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Is nothing sacred anymore?

5 Hollywood remakes of foreign films that didn’t live up to their originals

By Kara Santos Published Feb 24, 2021 12:43 am Updated Feb 24, 2021 2:47 am

Shortly after Bong Joon Ho’s brilliantly-made Parasite became the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it was announced that an American television series based on the film was in the works.

The blockbuster South Korean zombie thriller Train to Busan is also reportedly getting the Hollywood treatment, which seems really unecessary because the film was pretty much perfect as it is.

Is nothing sacred anymore?

These days, there seem to be more and more remakes and reboots in development, including for well-loved foreign films, just to pander to audiences too lazy to read subtitles. But more often than not, the cultural nuances that made the originals so special just get lost in translation.

Here's a look back at five ill-conceived Hollywood remakes that probably should have never happend.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) vs. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

The 2017 American science fiction action film Ghost in the Shell which starred Scarlett Johanssson was a live-action remake of one of the most successful Japanese anime movies of all time.

The original Ghost in the Shell was based on the Japanese manga of the same name written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, which spawned the media franchise including the 1995 anime cyberpunk classic directed by Mamoru Oshii.

Set in a near future when the line between humans and robots is blurring, the Hollywood version follows Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a cybernetic supersoldier who investigates her past. She rises through the ranks of Section 9, a counter-terrorism bureau, only to discover that she was a test subject and must reevaluate her loyalties.

The Westernized live-action reboot of the cult manga seemed to be doomed from the start. The Hollywood version was heavily criticized for its story and lack of character development. The casting of Caucasian actors, particularly Johansson, drew accusations of racism and whitewashing in the United States

The original version set in 2029 Japan follows Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg public-security agent, who hunts a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. The narrative incorporates philosophical themes that focus on self-identity in a technologically advanced world. The music includes elements of an ancient Japanese language.

Critics have praised the anime film's narrative, score, and visuals, achieved through a combination of traditional cel animation and CGI animation. The film is said to have even inspired filmmakers like the Wachowskis, creators of the Matrix films, and James Cameron.

Quarantine (2008) vs. [REC] (2007)

While it was scary enough, the 2008 American found footage horror film Quarantine which starred Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) didn’t quite have the same level of horror seen in the original Spanish film [REC].

Both films follow a reporter and her cameraman assigned to a pair of firemen who follow a distress call to an apartment building where they discover a deadly mutated strain of rabies spreading among the building's occupants.

While Spain’s [REC] was a commercial and critical success and is considered one of the best films in the found footage genre, Quarantine received lukewarm reviews from critics mainly for how closely it mimicked the film on which it was based. The lead actress in the Spanish version was also much more likeable on screen, compared to Carpenter.

The Eye (2008) vs. The Eye (2002)

The 2008 American supernatural horror-thriller film version of The Eye starring Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola and Parker Posey really fell flat compared to the 2002 Hong Kong-Singaporean horror film directed by the Pang brothers.

Hollywood’s version of the film, which cast Jessica Alba as a successful blind classical violinist from Los Angeles, received generally negative reviews from critics, many considering it a “tedious remake of an Asian horor film” and vastly inferior to the original. Jessica Alba's wooden performance was generally criticized and the role even got her a nod for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.

The original version of The Eye, also known as Seeing Ghosts, follows the 20-year-old Hong Kong classical violinist Wong Kar Mun (Lee Sin-Je) who undergoes an eye cornea transplant after receiving a pair of new eyes from a donor. While she's overjoyed with the procedure, Mun's elation dissipates when she begins experiencing ghostly encounters.

Lee Sin-Je was an amazingly talented actress who portrayed the role of a blind girl dealing with the disorientation of seeing for the first time which added to the tension of the supernatural events happening around her. The cinematography, tense buildup, and grittiness of the settings, particularly the memorable elevator scene, just added to horror of the film. The film is a prime example of creepy, spine-tingling classic Asian horror.

My Sassy Girl (2008) vs. My Sassy Girl (2001)

The 2008 American film My Sassy Girl which starred Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford was a remake of the beloved 2001 South Korean romantic-comedy of the same name directed by Yann Samuell.Both films are based on a true story told in a series of blog posts written by Kim Ho-sik, who later adapted them into a fictional novel.

In the Hollywood version, the film is set in New York City's Central Park and Upper East Side. The fact that the remake was released direct-to-DVD in the United States should give a clue about its quality. The cringe-worthy trailer below and Hollywood style voiceover explaining everything speaks for itself.

The original South Korean rom-com tells the story of a college student (Tae-hyun Cha) who becomes involved with a self-centered young woman (Ji-hyun Jun) who humiliates him at every turn. The culturally nuanced and sentimental film was very successful in South Korea, where it was the highest-grossing comedy of all time, and one of the top five highest-grossing ever at the time. The blockbuster hit sparked an international breakthrough for Korean cinema.

The Lake House (2006) vs. II Mare (2000)

Not even Speed stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock could save the 2006 American romantic drama film The Lake House, a remake of the South Korean film Il Mare released in 2000.

The Lake House centered on an architect living in 2004 and a doctor living in 2006 who meet via letters left in a mailbox at the lake house where they have lived at separate points in time. They carry on correspondence over two years, remaining separated by their original difference of two years.

The Hollywood flick was inspired by the superior South Korean film Il Mare (lit. "time-transcending love"), which means "The Sea" in Italian, the name of the seaside house which is the setting of the original story.

The two protagonists both live there two years apart in time, but are able to communicate through a mysterious mailbox. While the original time-travel romance was not a popular success in 2000 when it first came out, it has since developed a loyal fan base and attained the status of a minor classic among Korean cinema fans.

While there’s still chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in the Hollywood film, the heavy dose of Hollywood treatment just doesn’t work as well for a wondrously illogical time-travel romance and the quiet yet magical moments that South Korean romance films seem to have mastered.

(Banner and thumbnail images via Paramount Pictures)