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Remaking an original2

Remaking an original2

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Published by: Miguel Paolo Celestial on Jul 29, 2008
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11/19/2013

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Remaking an original
By Miguel Paolo Celestial
Published in WestEast Magazine #24: GlobalizAsian, 2008 
Not for 
Raging Bull 
,
The Last Temptation of Christ 
,
Goodfellas
,
Gangs of New York 
, or 
The Aviator 
did Martin Scorsese win an Academy Award for BestDirector. He only bagged it for 
The Departed 
, or should we say, for Warner Bros.’adaptation of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Hong Kong crime thriller 
Infernal  Affairs
.Leonardo DiCaprio for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Matt Damon for Andy Lau, JackNicholson for Anthony Wong, and the Irish mob for the Triad. Is this multi-Oscar-awarded movie more than just a transliteration from one language and ethnicityto another? Do the different versions of this crime thriller mean the same for Hong Kong viewers as for Massachusetts’ audiences? Whatever theconsiderations, nobody can deny that, in business terms,
The Departed 
has beena successfully localized product, traded between foreign outfits for theconsumption of a foreign audience. That success has literally translated to bigger box-office profits for Hollywood than for Hong Kong cinema.Globalization has eased the processes through which film remakes are brokered.As Hollywood creates remakes of Asian films, Asian houses also retell Westernstories to their local audiences. But what exactly is the difference between anAsian film with English subtitles and its Hollywood remake? Why are some Asianfilms less “consumable” to American audiences in their original form and why areothers more favored untouched? Does the rise of martial arts movies and Asianfilmmakers have anything to do with their countries’ emerging economies or merely the redirection of the US film industry?
Kurosawa and Present-Day East Asia
One story seen through two different viewpoints: after book-movie tie-ins, filmremakes seem to be the second most popular method in cinema for reinterpreting another work of art.Perhaps the most famous Asian filmmaker whose works have been remade isAkira Kurosawa. His masterpiece,
Seven Samurai 
, widely acclaimed as one of the most influential films ever created, has spawned adaptations both in Asia andthe West. In
The Magnificent Seven
, Kurosawa’s samurai are replaced withcowboys. The movie even patterns its scenes after the original, in the same wayscenes in
The Departed 
mirror those in
Infernal Affairs
. The Indian movie
Sholay 
,considered as one of India’s highest-grossing movies, also follows the story of 
Seven Samurai 
.
 
Hollywood has long been remaking foreign box-office hits, since the time of Kurosawa until the present, but East Asian remakes have never been as prolific,grand, popular, and profitable as today.More recent American adaptations of Asian movies include the reinterpretation of the South Korean sentimental drama
Il Mare
into
Lake House
and Japan’s
Shall We Dansu 
into
Shall We Dance
. Japanese horror fare, or what is known as “J-Horror” has also received much Hollywood attention with the remakes of 
Ringu 
into
The Ring 
,
Dark Water 
,
Ju-on
into
The Grudge
,
Kairo
as
Pulse
, and
Chakushin Ari 
into
One Missed Call 
. Some remakes include sequels andprequels. Soon South Korea’s mega-hit
My Sassy Girl 
and
 A Tale of Two Sisters
 may see their Western versions.Kurosawa may be a uniquely original artist, but he also borrowed heavily fromthe West. He envisioned Asian versions of Western stories from Shakespeare,Dostoevsky, Gorky, and Tolstoy, and has turned them into
Throne of Blood 
,
Ran
,
The Bad Sleep Well 
,
The Idiot 
,
The Lower Depths
,
Ikiru,
and
Red Beard.
 But do Kurosawa’s remakes fall under the same category as current Hollywoodadaptations of East Asian dramas, comedies, and suspense and horror stories?What does globalization play in the cross-cultural exchange of stories, film plots,and cinematic technique? How does it affect creativity, originality, and artisticintegrity?
Outsourcing
It is a very crude way of putting it, but Hollywood has been doing it for quite sometime already. In a way, globalization has put films on the rack beside soap,cereals, and shampoo.One only has to think of the cost savings in buying a ready-made script witheverything that has gone before its completion: the formulation of a basic idea,the development of a prospectus to investors, and the writing and rewriting of thescript that bears no assurance of an idea will go down the pipeline. And this isnot all.The script has also been tested through the entire movie being sold and shownto audiences. So after the drafting of the script, a Hollywood studio also saves onthe entire production and marketing process in finding out a movie’s commercialviability. Once the elements of the original movie find the perfect mix andinteraction—as it were, once the movie finds its perfect recipe for success—Hollywood studios already have most of the work cut out for them. The markethas already been tested; there is less risk. Only the transliteration of the cast, thesetting, the cinematography, and all the other elements from Asian to Americanis necessary.
 
 But there are times that even perfectly reproduced movies lack the original magicingredient.
Lacking Spice
Before the end of 2007, Sony Pictures released an Indian-language feature film,
Saawariya
, which at the time of its release directly competed with
Om Shanti Om
, which was locally produced.
Saawariya
was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel
White Nights
, while
OmShanti Om
was a song-and-dance production, lauded by critics as pure“Bollywood spice”.The rapid growth of India’s film industry and the country’s emerging economyhave inspired foreign investors to take a slice of the very lucrative Bollywood pie.But the disappointing commercial performance of 
Saawariya
only remindsinvestors and viewers that marketing networks and financial resources are notenough to impress and capture the attention of audiences.In terms of remakes, this only says that while transferring films from Asianlanguages and cultures into American versions, the subtle elements vital to theAsian films’ success may not be conveyed; proven recipes for success do notalways work.But lately, the immense success enjoyed by certain genres in Chinese cinemaseems to prove otherwise.
Exoticism
If Japan has successfully exported its horror genre to Hollywood, banking on itsrich culture of ghost stories and storytelling, Chinese filmmakers have hadrelative success in bringing abroad films from the historical and
wuxia
, or martialarts, genres. And compared to J-Horror, which need to be remade beforereleased in the West, these Chinese films are marketed as is, with only thebenefit of subtitles.Films of the historical genre that have succeeded in the West include ChenKaige’s
Farewell My Concubine
, Zhang Yimou’s
Ju Dou 
and
Raise the Red Lantern
, and most recently, Ang Lee’s
Lust, Caution
. Among recent
wuxia
 movies, Ang Lee’s
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
, has achieved the widestacclaim. It’s phenomenal success has prompted subsequent releases of martialarts films, such as
House of Flying Daggers,
 
Hero
,
The Promise
, and
TheBanquet 
, which, like Kurosawa’s
The Bad Sleep Well 
, was loosely based on

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