For almost every successful Hollywood remake of a foreign film, there's been a commercial misfire or artistic disappointment. Yet in their quest to avoid making original fare, the studios are mining overseas hits with greater relish than ever.
“Foreign-language remakes have had a mini-renaissance in Hollywood,” the Los Angeles Times observed last week while reporting that Warner Bros. is closing a deal to redo Argentinean thriller The Secret in their Eyes (pictured). Billy Ray, who directed Shattered Glass and wrote Flightplan and the upcoming 24 movie, will script and direct the remake. Juan José Campanella, who wrote, directed and produced the original, will likely be involved as a producer.
Sweden has been an especially fertile source, yielding remakes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Let the Right One In (re-titled Let Me In) and Snabba Cash (which will feature Zac Efron as a financial whiz kid who moonlights as a cocaine dealer).
Actually, director David Fincher says his version of Dragon Tattoo isn't strictly a remake although it will be faithful to the Stieg Larsson novel; it will star The Social Network's Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, Daniel Craig as the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson and Steven Berkoff.
Kate Beckinsale will co-star with Mark Wahlberg in Baltasar Kormákur's remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, re-titled Contraband. Kormákur starred in and produced the Icelandic thriller which was a foreign-language Oscar contender. The plot centres on a security guard and former alcohol smuggler on the Iceland-Netherlands route who's tempted back into that illicit business by a friend after encountering financial problems.
We're also seeing a spike in foreign-language remakes of Hollywood hits. For example, Disney's High School Musical was re-imagined in China as Musical Youth, co-produced by Disney with two local partners, Huayi Brothers and Shanghai Media Group. But the film flopped, blamed on strong domestic competition, bad timing and poor distribution. Film critic Zhang Xiaobei says cultural reasons were also a factor, telling National Public Radio, “High School Musical wasn't very successful because it was overly Hollywood-ised. As remakes become more popular, the cultural differences will become more marked."
Nonetheless, Chen Daming is directing the Chinese remake of the US rom-com What Women Want. He says Chinese audiences prefer “more emotion and less analysis” than Western viewers.
Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) is also trying his hand at adaptations, with a mandarin interpretation of the Coen Brothers' neo-noir thriller Blood Simple. A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop opens in Australia through Sony on November 4.
Among the most successful Hollywood remakes have been Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs/The Departed, Norway's Insomnia, France's La Cage aux Folles/ The Birdcage, France's La Totale!/ True Lies and Japan's The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven.