The Best and Worst of Foreign Remakes

The good and the bad of Hollywood foreign film remakes. Featuring The Departed, Infernal Affairs, Rec and Quarantine.

Hollywood has been remaking foreign language films for decades, and they are often released to mixed receptions – one question is asked repeatedly; why aren’t studios content with the original source? Whether it’s to avoid subtitles or make profits by retelling a great story, it’s clear that in the time of remakes and adaptations, they are going to keep coming. Here, Roobla looks at some of Hollywood’s best and worst attempts at remaking foreign language films, the result of which ranges from awesome to awful.

Round 1: Infernal Affairs (2002, Hong Kong) vs The Departed (2006)

Two organisations, two bosses and two moles. A police officer goes undercover to gain information about the Triad/mob and a Triad/mob member infiltrates the police department. Both undercover members become involved deeper in the organisations and soon become aware of each other’s existence.

Infernal Affairs is a smart and complex story about lies and deceit; it continually keeps audiences guessing and is thoroughly entertaining. Combined with a great cast and an attractive visual style, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s crime thriller is a tough act to follow.

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was very well received and won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. It’s hardly surprising, as Scorsese handled the source material very well, with only a few changes to the story; the merging of two female characters into one. The cast is exceptional, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as the good guys and Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson as the bad guys. Martin Scorsese made the story his own, resulting in one of the best foreign remakes to come out of Hollywood.

Winner: Tie – While Infernal Affairs earns points for being original, The Departed is a talent-filled fest of DiCaprio and Damon goodness.

Round 2: Rec (2007, Spain) vs Quarantine (2008)

When a television reporter and a cameraman follow a crew of firefighters for a documentary, they stumble upon chaos in an apartment complex and are soon faced with the hellish reality of its flesh-eating residents, the unexplained quarantine of the building and scientists in hazmat suits. Shot in a found-footage style, the crew and residents must try to survive without the help from the unwilling outsiders.

Rec’s story is gripping and thrilling, and spectators are forced to suffer through the nightmarish situation with its convincing documentary style. It is hide-under-your-duvet scary, as we’re never really sure what is hiding round the corner. Great story and acting, and very well made, Rec was obviously going to interest Hollywood studios.

Quarantine, however, is a disappointing almost shot-for-shot remake; the main differences being a change of appearance and the use of the English language. The purpose of the film is questionable as it is clearly just a copy; it is, arguably, a quick pay cheque for a group of lazy filmmakers. The acting is also unimpressive – why Rec had to be remade nearly shot-for-shot, we don’t know (anyone who has witnessed Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho will understand our despair). The makers of Quarantine could have at least brought something new to the franchise – maybe switch up the appearance, add a new character? It is clear that making the film American does nothing for it.

Winner: Rec, of course. Original, innovative, frightening and strangely convincing (whilst flicking through TV one night, we stumbled upon Rec and actually thought it could be a news segment). Quarantine isn’t totally useless, however, as it highlights just how great Rec is.

Shot for shot remakes are hardly ever well received, and they expose the thoughtlessness that resides in the film industry. However, foreign language remakes aren’t all bad, as Scorsese’s masterpiece shows, when a story is told in two different ways, both versions, no matter how similar, are worth watching.

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