From John Sturges's The Magnificent Seven to Martin Scorsese's The Departed and this year's Rings, Hollywood has been remaking Asian movies throughout cinematic history. Some are good (The Departed, The Lake House), while others are downright bad (Last Man Standing, The Grudge). With varying success, we've seen some of Asia's greatest movies remade for a global audience, and the latest film to be eyed for an American remake is #TraintoBusan.
The South Korean apocalyptic #zombie flick is an absolute delight for Asian moviegoers fed on a seven-season diet of The Walking Dead. The story revolves around passengers on a bullet train on route to the seaport of Busan, unaware that something horrific has erupted in the capital and will soon cause havoc on them.
Well acted with strong plot lines, the film offers gore and thrills in equal measure, with characters you'll root for (or utterly loathe) amidst some truly nail-biting action sequences. On par with zombie classics such as World War Z and 28 Days Later, the directorial debut of Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho has become a huge hit throughout Asia.
Because of its modern contemporary setting, it will be easy to "Americanize" Train to Busan, but why bother? It will just be "The Walking Dead on a train," albeit with much faster, flesh-chewing zombies. If truth be told, the Korean blockbuster should be left alone, as it can more than stand on its own merit in its native language (and accompanied with good English subtitles).
That being said, there are Asian films that could gain a lot from an Americanized remake. Here are three Asian cinematic masterpieces that I feel would benefit from a Hollywood reboot more than Train to Busan:
1. 'A Better Tomorrow' (1986, Hong Kong)
Directed by John Woo, 1986's #ABetterTomorrow remains one of the best crime dramas to emerge from Hong Kong, even after three decades. It was the film that made Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) a superstar, resurrected the career of veteran Shaw Brothers actor Ti Lung (The Sentimental Swordsman) and affirmed that (the late) Cantopop idol Leslie Cheung can be a decent actor if given the right material. It also paved the way for Woo's highly successful Hollywood career, helming global hits such as Face-Off (1997) and Mission: Impossible II (2000).
What's A Better Tomorrow about?
Reformed gangster Sung (Ti Lung) is torn between reconciling with his estranged policeman brother (Cheung), who blames him for their father's death, and linking up with his former partner-in-crime Mark Lee (Chow) to take revenge on the triad boss who played them out.
Why remake it?
Dozens of other Hong Kong gangster flicks tried to emulate A Better Tomorrow's success but failed miserably, including a 2010 South Korean remake. For one, it's not easy finding an actor who has Chow's swagger and panache in playing the iconic character of gangster Mark (think Idris Elba or Jeffrey Dean Morgan's kind of suave).
A Hollywood remake will hopefully bring attention back to the 1986 masterpiece that introduced the world to Woo's trademark cinematic "bullet ballet" style, filled with slow-motion gun fights and double-pistol firing. Besides, the timeless storyline about honor, loyalty, justice and revenge are things that a global audience are already familiar with.
2. 'Eat Drink Man Woman' (1994, Taiwan)
Directed by Ang Lee before he conquered Hollywood with Sense & Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Life of Pi, the family-and-food-focused film was part of his Taiwanese "Father knows best" trilogy that included Pushing Hands (1992) and The Wedding Banquet (1993). A Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee, #EatDrinkManWoman also ranked among one of the best food movies ever, alongside the likes of Denmark's Babette's Feast (1987) and Japan's Tampopo (1985) — and that's based just on the mouth-watering, feast-preparing opening sequence alone.
What's Eat Drink Man Woman about?
Set in '90s Taipei, retired master chef Chu (veteran Taiwanese actor Sihung Lung) lives at home with his three single, grown-up daughters. Every Sunday, though he has long lost his ability to taste, the old man continues to cook up lavish dinners for the family as each member struggles with the highs and lows of their romantic relationships and life opportunities.
Why remake it?
Spanish director Maria Ripoli adapted Eat Drink Man Woman for 2001's Tortilla Soup, which has a Mexican-American family as its focus. Though it has its charms, it didn't garner the same acclaim. Since then, Hollywood has yet to make a great food movie bar 2007's Ratatouille (and that has a cartoon rat as its star). And though there were chef-based films such as Julia & Julia (2009) and Chef (2014), their food scenes were hardly memorable.
A new Hollywood remake could feature a modern-day Chinese-American family who combines the best of both worlds — American and Chinese cuisine (with garnishes of some of today's American social life problems). There was a recent report lamenting that Asian American films such as The Joy Luck Club (1993) can never be made again because of the lack of Asian roles available. Well, remaking Eat Drink Man Woman could be a step in that right direction. (Or Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, anyone?) Actually, a family of any race will do, as long as the food sequences look deliciously good!
3. 'Shutter' (2004, Thailand)
Thailand was mainly renowned for its rib-tickling slapstick comedies and dramas focusing on social issues, but 2004's #Shutter garnered it a place on many a "Best Asian #Horror Films of All Time" lists. A low budget film that has spine-tingling music and eerie images that stick in the viewer's mind for a lifetime, it also scores on the simple but familiar premise that is guaranteed to terrified Asian audiences (a la J-horror and K-horror films) to the core — a vengeful long-haired, red-eyed, white-gown clad female ghost...
What is Shutter about?
After committing a hit-and-run on a young woman one night, photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) starts seeing strange shadows and markings on his photographs. Perturbed, his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) decides to research into spirit photography, believing that the woman's spirit may be haunting them. When Tun's friends start to die mysteriously one by one, Jane believes that Tun is not giving her the whole picture about his past.
Why remake it?
Because the 2008 American remake starring Joshua Jackson was a dud (even though it recouped six times its budget according to reports), and that goes for the two Bollywood remakes as well. Spirit photography is something that is believed by both the eastern and western worlds, so the premise can still work in a new Hollywood remake (preferably with a better script). Of course, in today's digital age, the scares involving physical photos, Polaroids and dark rooms will need to be updated to mobile phone cameras, tablets and Photoshop. Imagine if the film's characters can be haunted via a tweet or a photo-editing app. Brrrr, the thought of it!
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So, there you have it. Three outstanding Asian films that I feel will benefit more from a Hollywood remake. In general, great films out of Asia are usually standouts in terms of style, story and cultural nuances, and thus should be seen by movie lovers everywhere. Train to Busan is one such film. Let's hope Hollywood can simply promote South Korea's first ever zombie film — and a great one at that — to a global audience rather than anglicizing it.
What Asian film would you like to get a Hollywood remake? Let me know with a comment below!