Episode 119: The Problem With “American-ized” Remakes


Last week, I talked about Filipino Wattpad writers and I gave them a rather smart proposal, if I do say so myself. I suggested they actually translate their works into English since it would expand their audiences a thousand fold. Instead of just having Filipino readers, they would get readers from around the world! That did get me thinking about how a lot of foreign movies that have been more than translated; they were remade by United States movie companies. I should be okay with that but, apparently, something gets lost in translation.

Now, this post isn’t a rant about the actual practice of remaking foreign movies. I actually think there are a lot of benefits of making an “Americanized” version of popular movies from oversees. The biggest one is the huge boost of publicity the original film with get. I remember around 5 years ago Hollywood was producing a movie called Let Me In, which was going to be a remake of the Swedish horror film, Let The Right One In. I’m not sure how many knew about the original Swedish film before the announcement!

Guess which is the American version?

Guess which is the American version?

Sometimes, these American versions actually are pretty good according to critics. I haven’t watched The Departed since, when it came out I was only 11 years old and probably wouldn’t be able to understand it then, but I’ve seen the film garner so many awards from both the critics as well as mainstream audiences. It also won a couple of Academy and Golden Globe Awards! Not bad for a remake of a Hong Kong movie!

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the king (queen?) of Americanized movies, The Ring. This was the film that opened the floodgates for foreign films to get American remakes! I remember I watched both of them when I was 14 and they both scared the pee out of me (not literally… but almost). While I do personally like the original Japanese horror film, Ringu, I have to give props to the The Ring. While I don’t think it was as scary as the original, it did show Western audiences that a film made overseas can have a lot of scares! Besdes, watching Sadako/Samara climb out of the well is scary no matter which version you see!

Sadly, I think The Departed and The Ring are those flukes regarding Americanized films. Most of them are usually terrible or don’t really add anything to the original film. I’m talking about movies like The Grudge and One Missed Call that just can’t seem to recapture the essence of what made the original version frightening. The worst case I saw was Shutter. I loved the original Thai film but the American version was one of those rare “horror” films that didn’t scare me one bit!

I also have to include movies like Let Me In which pretty much are too afraid of screwing things up they only make a couple of changes which makes you wonder why they bothered with making an American version in the first place! I mean, if they were going to remake the thing shot-for-shot, they may as well just release the original version! I’m guessing they do this because they want to put a “big name” actress like Chloe-Grace Moretz and hope they can bank on her star power to carry the film. And I’m guessing it worked because the movie was a big hit in both the United States and around the world!

So, what is the problem with Americanized remakes? For me, it’s not the lack of originality but rather the choice of films. Most of the time, they choose massive hits without consideration as to why those films worked. For most horror films, such as The Grudge, a lot of the film’s scares come from the culture itself. An anger so intense it can embed itself in a location? That’s so Japanese! That kind of thing is totally alien to Americans and the Western world. And since it is pretty alien to them, Americans can’t translate what makes it scary. Heck, The Grudge was directed by the same director of the original Japanese film but even he couldn’t make it work!

I think this is why The Ring worked. In the Japanese version, the film focused on “curing” the curse and not much focus was given to the psychology of Sadako. In the American version, however, they went to great lengths to give Samara (the “Sadako” in this version) an actual backstory and why she’s doing this. The American version adapted the story to make it work for Western viewers.

I don't think they got the hair right.

I don’t think they got the hair right, though.

I do think there is room for Americanized remakes. However, they really have to make it their own while managing to convey the mood of the original version. It’s a tough act to balance but it has been done with The Departed and The Ring. Hollywood has to realize it’s not just a matter of translating the source material. It has more to deal with adapting it to suit the tastes of their audience.

While we’re on the topic of adapting stuff, I do wish I could adapt my video game driving skills into real life driving skills since I just took my driver’s test and… well, I’ll tell you all about that next time!

What’s your favorite “Americanized” movie? Let me know in the comments section below!

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