Remaking Foreign Films

America hates subtitles. You know why? Subtitles means reading and reading is for losers. This may not be true—hopefully this is not true, but it is what Hollywood thinks. That’s why whenever a foreign film becomes popular, there are quickly plans to remake it. This time all of the actors will be speaking English. Thankfully!

Most of the time Hollywood messes it up, but every once and awhile the right filmmaker knows how to respect the original. This allows them to make their own product that stands on its own while drawing from its new location to benefit the story. This makes me think of both versions of Insomnia and the trio of The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven/A Bug’s Life.

So here’s a look at some recent and upcoming remakes and their foreign counterparts:

Nine Queens (2000)/Criminal (2004)

One of my all time favorite subgenre is the con artist film. Nine Queens (or Nueve reinas) does a very good job of constructing a situation where two thieves team up to pull off a con involving a set of stamps. It stars Ricard Darín who was great in the recent film The Secret in Their Eyes. He works so well with Gastón Pauls in that they can pull off cons together, but the audience still doesn’t know who to trust at one moment. A lot of the smaller cons have seen before in Paper Moon and the ending can be deduced if you’ve seen too many of them, but the ride is plenty of fun.

Criminal’s casting wasn’t as strong. I think John C. Reilly in the Darín part was very inspired, but Diego Luna never pulled off what Pauls was able to do in being very suspicious and keeping the cards to the table while still operating the cons. The original Argentian movie knew how to keep the movie flowing in a natural direction, while I think Criminal suffers from being a bit too rigid in setting up its ploys. It’s still entertaining and I appreciate it not just being a frame-for-frame copy.

Winner: Nine Queens

Infernal Affairs (2002)/The Departed (2006)

This is such a great concept, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t been done a million times before. Tony Leung (In the Mood For Love) plays a cop who goes undercover in the Traid society while Andy Lau is a Triad who is working his way through the police department. It’s a fantastic game of cat and mouse with brilliant set pieces. There’s one in particular that uses Morse code that is very suspenseful.

The Departed takes that concept and uses a lot of similar things, but adds a lot more. There are new themes of fathers and the role of the Catholic Church. (In a Scorsese film? No way!) It’s noted for having a very different ending from Infernal Affairs, but I think each ending works for their respected movies. There’s not a scene that can top the Morse code scene in the original, but the entire movie is amazing, ranking among Scorsese’s best in my mind.

Winner: Tie

REC (2007)/ Quarantine (2008)

One of the coolest horror films of the last decade was the Mexican movie REC. This follows in the vein of The Blair Witch Project where the entire movie is told through a handheld camera. The camera was used to shoot a fluff news piece about the late-shift firefighters. The reporter (played by Manuela Velasco) decides to hop along and they end up in an apartment complex where something is going bump in the night.  The entire place is put on lock down and then the thrills begin.

REC is not a very long movie, but knows how to perfectly pace it. It is a slow burn while they spend a long time at the firehouse, but even that builds up suspense. The American movie, Quarantine, copies the movie almost beat for beat but it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because Jennifer Carpenter isn’t as charming as Velasco or maybe the budget was too big for it. The American apartment complex didn’t seem to have the same level of danger as the original. Very disappointing.

Winner: REC

The Dinner Game (1998)/Dinner For Schmucks (2010)

Now we’re into the upcoming category. I haven’t seen Dinner For Schmucks yet but you can see the Yap’s review for it up on the site on Friday. However I can already tell a ton of differences just from the trailer. The original movie introduces the concept of a cruel dinner party early on. A bunch of elitists find some idiots and bring them to dinner and makes fun of them. The one who brings the biggest idiot wins. Thierry Lhermitte thinks he’s struck gold with Jacques Villeret. However they can’t make it to the dinner because Lhermitte throws out his back and is stuck with his person idiot for the duration of the night. It’s not a great comedy, but it’s very enjoyable.

The trailers for this new version is rather odd. It looks like it’s taking all of the subtly of the original and going really broad. Seeing Steve Carell hit the windshield with the forced face is a bit embarrassing. I know I’m just basing it on early material, but a lot of the ads are showing the actual dinner and it’s crazy slapstick. It’s just weird to take a movie that was praised for being based in reality and going a complete opposite direction with it. Maybe the tone works, but right now I’m very hesitant.

Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

One of my favorite films of the last decade was Let the Right One In. It’s this very creepy and brilliant vampire tale. It’s not a story of teenagers, but smaller children. A young girl moves in and she looks to be a nice companion for the weird boy next door. Yet she is a terrifying creature when she’s hungry. The film succeeds by being very intelligent with using small ways to unnerve the audience. Like having a lot of the scarier bits off screen or in the background.

Bringing the story to America seems to be an impossible task. One of the things that added to the creepiness was the vast Swedish atmosphere. However when they hired Matt Reeves as the director I had a bit of hope. I may be alone, but I loved his Cloverfield. Then they hired Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass’s Hit-Girl), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Boy from The Road) and Richard Jenkins as the three leads. Then the first trailer came out and it looks like this movie will definitely not be an embarrassment, to say the least. There’s still a chance it may be too faithful to the original that it can’t stand on its own, but for now I’m looking forward to it.

So what are some of your favorite or hated movies that were based on a foreign film?

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12 Responses to “Remaking Foreign Films”

  1. Austin Lugar says:

    A Fistful of Dollars is such a fascinating journey. It actually started as an American crime novel named Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammet. Hammet also wrote The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon. That novel was adapted by Akira Kurosawa into Yojimbo as a samurai tale. Then Yojimbo was adapted into A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone as a spaghetti western. Then Kurosawa actually sued Leone and received a portion of its profits. Just on the products, I think the book is my favorite of the three.

  2. Helen says:

    A Fistful of Dollars is a good cross-cultural remake. Not the equal of its source, but definitely entertaining. And most importantly, if not for A Fistful of Dollars, we would never have had The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

    I detested Point of No Return.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Film Yap and The Film Yap, Bill Montgomery. Bill Montgomery said: Interesting. I prefer subtitles with original language. RT @TheFilmYap: Remaking Foreign Films: Is it always bad? […]

  4. Austin Lugar says:

    The Brothers films are two I definitely wanted to do, but sadly I haven’t seen either one. The remake is sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve heard interesting things about both versions.

  5. Qoheleth says:

    Brødre (Denmark, 2004) and Brothers (US, 2009) probably deserves a mention. I’ve only seen the original, but the US remake was generally well-reviewed.

  6. Austin Lugar says:

    I really liked that interview. I liked how the actor really acknowledged his role and didn’t try to raise it up by giving himself a backstory or anything. His emptiness is way more compelling in that movie. (I really still need to see Mysterious Skin)

  7. Joe Shearer says:

    The "Hamlet" argument is one I’ve made before as well. Thanks for mentioning the shot-for-shot, and as far as I can tell virtually line-for-line as well. Literally the only differences between Haneke’s original and Haneke’s remake are the actors. The rest of the film is virtually identical.

    And coincidentally enough, there is an interview on The Yap with Brady Corbet, who played one of the ruffians in the American remake of "Funny Games":

  8. Austin Lugar says:

    I haven’t seen the original Grudges or Ringu, but I have seen their remakes. The first Ring is a horror movie I still stand by, but I think that comes from Gore Verbinski having his own say in it stylistically. It seems like when they brought in these directors, they took away all of the freedom they had in Japan and forced them to comply with very bland and traditional movies. The Ring 2, in particular, is crazy bad. You notice that after the success of The Ring, Verbinski was hired towards a giant Jerry Bruckheimer franchise and Shimizu and Nakata were not hired for anymore Hollywood projects. The studios just wanted to put their names on the poster/DVD cover.

    Funny Games was one that I almost wrote about. (But this article became pretty long already. I also omitted Shall We Dansu/Shall We Dance.) That was an odd case, because I like Michael Haneke a lot. Like a lot of people, I was wondering why he would make a shot-for-shot remake of his film, until I heard a really good analogy. You never hear anybody complain another rendition of Hamlet being performed. With the theatre it’s always interesting to see new actors handle familiar material. Yes, film allows for longevity than theatre ever can, but that’s still what’s going on here. I like both versions, pretty much equally, and I liked what every actor brought to the part. I can see why he remade it since the point of the film is to criticize America’s depiction and acceptance of violence in our movies. If he wanted to challenge us, it might be helpful to play it in more American theatres.

  9. Nick Rogers says:

    I’ve seen neither of those, actually, although I’m going to guess (based on my Haneke knowledge) that there was some commentary about American-film violence behind his American-language remake. I’m not saying that it works because I haven’t seen it, and it could be shit. But it’s at least an artistic reason, whereas the examples I mentioned were simply directors getting that remake money.

  10. Joe Shearer says:

    Agreed this is a good commentary. The lead ‘graph made me LOL.

    Nick, you didn’t mention "Funny Games." Did you see either the original or the remake, made and remade by Michael Haneke?

  11. Nick Rogers says:

    Good commentary. What always makes me laugh is when the directors of the original films also direct the remake – e.g., Takashi Shimizu for "The Grudge" and "The Grudge 2," Hideo Nakata for "The Ring Two" and George Sluizer for "The Vanishing." Every single one of those films is an atrocity, particularly "The Vanishing," a poster child for what fans of foreign-film originals fear when Hollywood trains its sights on a remake.

    I think the remake of "Insomnia" is awful, too, drained as it is of the idea that the "protagonist" is actually an amoral menace. That’s not Christopher Nolan’s fault, as he didn’t write the script, but Warner Brothers probably wouldn’t have let anybody stick to the original plot.

    Having seen "Dinner for Schmucks" and "The Dinner Game," I’ll say only that the idea and the notion of farce are the only commonalities. I greatly enjoyed both for very different reasons. As for "Let Me In," it looks so shot-for-shot that the only point appears to be, as you joked about, removing the subtitles. I’m very skeptical about that one.

    Oh, and I’d argue that "Infernal Affairs" wins out over "The Departed."