Monday, December 6, 2010

on american adaptations

all this and Andy Rooney's stand-in tonight on however-long-it-takes-you-to-read-this. We have the Blockbuster-by-mail service at my house, so when I rent a movie, it's usually a disc instead of streaming. I'm very, very resistant to the phasing out of physical discs in favor of digital downloads. However, at the chance to get a free movie rental for trying Vudu, I rented something I knew only I (out of the people in the house) would be interested in. 

Everyone else was asleep and I was too sick for the mental requirements of a video game, so I rented The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I couldn't begin to tell you what made me want to rent it. I was going to rent Predators but I kind of felt like others at home would want to see it. As far as what drew me to Dragon Tattoo, I like mysteries and I knew it was relatively well-reviewed. Also, I knew that it was getting a Hollywood adaptation, which probably intensified my curiosity .I don't hold that foreign movies are better than Hollywood movies, but subtitles will almost always add a curiosity factor for me. I'm not the type that thinks subbed movies are better, but they don't scare me away.

I'ts not a universal good either

It was a decent mystery-thriller movie, worth the price of free. I recommend watching it if you liked Red Dragon . The film is being adapted by Hollywood, with Daniel Craig to star, and that ushers us into "the point": Americanization. It got me thinking. One of my favorite movies of all time is a Korean romantic comedy. The original starred an actress named Jun Ji Hyun, whom I'd written about briefly (surprisingly badly at the time) in April 2010. She plays an eccentric (I'm guessing especially compared with East Asian conventions) girl with little care for what other people think about her. Her boyfriend, the main character, is constantly slapped around by her in a comedic fashion, and the movie focuses on their relationship as it transitions from "just friends" to "couple", and all the difficulties and awkwardness that happens in between. It's a romantic comedy, but it's got more personality than 99% of the date movies you can see at the theater, and is totally Y-chromosome friendly. It's equal parts Chasing Amy, There's Something About Mary and ...... Asian soaps. The movie came out in 2001, and was remade in America in 2008 starring Elisha Cuthbert. And some guy.


The American takes a very different tone from what I've seen (the trailer). The original is a relatively standard (but well-made) romantic comedy, but the trailer for the remake presents it more like a gender-reversed Good Luck Chuck. It's probably not a bad movie, but the main conflict for the male lead seems to be that this girl's presence in his life will sometimes lead to shinnanegans. The resolution is that he decides he's going to be with her anyway. That's a gross oversimplification anyway. Wiki says that they follow the source material better than I make it sound, but I can't help feeling something is missing. Missing because a comically abusive girlfriend is really ... not special in America. It's special in Asia. 

Here's the thing: Why do Americans do this? What's wrong with simply giving the original movie a stateside theatrical release? Are Americans (on average) really xenophobic or uninformed enough to not go see foreign movies? I can understand remakes of old movies to a greater degree, but not by much. What makes remakes necessary? Especially when the original is always better? I'm not the kind of guy who goes around telling people that they need to be more ... I dunno, cultured or something. OK yes I am, but stay with me. 

I try to pass good movies on to people for the simple reason that I hope they'll enjoy them, and hopefully seek out more movies like that in the future if they do. This relates to Americanization because if the original is always better, and the goal is to find the best movies around, then why should people even bother with sucky American remakes? Think about The Grudge, The Ring, The Office, Let the Right One In, etc etc. All of these are reputably better than their American counterparts. So why does it take a remake to introduce audiences to these movies? Call me cynical, but it really shouldn't take a whole multi-million dollar production to introduce audiences to a movie that already existed. Foreign movies in general don't really get released at places like Regal unless they're up for an Oscar. Even then, you almost always have to look for it at theaters who specialize in that sort of thing. Now, don't get me wrong: I've actually never seen a foreign movie in the theater. But I do take whatever foreign movies come my way through review sites and friends.

I can actually vouch for this

Americans export more movies than anyone else. Go to any country and it's more than likely that the theaters in the area will be playing mostly American movies. According to IMDB, if you take all movies ever and rank them according to how much they've grossed worldwide, every last movie until the 284th (except for a few Bond movies and Slumdog Millionaire, which are UK) is American. The one to break the American streak is Spirited Away, a hugely popular Anime. All foreign movies ever combined only break in to the worldwide grosses slightly better than 300th. If you look at the exclusively non-US gross (that is, global gross minus the US), Howl's Moving Castle, an anime by the same director, makes it in at 127. Again, Bond movies aren't counted. So even without American tickets counted, foreign countries are still going to see our movies more than they are their own, and by a huge number. I had a point based on that, now what was it? Oh, yeah. If other countries can be expected to watch our movies and our TV shows without complaining about cultural differences confusing them, the hassle of reading subtitles and such, why can't we do it for them? 

Here's another example. Why do we show American shows in the UK, but before we can see The Office without importing a DVD set, it has to be remade with an American cast? Honestly, I have nothing bad to say about the American version. I don't really watch it, but it's okay. But I guess I just don't understand the necessity of it. The fact that American audiences expect to be accommodated for in this regard but won't offer others the same courtesy is just stupid. I think it says something negative about America. If you visit England, you can probably find American TV in your hotel room. But here, you have to buy a special cable package before you can see anything foreign.

Or we give them a job here

Would it really be so bad if we had the real Ugly Betty on ABC, Hana Yori Dango on Fox, and Graham Norton on NBC, mixed in with our own domestic shows? Goodness knows Americans could really use some familiarization with the rest of the world. That statement makes me feel like a snobby jackass, but I think you know what I mean. I'm not America-bashing, I'm just saying that being a little more inclusive of other nations would be a good thing. And it's not like we don't already look intolerant. It could not possibly hurt to expose ourselves to other cultures and arts in such a casual manner. Hopefully we'll actually see a day when watching a movie from Sweden is normal and not relatively open-minded. We wouldn't be watching a Swedish movie, we'd just be watchin a movie. Sure, American remake productions of shows and movies help move the economy, and goodness knows we need that, but why not use those resources to make something new? It's not like the original movie gives it any pretense to Americans anyway (no reputations means no fanbase means no ticket sales), so what do you have to lose?     

1 comment:

  1. Much like the term "gamer" I fear this one is a losing battle. Americans are xenophobic. Thats why "Americanization" of foreign franchises are so awful (Dragon Ball Z is a good example) because our general understanding of other cultures is so off base. As for remakes, some have a valid place, but only when the director has his own unique vision in mind. Otherwise you just end up with people saying the same thing with a slightly different accent (see: Death at a Funeral)


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