Monday, October 10, 2011

Remaking Films Across Langauge Lines

When I saw Infernal Affairs it was the first time I'd seen a non-English language film knowing that there was a remake and thinking that if I was only going to see one it might have been a better idea to see Hollywood's version (Scorsese's The Departed). There's no doubt that Infernal Affairs effectively milks its ostensibly ludicrous premise for enough tension to give you hypertension and that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is as terrific as ever. However the dialogue is rarely more than functional (or, at least, the subs are), the women are never more than plot/thematic devices (an issue somewhat fixed by the sequal) and the slow-mo black and white flashbacks are often either cloying or unnecessary. These are all areas in which it is often said that the Scorsese version excels: there's a lot of talk about its colourful Boston slang, Vera Farmiga is apparently given a chance to shine and well, Scorsese is Scorsese.

Of course remakes are often pilloried for being dire retreads and it seems to me that, like a band playing cover songs, if a director actually wants to make a memorable film of their own as opposed to a rather expensive localisation then they'd better have an ambitious plan in mind. One of the reasons I've never been interested in the French thriller Anything for Her (or more literally For Elle) or its American remake The Next Three Days is because of their reportedly straightforward manner: Man's wife is unjustly imprisoned, man hardens up and breaks her out. The end. It initially looked as though the remake was going to tease the question of whether the wife had committed the crime or, even more intriguingly, make her guilty of the crime. But no such luck.

Such similar if not quite shot-for-shot remakes seem to be the common path for films transitioning from the “foreign” world to the English speaking one (see also: Brothers) but what of films going the other way? It’s difficult to say because the latter tend to fail to attract any attention in the English language press, be difficult to track down and inspire little confidence that the films might worth seeing unless one has a surfeit of anthropological interest or is being piod to write an opinion column. As such I'm yet to see any of these: Not even Gong Li and Andy Lau are enough to stoke my interest in a recent Chinese version of What Women Want.

A more interesting, albeit less accessible (isn’t that always the way?) one which I’ve heard of is a Japanese version of Sideways produced by the local version of Fox Studios (so I guess it's an open question as to just how foreign the studio is) featuring two Japanese actors as the friends on the bachelor party and a whole bunch of American actors as the locals at the vineyard. I wonder if they inserted some culture clash comedy? And given that Sideways is a comedy of manners I wander how much localisation was needed for these parts? Also, why Sideways? At a guess I'd say it's because literate prestige pictures aren't Hollywood's most exposed exports but I'd be happy to defer to an expert on this one. In any case: definitely an area for future exploration.

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