Asian Remakes: An Exercise in Stupidity – By Josh Samford

Remakes. In this day and age could their be anything more redundant for an Internet fanboy such as myself to babble on about? Probably not. The has been completely sucked dry and there’s probably not a whole lot of original though I can add to the discussion, but hey, originality is crazy overrated. Aside from my dismissal of all correct concepts of writing commentary, I decided to at least limit myself in two key fundamental ways – to sort of keep my hackneyed thoughts on cinematic journalism in check, rather than continue droning on about the obvious horror that was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (and please, that film was pure blasphemy), I decided to narrow things down to my particular area of interest: Asian Cinema. What can I say? It’s what I know. That and the fact that Duane made a point of reminding me that the remake issue has already been done in this very magazine. So, covering solely Asian films should hopefully trick you the reader into believing you have read something new – and hopefully, valid. The second little “trick” is to focus mostly on the original films and not necessarily the Hollywood hellspawn which will no doubt be inflicted upon the earth in a soon-to-be time at a multiplex near you. The ultimate goal is to arm you the reader with enough information to search out some of these ‘classics’ (they are to me at least), before “they” try to make them “better”. I’ll only go over a couple of films in detail, but if someone by chance stumbles upon this article and is new to the scene; hopefully they will quest for the originals. If nothing else, you can pretend to be smart and embarrass your friends with your new found knowledge whenever they start to brag on the second versions of these coming films.

First on the agenda is a film you probably wouldn’t expect to hear much about from a guy like me in a publication like this one, My Sassy Girl. I’m sure, even from the title, you’re picturing something Julia Roberts would yank out of her pants – but you would be mistaken. Yes, My Sassy Girl could very well be deemed a romantic comedy – matter of fact, there’s no getting around it, that’s precisely what it is. The difference between the brilliant South Korean love story and your average Hollywood pap is simple; this film is actually good. Not only is it good, in some cases it can be life-changing. As ridiculous as it may seem. It’s sort of an eye-opener as to just how touching a comedy can be, and how dead the Hollywood market for this genre has been for the past twenty or thirty years. The story focuses on a young man who considers himself to be a bit of a ladies man, in a nerdy sort of way. After being mistaken for a random drunk girl’s boyfriend on a subway train (after she vomits on an old man’s head of course), he is forced to find a place for the girl to stay. Not being all too bright, he decides to stick around the hotel room waiting for the girl to wake up, even picking up her phone once it starts ringing. This turned out to be a bad idea it seems, because after getting out of the shower two female police officers break in the room (it is assumed that the girl’s parents phoned them) and arrest the unclothed young fellow. He goes to jail, but is released the next morning. This was actually the better part of the journey for the guy though, because soon ‘the girl’ calls him up wondering just what happened. Her attitude is a bit unlike your casual female though. She threatens to kill him within minutes of their meeting, she harasses people at the other tables in their restaurant while eating and in the end gets stone cold drunk while sobbing away about some problem she refuses to share. Needless to say, the boy is forced to go right back to the same hotel, and so this bizarre love story really begins. The film could be accused of being overly long perhaps, but that’s part of the beauty of things. Creating what has to be the first Epic romantic-comedy I think I have ever seen, and no doubt about it, one of the best ever released. There’s no false sensibilities with My Sassy Girl, there’s no sticking to formula to dictate what happens next and by the end it is one of the most exhausting and emotional pieces of cinema I can think of. Expressing everything I could possibly fathom about love in merely two hours of running time, and being absolutely hilarious along the way. There are some guys who feel a bit intimidated (I guess) to see a female character run a male into the ground so often, but it’s all in the sake of comedy and works to perfection. It may or may not be up everyone’s alley, but I find it hard to believe the Hollywood remake (according to IMDB, due in 2006 from the director of Bend it Like Beckham) will take the qualities that were so great about the original and expound on them. Rather, I see them producing either a polished version of the same film or something wholly different than what it once was. Regardless, do yourself and your significant other (if you have one) a favor and check out the original – for the sake of all film.

The second movie that really irks me about being re-shot is a somewhat smaller picture, with a much smaller audience. Kaosu, or, Chaos. A Japanese thriller from the director of Ringu (you know, the original “The Ring” film), Hideo Nakata. From what I have seen from the director I consider it some of his best work as a storyteller and as a filmmaker. The story sets its’ self up as a rather ordinary film noir, but through the bizarre scene placement throughout and the quite complex plot – it becomes a dizzying story that is so hard to keep up with that it builds a very strange energy to it. Starting with a very simplistic twist about a very young single dad being given an offer from a rich female socialite who aims to have herself kidnapped so that she can better understand her husband’s feelings for her. The man, who obviously needs the money, can do nothing but say yes and begins the preparations. After all is said and done, the woman is left in an apartment where she must lay around until the ransom is paid – but once the man comes back to check on her, he finds nothing but a dead body. Being horrified, he goes into hiding and tries to put things behind him and ultimately solve the puzzle on how this all happened. There are so many twists and turns in the story that keeping up with it almost becomes impossible, but it gives reason to watch the film over to understand more. Underneath this dark surface there is a heart though, and believe it or not, a very intriguing love story that is pushed along. It isn’t the sort of film that everyone is going to agree upon, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Made by a director who is often locked in as specifically a genre filmmaker, Chaos proved he could take that same atmosphere that has made him a success elsewhere, and put it to use in a real world environment and still make it horrifying. Being that The Ring was actually turned into a fairly successful horror film, there is of course hope that the new film could follow suit – but I’ll wait and see. The Ring did well in that it didn’t forsake the original film as nothing more than a blueprint, but didn’t lose the originality to make it worth watching by its self, but sadly very few films do so and even when they do there’s no guarantee the movie will ever even begin to compare to it’s original.

Just released in theaters recently was The Grudge, based upon the Japanese film Ju-On – but as of the moment I have no real impression as I have seen neither version, but I will say that although Sarah Michelle Gellar is most certainly great eye candy, her appearance on the billing of any film doesn’t exactly send me running down the aisle. Just to go over some of the smaller bits of remake-fever out in the wind, Wes Craven was trying for a very long time to remake the Japanese horror film Kairo (the Japanese poster you see beside this paragraph) – but was ultimately shut down for whatever reasons. Trust me folks, this is a good thing. Craven is so off and on at times that I could never trust him with the job of improving (don’t get me wrong, I believe that is the job of a remake, but for the most part it is rarely achieved) an already great film. Kairo is the only film since watching The Excorcist when I was a kid to really scare me. I mean I literally jumped up and shut the lights back on at certain times, and I even refused to finish watching it the ‘night’ that I first started watching. The use of shadow to tell a ghost story is something that will never be beaten in my opinion, and as it stands, should absolutely be seen by all. A while back there were rumors flying around that Tom Cruise had bought the rights to re-make the Hong Kong horror film (that follows directly in the traditions of the Japanese) The Eye. By all accounts, not my favorite Asian horror and I’ll be the first to admit it, but I won’t deny the very good times to be had in it. A few scares now and then, and overall feels like something that should be seen just to have said you have seen it. That sounds bad, but unlike many of the films mentioned so far, I did feel like The Eye was obeying formula and frankly just wasn’t as inventive. That doesn’t mean I don’t recommend it, but I guess a remake of the film is something I could let pass if it can possibly top the original – but even that I doubt. There was another bit of information flying around about Brad Pitt remaking the highly popular Hong Kong cop-drama Infernal Affairs, and to add insult to injury with these stars taking on the roles of producers, Queen Latifah was supposed to take the rights of the witty South Korean romantic-comedy (they do it better than anyone else) My Wife is a Gangster. A definite travesty, considering how great the original film was – and the fact that the violence will no doubt be toned down (not that it’s gory or anything) and the real inventiveness of the comedy will be replaced with ‘ethnic’ humor makes it all the more disserving to cinema fans the world over.

Still, even with all of this complaining, I am not one to just jump on the bandwagon and throw my hate towards remakes. I believe that if done correctly, perhaps these films could bring something inventive to the table – it’s my general pessimism with Hollywood that makes me doubt their willingness to do so. I’m also not quick to jump up and blame Hollywood for the fact that these films aren’t being released in theaters with subtitles rather than pumping out millions to make the same film twice. Yes, it does suck, but I find it hard to complain. If I do, I find it best to gripe at humanity rather than faceless execs. I find it to be more entertaining to hold some deep antagonism with my neighbor simply because he took his kids to see some cornball remake of a great film, or pull a reversal and throw my Internet vengeance towards the Asian film industry for allowing such horrible acts to get started in the first place. Either way it goes, we can’t help it, but I sure can complain!