Monday, February 26, 2007


An essay by The Undead Film Critic!

American cinemas are currently overrun with remakes. You have your big budget summer blockbuster remakes, your remakes of low budget cult horror films that are dumbed down to get a PG-13 rating and you have your nostalgic U.S. television show remakes. Sometimes you may not even be aware that the film you're watching is a remake. I doubt most of the people suckered into wasting their money to see The Lake House were aware that it was a remake of a 2000 South Korean picture (Siworae, directed by Hyun-seung Lee). While most American remakes are dull, predictable & unnecessary, it's a completely different story overseas. Countries like Italy and Turkey made numerous homage pictures in the 70's and 80's that often remained familiar to their source material, but would then branch out to incorporate local characters and traditions, making for an uncommon and often insane final result.

Obviously, any film that was a commercial success in the U.S. was ripe for the picking for foreign producers. Some films, such as Paul Verhoeven's Robocop, spawned several different remakes - Nu Ji Xie Ren (Robotrix), Full Metal Gokudô (Full Metal Yakuza), Robo Vampire - most of which would take the most memorable aspects & visuals of a hit film and incorporate them into a picture that would appeal more to its regional audience. I have always found this type of picture to be much more fascinating than those films that are remade, scene by scene. The pinnacle of these type of foreign remakes I like to call remakesploitation pictures. If Blacksploitation movies exploit black culture & stereotypes and Sexploitation movies exploit...well sex, then a remakesploitaion movie is one that exploits characters, plot points, and scenes from several different films - usually of the same genre - and crams them all together to create a truly mesmerizing viewing experience. There are several different ways that these pictures have been made. I have narrowed the list down to a few of my favorites, to give a better understanding of these unique foreign films.

A remake will often start with the setting or premise of one film as a stepping stone that will then lead into the plot of another. Such is the case with 2019 - Dopo la caduta di New York (2019: After the Fall of New York). Made in 1983 by Sergio Martino, this French-Italian co-production starts off very much as an imitation of George Miller's The Road Warrior. Parsifal, played by Michael Sopkiw, is a Snake Plissken/Mad Max clone who enters a Death Race, in which the victor will receive license to kill tokens (they are like "get out of jail free card" but for killing people) and a somewhat clean female. The automotive duel takes place in a rocky & barren post-apocalyptic setting where tricked out demolition cars collide into one another to the death. The competition is cheered on by a group of outcast mutants, all of whom are dressed as if they just left a Siouxsie and The Banshees concert. After winning the match and collecting his winnings, Parsifal is ambushed on the road by a helicopter and is drugged and taken to a military base in Alaska. From this point, the film drives head on into a rip-off of John Carpenter's Escape from New York, which, like Warrior, was a popular sci-fi film from 1981. However, unlike Escape from NY, the lead character does not enter the Big Apple to retrieve a stranded U.S. president. Instead, his mission is to locate a woman. In 2019, no children have been born for over 15 years. Parsifal has been chosen to enter a decaying New York to locate the last fertile woman and extract her from the volatile city. If you have seen Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, this may seem more than a little familiar. In Children of Men, Clive Owen is chosen by Julianne Moore to do the exact same thing. While the first 20 minutes of 2019 set a tone familiar to the post-apocalyptic desperation of Miller's Mad Max films, the rest of the movie strays little from the blueprint set in Carpenter's Escape.

Some remakes take the framework of a previous film and then inject a character from a different film altogether, combining the best of two worlds. In Xing Xing Wang (The Mighty Peking Man), an expedition is sent into the Himalayas to verify the existence of a 50-foot ape creature. After enduring an elephant stampede and being abandoned by his guides, the expedition leader Johnnie Fang (played by Danny Lee) finds and captures the colossal primate. Brought by boat to Hong Kong, the beast is put on display where he inevitability breaks free of his shackles, and begins to rampage through the city. After stepping on people, crushing cars and destroying apartment buildings, the ape-man eventually meets his demise, falling to his death from the top of a large building. Made in 1977 by the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong, Xing Xing Wang was an obvious attempt to cash in on the success and long lasting appeal of King Kong (1933). What makes this more than your average remake however, is that the Fay Wray character is not portrayed as a helpless beauty brought into the jungle to tempt and tame the beast. Instead Ah Wei, played by Evelyne Kraft, is a jungle woman who talks to animals, lives in a cave and frolics in the grass with her pet jaguar. Through flashbacks we learn that she was stranded in the jungle, orphaned after the small plane her family was flying crashed over the Indian mountains. Raised by the Peking Man, she has learned to communicate with the jungle animals and can often be seen swinging on vines, wearing a whisper of an animal skin bikini that constantly teases you with quick glimpses of her left nipple. By combining the character of Tarzan with the plot points of Kong, the brothers Shaw were able to capitalize on two well-known cinematic mythologies. The film is a tremendous amount of fun, filled with impressive miniature set pieces, sexy forbidden jungle love and an overall swagger that screams late 1970's.

Sometimes the idea to capitalize on a successful Hollywood film can cross over from remake into blatant theft. Dünyayi kurtaran adam also known as The Man Who Saves the World, is probably most familiar to cult film fans as Turkish Star Wars. Turkey has produced a number of revered rip-offs, most of which were made in the 70's and early 80's. While Turkish films such as Seytan (Turkish Exorcist) and Badi (Turkish E.T.) are often scene-for-scene remakes, Dünyayi kurtaran adam just flat out steals several scenes from Star Wars IV: A New Hope and uses them to up its production value. Footage of X-Wings and TIE fighters engaged in dogfights around the Death Star, along with random creatures from the Mos Eisley cantina are intercut throughout Dünyayi kurtaran adam's bizarre story, often in ways that in no way relate to the plot. If there is a plot. Murat, played by Turkish superstar Cüneyt Arkin, and Ali, played by Aytekin Akkaya, crash on earth just in time to battle an evil warlord who looks like the lovechild of Ming the Merciless & Liberace. A narrator tries to tie the film's random scenes together, but I don't think anyone who has ever watched this film paid very close attention to the story itself. Filled with the lowest of the low budget special effects - a ravenous red-furred monster that looks like it grew from the nightmares of Sid and Marty Krofft, and gold medal winning trampoline use - Turkish Star Wars has some of the weirdest visuals put to celluloid.

Director Çetin Inanç was not satisfied by only stealing moving images. Dünyayi kurtaran adam's soundtrack is a patchwork of scores lifted from a number of different adventure and sci-fi films from Hollywood. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Planet of the Apes and Flash Gordon are but a few of the films whose musical accompaniment was taken to enhance the already epically bizarre tale of The Man Who Saves The World.

India is by far no stranger to remakes. There is not a genre of film that India won't pay homage to. And unlike many other countries, India has its eyes open to the cinema of the world, choosing to not only remake Hollywood films, but any film that has proven to be popular. 100 Days, made in 1991 by Parto Ghosh, is a remake of Lucio Fulci's Sette Notte in Nero (The Psychic). Zinda (2006) is a virtual scene-by-scene remake of Chan-wook Park's Oldboy. Despite its topic or origins, no film is safe from being remade in Bollywood.

Naina is a supernatural thriller made in 2005 by Shripal Morakhia. In Naina the lovely Urmila Matondkar plays the title role of a young woman who undergoes a cornea transplant to replace the sense of sight that she lost as a child in a tragic car accident. As her new peepers adjust to their surroundings, it becomes evident that she can see both the dead and the hazy black reapers that come to escort the dead to the other side. This new ability allows her to foretell an individual's encroaching death. Along with her surgeon/love interest, she journeys to a small Indian village to find out more information about her eye donor, who may have had similar premonitions.

The movie is a beat for beat remake of Oxide & Danny Pang's Gin gwai (The Eye), but within the framework of that film, the makers of Naina have also stuffed in several scenes and plot points from other Asian horror films. The film becomes almost like a Where's Waldo of recent Asian Horror hits, as you can pick exact scenes and characters stolen from different Asian films throughout the film. The little girl in the yellow raincoat who drowns in the waterwell on top of her apartment building from Hideo Nakatas' Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water). The black cat that leads the main character to a closet where a scary dead girl with long black hair is curled up in the corner is taken from Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on. The autopsy room with the waking corpse whose chest cavity is open wide is from Jôji Iida's Rasen. Hints of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense can be felt as well, in scenes that have ghastly apparitions of men hanging from nooses in a upscale restaurant and creepy bugged-eyed dead people hiding under the dinner tables.

And there are numerous recent Bollywood pictures just as packed as Naina. Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004) combines elements from Hollywood comedies such as Meet the Parents (2000) & Anger Management (2003). Baadshah (1999) follows the basic plot of the Johnny Depp thriller Nick of Time but includes scenes from Rush Hour and Jim Carrey's The Mask. It's these kind of cut and paste films that truly embrace and define the idea of a remakesploitation picture.

Hollywood, it's time to wake up. It's no longer sufficient to just simply remake a film that turned a buck several years ago. The only thing that comes close to a remakesploitation picture in Hollywood these days would be the recent deluge of Spoofs, or "Movie" movies as I like to call them (Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, etc). But by not playing it straight with the source material, these movies don't even come close to the entertainment value or absurdity that the remakes made overseas achieve. So the next time you're thinking of remaking a cult classic such as The Hitcher (1986), rather than just giving it a sleek look and appeal that caterers only to a young MTV demographic, think of similar films of the same genre that you could expolit to make it better. Add in some scenes from The Hitch-Hiker (1953) or Race with the Devil (1975) or any other horror films that are set on the open road. Hell, throw in the Biker gang from Werewolves on Wheels (1971), spice it up. Anything would be better than the cinematic excrement that you're currently producing.

1 comment:

Poptique said...

Mighty Peking Man is definately the best of the Kongsploitation glut that came after the dodgy Dino remake, but the two Kong rip offs I'd dearly love to see are Tarzan & King Kong from Bollywood, and King Kong Appears in Edo - the first Kaiju movie.

Both are pretty much assumed to be lost :(