to have a remake coming from Steven Spielberg and Will Smith, taking out the original cultural and historical contexts of the film would dilute, distort, and entirely lose the heart of the story.

Many fans of Asian masterpieces eyed for Hollywood remakes tend to be quite conservative about such possibilities, as they don’t want the film’s legacy to be negatively affected by the subpar expectation they have for the Hollywood versions of their favorite films.

Making Remakes Work

The key to a successful film remake is attaining that right balance between what to keep and what to change. As an art form with a great influence coming from cultural sources, a film can also greatly influence local and even foreign cultures.

When producing a remake geared towards the global market, finding success as a blockbuster and as a legendary motion-picture project requires story-specific choices that would best fit the director’s vision for the new film. Remaking the story is not very different from how foreign films’ titles change when they are shown in other countries. It is also not very different from making appropriate subtitles for a film where the original words, phrases, and sentences don’t really require direct translations.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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