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What happens when Hollywood filmmakers put their own spin on Asian cinema classics? We take a look at the results.
Since even before the days of Bruce Lee, Asian culture has whispered in the ear of American cinema. But that whisper has become a scream, as Hollywood has imported many Eastern film makers in the past decade --from John Woo to Johnny To -- and introduced Asian-influenced stylistic flourishes into American films, such as the awe-inspiring wirework in The Matrix and the choreographed shoot-outs in Face/Off. And, more and more American film makers have been feverishly remaking popular Asian films, leading to sometimes mixed results.
“I think Hong Kong cinema has a sheer extravagant physical energy that international audiences respond to,” says Bey Logan, the Weinstein Company’s vice president for Asia. “From Hollywood, these films and filmmakers get star power, production values, and special effects.”
This month, acclaimed Hong Kong screenwriters/directors the Pang Brothers are making their transition to Tinseltown, re-creating their 1999 Thai-produced action classic, Bangkok Dangerous, for American audiences. The redo stars Nicolas Cage as a hit man protecting a deaf woman in Thailand. The film crackles with Hong Kong action trademarks: audacious stunt work; a laconic, noir attitude; and a chivalric code of honor among heroes and thieves.
“Hollywood is interested in Asian filmmakers because of the style,” says Oxide Pang of the Pang Brothers. “It’s the way we do action, the way we tell stories, the point of view we have. It’s a feeling. When Hollywood honors that, there is something new for America. When they don’t, when they try to make Hollywood movies out of Asian movies, they fail.”
Logan agrees: “When the Hong Kong elements are blended seamlessly into the whole venture, as with The Matrix, it works. When the stylized action is out of sync with the rest of the picture, it doesn’t.”
As Hollywood readies for another round of Asian remakes -- including a U.S. version of Johnny To’s Exiled, Joel Schumacher’s take on Breaking News, and the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Confession of Pain, we take a look at some of the previous Asian-to-American winners and losers.
The Departed (2006)
Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture is widely hailed as the most successful Asian remake, adapted from Waikeung Lau and Siu Fai Mak’s 2002 Infernal Affairs. Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece “brilliantly retained the best of East and West,” says film professor and author Lisa Odham Stokes. “Good adaptations create a sense of place and create a distinct world in which to migrate the story; The Departed really delivered.”
The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski’s update of Ringu -- Hideo Nakata’s film about a videotape that kills those who view it -- pleased critics and fans alike, spawning a profitable sequel. Thetwo movies grossed nearly $400 million worldwide.
The Grudge (2004)
This successful Sarah Michelle Gellar–led remake of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on had her fighting off vengeful ghosts. Critics complained that the film lacked a logical story line, but it caught on with moviegoers regardless, grossing $110 million. A less-successful sequel followed.
Shall We Dance (2004)
Richard Gere starred in Garry Marshall’s redo of Masayuki Suo’s 1997 fable of the same name about a frustrated accountant who finds new life in a dance studio. Though critics felt the American version lacked the subtlety and nuance of the original, the film was a modest success, grossing almost $60 million.
The Eye (2008)
The Pang Brothers’ haunting Gin gwai-- about an eye-transplant recipient who can suddenly see into the supernatural world -- was given a sterile Americanization starring Jessica Alba. Critics panned it, and the film grossed only $31 million.