Hollywood remaking foreign-language films isn’t anything new, and countries as diverse as France, Japan, and Iceland have all seen their movies adapted, for better or worse, through an American lens. South Korea is a relatively new inductee into the bunch with only a handful of their films getting the Hollywood treatment leading up to this year’s much maligned Spike Lee redo of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.
2006’s The Lake House was the first U.S. remake of a Korean film (based on Il Mare), and it was followed by a forgettable romantic comedy (My Sassy Girl) and a trio of horror films including Mirrors (Into the Mirror), The Uninvited (A Tale of Two Sisters), and Possession (Addicted). And that’s it… for now.
Per The Wrap, the latest Korean film to be slated for Hollywood reincarnation is Kim Jee-woon’s brutally uncompromising and wickedly good I Saw the Devil (my review). Remake rights have been acquired by 1984 Private Defense Contractors which is headed up by Adi Shankar and Spencer Silna. The production company’s past films include The Grey, Dredd, Killing Them Softly, and others, which is a bit of a confidence booster, but what to make of the following comment from Shankar?
Kim Jee-Woon’s ’I Saw the Devil’ is perfect in so many ways. The intention is not to remake the film per se, but rather to “port” it for international audiences.”
He’s right of course about how damn good the movie is, but porting it for U.S. audiences sounds like code for softening, weakening, and making it more palatable. For those of you who haven’t seen Kim’s film yet, go watch the goddamn movie. It’s a revenge thriller of sorts about a government agent (Lee Byung-hun) whose pregnant girlfriend is viciously murdered by a serial killer (Choi Min-sik). While every other film with that setup would follow the agent’s quest to find and kill the madman, the story-line here goes in a much darker direction as our “hero” descends into a highly immoral abyss in his quest for vengeance.
Kim, who made his U.S. debut earlier this year with The Last Stand, is already no stranger to seeing his work re-imagined. Not only was his first feature film remade in Japan by Takashi Miike, but he’s also the director of A Tale of Two Sisters. Anyone who’s seen both it and The Uninvited knows that it didn’t survive the transition all that well.
While those six are the only Korean to U.S. remakes already released, there are a few others waiting in the wings in various stages of pre-production. Both of the other films in Park’s so-called “revenge” trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance, were optioned over the last few years, and while I don’t see the former ever getting produced here the latter has come close with Charlize Theron attached to star and William Monahan set to write the script. Both of Na Hong-jin’s excellent thrillers, The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, have been optioned, and Bong Joon-ho’s equally fantastic The Host and Mother are lined up as well.
I’m not against remakes in theory, even when they’re of movies I happen to love, but they so rarely have something new to say or some fresh way to say it. Worse, the impression too frequently is that the film was simply remade due to a perceived popularity and hopeful profit. I’m actually pretty stoked for the Lady Vengeance remake because the people involved (Theron, Monahan, Megan Ellison) seem genuinely excited by the project. “Park is a genius,” said Monahan. “It’s the Everest of adaptations and I’ve got blood in my teeth to do it.” So yeah, that’s a remake I want to see.