10 Western remakes of foreign classics

What happens when Hollywood remakes a strong foreign movie? As Hazel discovers, sometimes it goes right, sometimes it goes wrong...

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As a Western audience, we are always keen to see new things on the big screen and Hollywood is struggling to keep up with the demand. For a number of years it’s been looking to foreign cinema for inspiration and some attempts have been far more successful that others.

The internet is full of news on remakes, reimaginings, reboots and I’m curious to see the Western treatment of Let the Right One In, Battle Royale, Deathnote and The Host are going to turn out. Let’s look at some of the other successful and unsuccessful remakes.

SUCCESSFUL ADAPTATIONS

The Departed VS Infernal Affairs (Mou Gaan Dou 2002) The title of the Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, means ‘The Non Stop Path’ which is the lowest level of Hell in Buddhism. Perhaps this title means the hell the lead protagonists are in as they pretend to be something they are not. In both versions we see the young men who are moles trapped in rival organisations: one is undercover in the police and the other an undercover police officer within a gangster’s organisation. Both rise up the ranks of their organisations quickly and years later it’s a game of cat and mouse for them both as they try to find out each other’s identity. With Departed, Scorsese studies what worked well in Infernal Affairs and its sequels and adapted it for the Western audience. He transplants the film to Boston and the triads of Infernal are now the Irish mob. Both directors draw out strong performances from their cast.

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It hurts me to do this, as Infernal Affairs is one of my all time favourite Asian films, and it is a close call, but the winner has to be The Departed!

Eden Lake (2008) VS Ils /Them (2006)Them This French film begins with a couple enjoying life in their remote house in Romania. They work hard to renovate it and, in the daylight the surroundings look beautiful and tranquil, but at night there’s a real sense of isolation. One night they begin to be hounded by unseen forces outside. For much of the film you don’t see who the evil characters are and that is the biggest difference between Ils/Them and Eden Lake. It is also far less gratuitous violence and more edge of your seat suspense. There’s an element of confusion as you and the lead protagonists cannot understand why this is happening or how. After the big reveal of the evil forces it becomes a fight for survival for the lead, Clementine. The film offers some scary comment on the violence within society and all around us, particularly via the media. Some people are no longer able to comprehend concepts such as good and evil and see torturing others as merely a game as they do not understand or care about consequences.

Eden Lake Although not technically a remake, there are so many similarities between both of these films. Perhaps I’m cheating slightly as Eden Lake is a British horror rather than Hollywood remake, but I think it definitely deserves a mention. A couple decide to go on a romantic weekend to scenic Eden Lake which is set in some deserted woods. They think they are alone and then find all their property vandalised or stolen. They are stranded and lost deep in the woods whilst being hunted and terrorised by the young yobs. After Steve tries to stop them he’s attacked and Jenny has to try to escape Eden Lake. The film takes the best and tense parts of Them and incorporates them into a very British story. We see the violence and dysfunctionality in a chav family. It’s an interesting comment on our society and the whole nature versus nurture argument and also how violence begets violence. Eden Lake has a very chilling ending which reinforces the message that’s been driving through the entire film.

No winner or loser, this one is a draw!

Quarantine (2008) VS Rec (2007) The story for both these films is so similar I won’t list them separately. Both films start with a film crew shadowing a fire crew so they are both POV movies. What starts off as a normal night suddenly escalates to something else. The reporter and cameraman record everything as it happens when the fire crew are called into to help an old woman in an apartment. She attacks them and a policeman and that’s where things really start to liven up! The building is sealed off and isolated so that no-one can get in or out of the building. The surviving residents and trapped people must fight off contagious zombie-like beings that were once their family and friends. The outside world sealed them off when they found out a dog from the apartment was displaying rabid-like symptoms and aggression. The biggest difference between the two films is the ending: Rec has a more supernatural ending than Quarantine. I have several friends who hate subtitles and I have no problem in recommending Quarantine to them.

Winner Quarantine!

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Vanilla Sky (2001) VS Abres Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes 1997) Again both films are identical in so many ways even to the point that Sofia is played by Penelope Cruz in both! David/Caesar is a rich man with the world at his feet. He has looks, power, health, influence and abuses them all. He is self-absorbed, unfaithful, unpopular in business and his playboy lifestyle ensures he fritters his money away. He takes everything in life for granted as he thinks is his right, even his friend’s girlfriend. His jealous ex plans retribution and attempts suicide, driving him into a wall. Now, thanks to the car crash, he finds himself disfigured, losing control of his business and under care of a psychiatrist. His life is out of control and he needs help to get it back. He starts to question what reality is.

Later scenes in the films are beautiful to look at but the story does not offer a tidy little ending. Penelope Cruz as Sofia was the standout performance in both versions. I liked Vanilla Sky more than Open Your Eyes but I wonder if that’s because I saw Vanilla Sky first so I knew major parts of the plotline of Open Your Eyes. The film is about love, forgiveness, compassion, belief, perception and reality and questions what really is important in life – I’m sorry if I’m making these films sounds like girlie films!

It’s a close call but the winner is Vanilla Sky!

UNSUCCESSFUL ADAPTATIONS

Assassin (1993) VS Nikita (1990) VS La Femme Nikita (1997)Nikita is Luc Besson’s direction at its very best. Nikita, along with some drugged up friends, robs and kills while bungling a robbery. The rest of the world thinks she’s dead but she’s being trained by the government to become an assassin. The film is unusual in this list as it also spawned a TV show. The Americanised version starred Bridget Fonda and an all star cast but, although her performance was good, the film was flat in comparison. I can’t even remember the TV show so that obviously made a big impact on me!

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Nikita is the no contest winner!

Ring (2002) VS Ringu (1998)Ringu has a lot to answer for, if it wasn’t for its huge success we wouldn’t have had horrifyingly bad experiences of American adaptations of Dark Water and Pulse. Ringu worked so well because, when it came out of nowhere, we didn’t know anything about it. The horror was more psychological and the effects were not as polished as the Ring remake. Somehow the grittiness and suspense of the original was far greater. I can tell you several scenes that stick in my mind from the original, but I can’t say the same thing about The Ring.

Both films are about a journalist researching an urban legend about a cursed video that, if you watch it, you will die within a week unless you get someone else to watch and therefore spread the curse. At first she does not believe in the curse but slowly starts to realise the truth and is devastated after she watches the tape and discovers that her son has also watched the film. Sadako in Ringu is an incredibly chilling performance, I cannot praise this film enough, it’s a perfect example of psychological horror at its best.

Ringu is another no contest winner!

The Grudge (2004) VS The Grudge (Ju-On 2003)Ju-on is a dark and creepy little film about a house that’s cursed and haunted by a woman and her dead child after their horrific murders. Anyone who visits the house is cursed, haunted and will die a violent death. The child actor was very scary and makes this film an insanely weird ghost story. I liked the original and approved of Sam Raimi remaking the same film with the same director but an American leading the cast. Although Sarah Michelle Gellar was OK as a scream queen, the performances of the original cast are better.

Ju-on is another no contest winner!

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Pulse VS Pulse (Kairo 2001) The Americanised version of Kairo is The Pulse crossed with Dawson’s Creek: the beautiful people try to save the world. One of the beautiful people hacks a system that was closed down and exposes a virus from its super wireless network that, unfortunately, opens the doorway to somewhere else. This unleashes an evil which spreads, infecting the Earth and removing people’s will to live. The beautiful people watch in horror as they see strange images of people (not as beautiful) killing themselves, walking in front of traffic, jumping off buildings and eventually some die by spontaneous combustion. One of the beautiful people sees her friends die one by one but luckily meets another beautiful hacker to try to shut down the phantom network and ultimately go on the run in a brave new technology-free but still beautiful peopled world.

The original also had much of the same detail as the American version but its execution is far better and less Dawson’s Creek! We have several disjointed storylines and lives but once again they see strange images of their friend who committed suicide via their computer. They try to help him and find out what happened and finally realise it’s an apocalypse in the making. Unlike the later candyfloss USA version, this film is more about isolation and loneliness and how technology creates distance rather than removes it. The film is very watchable, chilling, not scary but it does make you think. Its lack of linear plot and the switching to different characters is a little unsettling, but then again, I think that’s the point.

You guessed it – Kario is, of course, the winner!

Dark Water VS Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara 2002) Both films are about a young mother who, after a vicious custody battle, moves herself and her child into a rundown apartment close to the child’s school, as it’s all she can afford. Soon afterwards she starts to spot a dark patch in her child’s bedroom and realises there’s a constant drip, which she asks the landlord to fix. She also hears strange sounds and finds a backpack and even finds out her daughter has an imaginary friend. The landlord explains the apartment above is empty and makes a token attempt to fix the leak. Gradually, the young mother realises the tragic history of a young neglected girl who drowned and knows she’s being haunted by her. She takes drastic action to save her own child.

Honogurai mizu no soko kara wins, but I’ve got to admit, neither really held my attention!

Eye VS Eye (Jian Gui 2002) A girl who was blinded since being a small child receives a cornea transplant after which she finds that she can see – but there is also a nasty side effect of being able to see dead people. She decides the only way to stop the images is to track down the mystery of her donor’s life and death.

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Jian Gui wins as the lead actress gives a far better performance!

Foreign cinema (especially Asian) shares Hollywood’s fault that, when it delivers a powerful and commercially successful film like Battle Royale, Ringu, Infernal Affairs and God Of Gamblers, it churns out sequel after sequel in an attempt to increase its commercial success rather than satiate its fans.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as in recent years Hollywood has actually made some good Americanised versions of classic foreign films. There are certain films that I think would be ripe for the Hollywood remake treatment including Audition and Switchblade Romance. To keep all the horror gorehounds happy, what about Switchblade Romance as a full-on contender for the Hostel torture-porn crown? It’s entertaining horror with good pace and gratuitous violence, but it does have a confused and corny ending which would need revising. However, Audition has to be a prime contender for a new Americanised horror style, with its slow initial pace building to an all out horror ending – it could be the new direction Western horror needs to move into.

The positive of all the successful movie remakes is that they seem prepared to learn from the original and adapt the film so it works better with a Western audience. I do have concerns as to whether or not the upcoming films will live up to the originals, but I’ve also got an open mind and a willingness to be entertained without the subtitles!

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