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List: Remaking Your Own Foreign Language Film

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09102008_bangkokdangerous.jpgBy Alison Willmore

If “Bangkok Dangerous,” with Nicolas Cage as a hitman in Bangkok moping over both his career choices and a girl, felt familiar — well, that’s probably because it’s derivative of many a sad assassin movie that’s come before. But it’s also a remake, and not just your run-of-the-mill Hollywood retread of a foreign film. “Bangkok Dangerous” finds Hong Kong-born sibling directing team Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun remaking their own debut, a 1999 Thai-language film of the same name, and joining that growing club of directors who’ve headed to the U.S. to try an English take on their own movie. While the set-up makes sense — subtitle-avoidant audiences here prefer a language and actors they’re familiar with, and who knows the ins and outs of a project better than whoever helmed it the first time out? — these remakes have a higher chance of stinkiness than the already dubious average redo. Here’s a look at five other titles that offer foreign filmmakers reshooting their own work in good ol’ American English.

09102008_vanishing.jpgThe Vanishing (1993)
Original: Spoorloos (1988)
Director: George Sluizer

There are plenty of standout qualities in Sluizer’s icily good 1988 Dutch thriller about a vacationing woman who vanishes at a crowded French rest-stop, leaving her stricken boyfriend to spend the next three years searching for her. There’s the sunny horror of the scene of the disappearance, in which no one can be bothered to get involved with the panicking tourist; there’s the disturbing mundanity of the soon-revealed villain. And then there’s that ending, a real weekend-wrecker of a bleak (and yet completely deserved) finale. That dark conclusion, of course, had to go when Sluizer remade the film in the early 90s with Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock as the central couple. What replaced it was derided by most critics, with Roger Ebert noting that “The first movie was existential in its merciless unfolding. This one turns into a slasher movie with a cheap joke at the end.” Kim Newman, in an essay for the Criterionizing of the original film, speculates that “It may be that The Vanishing is a one-off: a film so original, so effective, so surprising and so ruthless that it represents a single, perfect coming-together of director, writer, subject, and cast.” Certainly nothing Sluizer has done since has approached the quality of “Spoorloos”; his next film, “The Chosen One,” stars one Rob Schneider.

09102008_nightwatch.jpgNightwatch (1997)
Original: Nattevagten (1994)
Director: Ole Bornedal

When the 1997 version of “Nightwatch” opened in theaters, star Ewan McGregor was still white-hot from his career-making role in “Trainspotting.” Put him in movie set in a creepy locale with corpses and serial killers, have Steven Soderbergh adapt the script, and what could go wrong? There wasn’t even the weight of expectations to shoulder — the original “Nattevagten” made the festival rounds and brought in big bucks in its native Denmark, only to be snatched up and shelved by the folks at Miramax, who were looking to protect their U.S. remake.

Both versions center on Martin (“New Amsterdam”‘s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the 1994 film), a law student who takes a job as a morgue night watchman, needing the money and figuring he could use the (far too) quiet time to study, only to find his sanity shattering as he becomes the main suspect in a series of murders. Unfortunately, the 1997 “Nightwatch” suffers from a surfeit of grime and a lack of any sense of intentional humor, though Nick Nolte’s scenery-chewing as a police inspector provides a bit of the other type. While no one would canonize the solid Danish original, it has a nastiness to it that’s watered down in the remake — not, as you might expect, in the killer storyline, but in the sadistic game of “dare” played by Martin and his best friend (played by Kim Bodnia in the first film, Josh Brolin in the second). The stakes are adulthood — first one to chicken out has to buckle down and marry his girlfriend — and in “Nattevagten,” this leads to cover-your-eyes scenes like a blow-job from an underage hooker in a restaurant and vomiting during a church communion. In a way, “Nattevagten” asked for its own lukewarm U.S. incarnation — in a few self-reflexive lines, Martin wonders if telling his girlfriend he loves her will sound “Iike a bad American movie.” Doomed! After “Nightwatch”‘s underperformance, Bornedal headed back to Denmark. His last film, “Just Another Love Story,” played at Sundance this year.

09102008_justvisiting.jpgJust Visiting (2001)
Original: Les Visiteurs (1993)
Director: Jean-Marie Poiré

Humor is way harder to translate than thrills or scares, but every few years someone forgets that and gives it a try. “Les Visiteurs” outgrossed “Jurassic Park” in France, an exceptionally broad comedy starring Jean Reno as a medieval count who’s sent forward in time to 1992 with his servant Jacquouille (played by co-writer Christian Clavier and transmuted to Jacquasse — hah…? — in the subtitles) due to a wizard’s spell gone wrong. Hijinks, temporal misunderstandings and toilet humor ensue. “Les Visiteurs” didn’t do well when it received a small U.S. release two years after its French one, but that didn’t stop Gallic studio Gaumont from exporting director Jean-Marie Poiré and his stars, Jean Reno and Christian Clavier, to the U.S. for 2001’s “Just Visiting.” “Just Visiting” is essentially the exact same movie as “Les Visiteurs,” tamed from a R-rating to a PG-13, transplanted to Chicago, with Christina Applegate and Tara Reid playing the love interests. Not sold? Er, how about Malcolm McDowell as a wizard? Ultimately pulling in less than half its reported $35 million budget at the global box office, “Just Visiting” was an unqualified bomb as well as an unnecessary excuse for journalists to dust off dozens of creaky jokes about France’s inexplicable fondness for Jerry Lewis. And yet, it could have been worse — before the remake went into production, Miramax commissioned a dubbed version of “Les Visiteurs” that was overseen by Mel Brooks and apparently deemed unreleasable. One can only imagine.

09102008_funnygames.jpgFunny Games U.S. (2007)
Original: Funny Games (1997)
Director: Michael Haneke

In interviews, director Michael Haneke has been forthright about the reasoning behind his shot-for-shot U.S. remake of his 1997 Austrian film “Funny Games,” telling Time Out London: “The first film didn’t find its public among English-language viewers. So when I had the proposition to remake it I thought maybe we had an opportunity to reach the audience for which it was made: the violent consumer!” The violent consumer, alas, remained mostly unreached — “Funny Games U.S.” struggled over the $1 million mark, having cost a rumored $15 million to make. Maybe audiences didn’t want to be lectured to by the dour Haneke, even if those lectures were sans subtitles and illuminated by the star wattage of Naomi Watts as a wife who, along with her husband (Tim Roth) and child, finds her bourgeois day-to-day shattered by two polite young men in tennis whites who turn out to be sadistic sociopaths with tendencies to break the fourth wall. When the German-language original premiered at Cannes it was a truly divisive provocation that spurred debates on voyeurism and violence, but a decade later “Funny Games U.S.”‘s reused indictments of the audience seemed less fresh and curiously unreactive to the whole torture porn trend that had taken place in the years between the two films. Haneke headed back to Austria for his next project, a period drama called “The White Ribbon” that’ll be completed in 2009.

09102008_theshaft.jpgThe Shaft (2001)
Original: De Lift (1983)
Director: Dick Maas

Two works: Killer elevator. In 1983 Dutch music video and film director Dick Maas attempted a horror movie about the most unlikely of menaces — an elevator in an office tower that first malfunctions and then begins killing people in the limited ways available to an in-building transportation device. A not-so-serious B-movie, “De Lift” is notable for its even more unlikely hero, an elevator repairman with an unhappy home life who persists in his investigation of the diabolical device even as it takes him into the realm of sci-fi conspiracies, mostly because it seems to be the only thing he’s good at.

“De Lift” isn’t a title you’d single out as screaming for a remake, but in 2001 it got one with “The Shaft” (aka “Down”), an ill-timed effort starring James Marshall, Naomi Watts, and the admirably shameless Michael Ironside and Ron Perlman, with Maas in the director’s chair for what was his second English-language feature (the first was William Hurt thriller “Do Not Disturb”). The action’s transported to fictional New York landmark the Millennium Building, where a naughty elevator traps and traumatizes a group of pregnant women into given birth and then terrorizes the building in other imaginative ways, while Marshall’s maintenance man struggles to figure out why (an organic computer is involved). With a higher budget than the 1983 original and a better-than-expected cast, “The Shaft” is broader and dumber, silly and fun, but in 2001 no one was in the market for a campy film about skyscraper deaths, particularly one with an unfortunate Twin Towers reference. “The Shaft” eventually went directly to DVD in 2003.

More for the pile: Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on”/”The Grudge,” Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu 2” and it’s semi-remake “The Ring Two” and Francis Veber’s “Les Fugitifs”/”Three Fugitives.”

[Photos: “Bangkok Dangerous,” Lionsgate, 2008; “The Vanishing,” Twentieth Century-Fox, 1993; “Nightwatch,” Dimension Films, 1998; “Just Visiting,” Buena Vista Pictures, 2001; “Funny Games U.S.,”, Warner Independent, 2008; “The Shaft,” Barnholtz Entertainment , 2001]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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