Hack-Off: Asian remakes vs European?

The Bloody Good Horror Crew goes at it on a new topic every Friday afternoon, we call it the "Hack-Off". Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments.

Which make for better American remakes, European or Asian films?
Eric: At this point it's hard to tell, mainly because there are a handful of European remakes currently in production. (Rec) (retitled "Quarantine" for the US release) comes to mind. Off the cuff, I would have to say that the Japanese films make for harder remakes, mainly because you have to do a great deal to transform the script with American culture in mind. On the same hand, a lot of European horror ("Frontiere(s)," "Inside") ends up getting limited theatrical releases here and maybe a DVD release, before the directors are snatched up by American studios in order to helm some original project (or strangely enough, as in the case of "Invasion," a remake of an older American film).

I think that the answer lies in what I already said regarding culture. It's easier for a lot of Americans to sit down and watch a European film with subtitles than it is to watch an Asian film. And really, as much as I like to cry "stupid American", I think that's completely valid. Asian culture, specifically Japanese, is so strange compared to our sensibilities that a lot of times I have trouble getting "into" the story. In that case, I'm usually in favor of an American redux. Now that the whole J-Horror remake trend is dying out, it appears that studios are looking more and more towards European remakes. So the next few years will tell which trend was a better idea.

Eric, you've hit the nail on the head. European scares are much more in line with American sensibilities. Subtitles aside, Asian Horror is a completely different type of scare. Asian culture, judging from their movies, find the slow and creeping tales of ghosts far scarier. For example, "The Ring". The Asian original tends to be far slower than the American remake with their jump scares of the more subtle variety. Many times after watching an American remake, I'll dig up the original and find myself a bit...bored.

For European horror flicks, I find them far more in line with what we're used to as an American audience. They tend to be gruesome in new ways while keeping a bit of the 'in your face' attitude of an American Horror flick. For examples, the French flick '"Inside" kept me on the edge of my seat unlike any movie I've watched this year. Stretching a bit outside of the European boundaries, you can pull in other foreign flicks from places such as Australia and New Zealand that tend to add their own flavor the genre, still managing to be a bit more upbeat and closer to our own tastes.

Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" is the stand out of course with over the top gore and slapstick black comedy. Mix in the likes of flicks like "Black Sheep", "Wolf Creek" and "Storm Warning", and you have several almost European horror flicks that tend to outshine the Asian originals out there as far as American sensibilities go. For the Aussie's however, these movies tend to stand their own ground and don't require remakes for American Shores.

So, since I've wandered off track a bit, my final answer is that Asian flicks fare better with an American remake; they require more work to become closer to what American audiences expect. Mainstream Euro horror is already pretty close to the mark and do not really benefit from the remake process. Bottom line? I found the American 'Ring' far more exciting that the original Japanese version. ( I still refuse to admit that the American 'Ring' was very scary though. )

There's probably a whole book to be written (or possibly that has already been written) about the basic concept behind what makes foreign horror translate well to the US or not. The real key, and this is what has been so interesting vis a vis the newer of all the new remakes, is the way that Hollywood has now started to look to the original filmmakers to remake their own stuff, but also to remake older American films.

In my mind it's impossible to come down on either side of this debate with regards to specific films because every remake is different, and there are so many ways that it could possibly go wrong. East Asian horror, and Japanese horror in particular, as both Casey and Eric have mentioned, tends to center on very specific characters or actions from the past returning to haunt the living. This isn't something entirely alien to Americans, in fact it's central to several different trends within horror, but the presence of out-and-out ghosts has certainly diminished in US films over the last couple of decades.

In general, it would seem that audience have begun voting with their feet in regards to which films they'd rather see. The drop off in terms of return on investment from The Ring to The Grudge to now films like The Eye and Shutter, leads me to wonder if something like Tale of Two Sisters will even get a shot at theaters. Meanwhile, as Eric mentioned from the get go, there's a handful of European born (primarily French and Spanish I guess) films that are making their way to remake-ville (aka Hollywood).

If you look at foreign horror films that have gone straight into US theaters, you get a sense of what American audience will turn out in large numbers to see: The Orphanage from late last year, and The Brotherhood of the Wolf (dubious horror credentials) are the only horror films to crack BoxOfficeMojo's top 30 (actually 31, which is where the Orphanage stands right now). I discounted Pan's Labyrinth, but even still, that would make three, a Spanish film, a French film, and a Mexican film (about Spain).

If horror films are representations of our collective cultural nightmares, I guess the real point to be made, is that we prefer our nightmares homegrown, and even when they are rehashed from abroad, they tend to need a lot of work to really gel with our sensibilities.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Pan's Labyrinth did much more to scare the living shit out of me than any horror flick I've seen in the past year or so since then. From a vision standpoint, that film somehow found a way to draw from my imagination and simultaneously make me very uneasy and scare me a little bit at the same time. Couple that with a very tight political back story that just lends to the enchantment and you have a hell of a lot of praise to throw around.

One of the other main differences I've noticed between Euro and J/A-Horror films is that you generally see European films such as Pan's or Inside get released in their original language, with subtitles. In the case of Asian Horror however, us filthy Americans are more apt to take a film from the far east, CG the hell out of them, substitute (most of) the Asians for attractive white people, and try to Americanize it as much as possible. Needless to say we are much more used to having to work around say Spanish or French, and far less prepared to even form a basic comprehension of Japanese. A lot gets lost in the translation.

Also, as we've mentioned on the podcast, "scary ghost chicks with long hair" stories are not the only films coming from Asia that us Americans recognize. Fanboys love to swing from the twig and berries of Takashi Miike (podcast episode/slam session coming soon) for the sake of sounding "in the know." Although questionable in quality, it speaks to the fact that his style of directing is somehow resonating in the back of the mind of someone like Eli Roth when he's planning out the gruesome scenes of "Hostel XII."

Also, we can't have this discussion without bringing up Battle Royale at least once. Again, it's not a film that's going to be winning any awards from a directorial standpoint, but it has amassed quite a loyal mass of followers (which I myself belong to) for its ultra-violence, and it's charmingly terrible translation ("You look so cool...thank"). I think that we often forget about these wildly inventive and catchy Asian flicks because we're too busy trying to wash the blandness of "The Eye Grudge Ring II" out of our mouths.

It was a short go-round this week, so feel free to help us round out the discussion in the comments, and check back every Friday for a new edition!

Eric N

Co-Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Podcast Host

Eric is the mad scientist who keeps BGH running day to day. He enjoys retro games, tiny dogs, eating fiber and anything whimsical.

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