A lot of art is copying and pasting. That’s why it may come as no surprise that Hollywood has been remaking a slew of cinematic masterpieces from Asia since the 1960s. Oftentimes picking the most commercially and artistically successful Asian productions, the new films are adapted to cater to audiences in America and the world at large. While it’s reasonable to denounce how “[Film B] is just a total rip-off of [Film A]” or “[Film B] isn’t as great as the original [Film A]”, perhaps we can simmer down and appreciate both the originals and remakes. Here are our picks of the best six Hollywood remakes of Asian films worth checking out.
Adapted from: Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1954)
Directed by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven is an American Western film about seven gunfighters hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their villages from oppressive bandits. Albeit a solid and fun Western that has become one of the iconic films of the genre, many who have watched it back in the day and now may not have realised that it’s actually a close reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, Seven Samurai.
Kurosawa’s epic samurai drama is set in 1546, with a plot centred around a poor village under attack by bandits. The villagers recruit seven unemployed samurai to help them defend their homes. While the plot is highly similar, Sturges’ Western remake transplants it into a narrative that’s recognisable for the American audience—a bedraggled Mexican village rather than a Japanese one. With an additional remake of the original remake released in 2016—starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke, and directed by Antonie Fuqua—it seems as though Hollywood really can’t stop.
Adapted from: Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1961)
Yojimbo is yet another Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece that got a second life in Hollywood. The 1961 samurai film centres around a crafty ronin who comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs. He decides to play them against each other to free the secluded town, highlighting the violence and corruption that dominated Japan during the 1860s. What’s more, nearly all the elements of a Western film make an appearance: gangs, deserted streets, terrified inhabitants, taverns, and corrupted men of power, to name a few. Italian director Sergio Leone saw the potential of turning it upside down (well, not completely) into a Western and his remake successfully launched the Spaghetti Western genre (a term coining Westerns produced and directed by Italians).
Starring Clint Eastwood in his first leading role, A Fistful of Dollars is about how a wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge. It’s followed by the sequels For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). However, since it’s an unofficial and unlicensed remake of Yojimbo, Leone was actually led into a series of legal proceedings after the film’s release.
Adapted from: Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, Taiwan, 1994)
Ang Lee’s generational comedy revolves around the concept of a family, loneliness, and the need for companionship. Master Chef Chu is a widowed father who lives at home with his three unmarried daughters. Their lives at home are based on a plentiful and elaborate dinner every Sunday—a stable meal that gives them strengths as they deal with new romantic relationship and disappointments in life.
In 2001, Maria Ripoli adapted the story to feature a Mexican-American family, where the father was played by the phenomenal Hector Elizondo. With phenomenal casting and a heartwarming tone, both films are equally entertaining. Foodies around the world will certainly be stunned by the films’ food- and cuisine-making sequences.
Adapted from: Shall We Dance? (Masayuki Suo, Japan, 1996)
In the original film, Shohei is a successful but unhappy Japanese accountant who finds the missing passion in his life when he catches a glimpse of Mai in a dance school. He begins to secretly take ballroom dance lessons to inject life into his mundane existence. Infused with a number of comedic scenes, Masayuki Suo has also combined social and psychological depth in the film.
For the Hollywood remake, these thought-provoking elements are tuned down to fit in the frame of a quintessential Hollywood rom-com. That being said, Richard Gere as the protagonist and Jennifer Lopez, who plays the equivalent of Mai, delivered wonderful performances. It remains a light-hearted and entertaining flick for audiences then and now.
Adapted from: Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Hong Kong, 2002)
As perhaps our most notorious “rip-off”, The Departed has long been accused of being a direct copy of Andrew Lau’s acclaimed crime thriller Infernal Affairs. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese’s star-studded film is about how an undercover cop and a mole in the police force attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.
Earlier in 2002, Lau gathered Tony Leung and Andy Lau to make Infernal Affairs, a compelling story which, similarly, is about an undercover cop being sent to infiltrate a triad gang whilst a gang member is sent to join the Hong Kong police force. Without a doubt, Scorsese moulded the plot of his crime flick on top of the Hong Kong classic. Apparently, the Academy Awards committee had no problem with such a blatant act of repurposing, considering how The Departed swept home four Oscars in 2007. Similarly, we can’t deny that Scorcese’s remake is incredibly enjoyable.
Adapted from: Antarctica (Koreyoshi Kurahara, Japan, 1983)
Starring the late great Paul Walker, Eight Below is a survival drama set against the background of Antarctica. The perilous cold forces two Antarctic buffs to leave their team of sled dogs behind as they fend for their survival. This Hollywood remake is adapted from the 1983 Japanese film Antarctica, which was based on a true incident involving a Japanese scientific expedition to the South Pole in 1958.
The original film centers around a team of sled dogs that were left alone in Antarctica due to extreme weather conditions. Director Koreyoshi Kurahara spent three years shooting the movie in order to realistically depict the harsh condition of the South Pole, resulting in extraordinary cinematography and magnificent scenery. Perhaps that’s what makes the original still one notch better than the Hollywood remake.