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January 24, 2006

Made in Asia, remade in Hollywood


Kiyoshi Kurosawa - 2001
Universe Laser & Video Region 3 DVD


Il Mare/Siworae
Lee Hyun-Seung - 2000
Spectrum Region 0 DVD

It would be hypocritical of me to be totally against American remakes of Asian films. I admit to having John Sturges' Magnificent Seven in my collection. I am bothered by the frequency of remakes in the past few years. To me, it's an admission of creative laziness on the part of Hollywood, as well as a cultural laziness on the part of American audiences. My significant other would argue that part of the problem is that foreign films should be dubbed into English, just as Ango-American films are dubbed in other countries. She may be right. The other challenge is that the few Asian films that get U.S. release are shown in other than the large cities, or those venues dedicated to foreign films. The ideal situation is that there would be greater support of Asian artists by those have supported appropriations such as Quentin Tarantino's films and Gwen Stefani's Harujuku Girls.

Opening in a couple of weeks is the Weinstein Company remake of Pulse with Kristen Bell. The Region 1 DVD of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's version will be available on February 21. While not as disturbing as Cure, Pulse does maintain a sense of dread throughout the length of the film. The spookiness is created with underlit and backlit scenes, and empty environments. The film begins somewhat like other J-Horror ghost stories with the dead coming back to haunt the living. Kurosawa's existenstial concerns slowly take over. In the short-hand summing up of Sartre's No Exit is the conclusion that "Hell is other people". Kurosawa concludes that one person connecting with another person is extremely difficult and rare, and is a situation to be appreciated. The dreamlike imagery owes a debt to F. W. Murnau and Japanese author Edogawa Rampo. One of Rampo's most famous short stories is "The Human Chair". Kurosawa may have been making a nod to Rampo with the chairs as frequent props, sometimes appearing in unexpected places. There is no gore, the violence is generally muted, and nothing leaps out unexpectedly in Pulse. Had Daniel Clowes not used it, the film could easily be titled Ghost World. For Kurosawa, the greatest horror is loneliness.

The remake of Il Mare is currently titled The Lake House. Scheduled for a June release, it will undoubtedly be seen by a larger audience than the original Korean film. The title, Il Mare translates as "The Sea". The story is about a young man and young woman who lived in the same unique house in a coastal area. The woman, Eun-Ju, who lived in the house in 2000, left a letter that mysteriously gets picked up out of the mailbox by Sung-Hyun, who lived in the house in 1998. The two continue to write to each other via the magic mail box. The biggest obstacles to the film aside from a storyline with some major plot holes are the badly translated, and frequently garbled English subtitles. It should be no surprise that the would-be couple overcomes space and time, logic, and a couple of plot twists. Il Mare is a bit of good-natured cinematic fluff. That it's being remade as a vehicle for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock makes me wonder about about the heart of Hollywood.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 24, 2006 03:16 PM


A subject that makes my blood boil.

I wasn't even aware of the Il Mare remake. The remakes of Oldboy and My Sassy Girl annoy me enough - if only because many people will probably never see the original. The success of both of these films lies not only with the screenplay, but the powerful and magnificent lead performances.

Bet you a nickel that Hollywood will change the twist in Oldboy.

Posted by: Filmbrain at January 27, 2006 12:31 PM