Continuing the tradition of remaking horror movies in America.
South Korean director Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing was one of the most financially and critically successful horror films of 2016, making its way onto many critics Best of the Year lists. In fact, Rob Hunter placed it at number 6 on his Best Horror Movies of 2016 list, describing it as “dark, vicious, and spellbinding”. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox Korea, and made $51.3 million at the box office.
Therefore, it makes sense that American producer Ridley Scott is eyeing the film for an American remake. His production company, Scott Free, is considering enlisting Na Hong-jin to direct an English-language version of The Wailing, according to Hosung Kim, the head of Fox International Productions Korea. Kim mentioned this news yesterday, as he accepted the Korean Film Reporters’ Association’s award for best picture of 2016. The film also won the prize for best director. Regarding Scott Free, Kim also said:
“They said The Wailing reminded them of films such as The Exorcist, The Ring, and Seven. The locality and sensibility of The Wailing is so strong that I don’t think it would be easy to do a Western remake, and it will be important who directs it. So I told him I think the only director who could do the remake is Na Hong-jin. But we are still in early stages of talks”
In his review, Rob Hunter notes that The Wailing provides a kind of visceral excitement that is rarely matched by American filmmakers. But perhaps Na Hong-jin will be able to smoothly translate his work from one country (and language) to another. He has previously stated that he has no interest in working in Hollywood, but hopefully if he decides to, he has as much creative control over his project as possible. Kim noted that “We’re being careful. As you know, there are a lot of remakes out there being developed” – implying that he and his creative team want to make sure that if they become involved in an American remake, it actually gets finished and released.
Of course, Hollywood remakes international horror movies all the time, sometimes with the same director across multiple countries. For example, Michael Haneke directed the terrifying Austrian thriller Funny Games in 1997, and then remade the film himself in America in 2007. It seems that if a movie is going to be remade, the original director should have at least some say over the direction it takes, even if they don’t direct it themselves. One of the most famous American horror remakes is The Ring (2002), based on the 1998 Japanese film Ringu. After its success, Hollywood produced a string of Americanized horror movies, including The Grudge (2004), The Uninvited (2009), Dark Water (2005), and Shutter (2008). While some of these films were successful at the box office, most of them were not as critically-acclaimed as the original versions – perhaps due to the difficulty of translating a film from one side of the world to the other. But perhaps employing the same director/crew could improve the quality and coherence of these remakes.
The Wailing tells the story of a small Korean village that suddenly begins to experience a series of horrific murders committed by people with boils on their skin, seemingly driven into a violent frenzy before they die. The film follows two officers, a mysterious woman, a priest, and a shaman, who work together to solve the mystery and to save the officer’s daughter, who appears to have contracted the sickness. The film is full of twists and turns, violent imagery, and consistently engaging storytelling. Kim notes of the film’s Korean specificity:
“What other country has such diverse religious beliefs as Korea? In The Wailing, you see not a Korean Buddhist monk, but a Japanese monk type of person, a shaman, Christianity, Catholicism, and diverse pagan and occult beliefs. It’s different from the religious worldview of the West where they have monotheism in Christianity… Would it work if the film were in their own language?”
Kim rightfully has reservations about producing an American remake of The Wailing, and it is true that sometimes stories do not cohere properly or make sense once removed from their specific culture and location. If Scott Free does move forward with the American production, they would definitely do well to have Na on board to direct, and to make sure that a new sense of location is established for an American horror film that will be unlike any other.