Back in the oughts, before Hollywood became bankrolled by superhero franchises and endless reboots, the industries former money maker came from a seemingly endless stream of Americanised remakes of Asian movies. From horror (especially horror!) to action flicks to comedies, the list quickly became exhaustive, with fans of the originals rarely having anything positive to say about the Hollywood versions.
However one aspect of the remake machine that rarely gets as much attention, is when countries within the Asia region itself remake their own movies. Just like Hollywood believed that a western audience would rather watch a western (re: Caucasian) cast, so countries like Japan, Korea, and India have followed the same thinking, that local audiences would also be more likely to watch local stars than check out the foreign original.
To cast a light on these often overlooked remakes, we’ve put together a list of 20 original movies, and their respective remakes, for you to check out. We’ve decided not to include any movies which were remade within their own country, so for example Korea’s The Housemaid (1960 and 2010) isn’t included, nor is Hong Kong’s A Better Tomorrow (1986 and 2017). However A Better Tomorrow and its Korean remake, are included.
For full disclosure, while I’ve seen a large number of the movies on the list, I haven’t seen all of them (and probably never will). With that in mind, this feature isn’t meant as a review of each production, but rather to draw attention to the movies that you perhaps didn’t realise were remakes, or as the case may be, movies that you didn’t realise had been remade. So without further ado, let’s get started, listed in the order of the most recently released remake to the oldest.
Drug War (2013 – China)
Drug War (2018 – Korea)
Not only is Johnnie To’s 2013 crime thriller set to get a Hollywood remake, but director Lee Hae-yeong has also signed up to direct a Korean remake as well. To’s original was both a masterful piece of action filmmaking, but also a masterclass in how a few subtle decisions allowed the Mainland censorship board let various controversial scenes pass without incident. To’s most ingenious decision was having the identities of the drug lords revealed to be almost the entire stable of Milkyway’s Hong Kong actors, something that China was most likely delighted with. The Korean remake won’t have to suffer such cinematic political manoeuvring, but here’s hoping it maintains the high levels of tension and action aesthetic of the original. At this early stage it’s already been announced that Cho Jin-woong will be stepping into the shoes of Sun Hong-Lei, and Ryu Jun-yeol will be taking on Louis Koo’s role.
A Hard Day (2014 – Korea)
Peace Breaker (2017 – China)
Due to hit Chinese screens in summer 2017, one of the most surprising entries on the list, thanks to its morally ambiguous subject matter, is China’s remake of the 2013 Korean hit A Hard Day. The original was an underdog hit both in Korea and overseas, starring Lee Sun-kyun as a cop who commits a fatal hit and run on the way to his mother’s funeral, and his subsequent attempts to hide the body. Filled with equal measures of dark humour and suspense, we can already safely say that the China version will need to change the ending in order to get past the Mainland censors. The remake will be helmed by Lien Yi-Chi, and comes with the significant star power of casting Aaron Kwok in the role that Sun-kyun plays in the original. It’ll be interesting to see if the remake can match the terrific pacing and performances of Kim Seong-hun’s tightly knit original, but for now only time will tell.
Confession of Murder (2012 – Korea)
Memoirs of a Murderer (2017 – Japan)
Another remake set for a summer 2017 release, is Irie Yu’s version of Korea’s 2012 thriller Confession of Murder. The original centred around the offbeat concept of a serial killer, that was never able to be caught, releasing a bestselling book confessing to the murders just as the statute of limitations is about to expire. However more so than the plot, the highlight was it being the directorial debut of Seoul Action School graduate Jeong Byeong-gil, who imbued proceedings with a surprising amount of creative action sequences. With Nippon TV financing the remake, we can already expect that the violence of the original will be significantly toned down, as most Japanese TV studios get into financing movies so that they can be shown on their respective channels. Whether what’s left will add up to a worthy remake is questionable, but we’ll know soon enough.
Miss Granny (2014 – Korea)
20 Once Again (2015 – China)
Sweet 20 (2015 – Vietnam)
Suspicious Girl (2016 – Japan)
Suddenly 20 (2016 – Thailand)
Currently untitled remakes set for release in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2017
Proving just how popular Korean comedies are in Asia, director Hwang Dong-hyeok’s 2014 feature Miss Granny, about a 74 year old widow who suddenly finds herself back in her 20 year old body, has been remade so many times in just 3 years that the number is already in double figures. The only movie to rival it is My Sassy Girl (detailed further down the list). In fairness, it’s easy to see why, with a universally appealing story of someone living in their twilight years, suddenly thrust into their younger self’s body. While all of the remakes have appealed to their local audiences, arguably none have matched the charm of the original, with a pair of stellar performances from Nah Moon-hee and Shim Eun-kyung, playing the older and younger versions respectively. Still, that’s not going to stop the fact that English, Spanish, and German versions are all currently scheduled for production.
The Man from Nowhere (2010 – Korea)
Rocky Handsome (2016 – India)
How do you turn one of the more violent and gritty action flicks to come out of Korea in recent years, into a movie that’ll appeal to a Bollywood audience? Apparently the answer was to go the route of an almost shot-for-shot remake, when in 2016 director Nishikant Kamat basically made a carbon copy of Lee Jeong-beom’s 2010 original. Won Bin was replaced by John Abraham, and the Vietnamese knife fighter played by Thanayong Wongtrakul replaced by Patrick Kazu Tang. Throw in a couple of musical numbers, slow motion shots of Abraham, and an attempt at cranking up the violence thanks to the influence of The Raid, and you have Rocky Handsome. Out of all the remakes listed, it’s no doubt the Bollywood ones which vary the most from the originals, and many fans of The Man from Nowhere that saw Rocky Handsome were left less than impressed.
The Raid (2011 – Indonesia)
Baaghi (2016 – India)
If you’ve ever asked the question – when is a remake not a remake – then the tale of The Raid and Baaghi may give you your answer. While their stories are different, Baaghi’s finale, which sees the hero of the piece, played by Tiger Shroff, storming a building floor by floor to get to the villain on the top level, was remarkably similar to, well, the whole of The Raid. It was certainly enough for the Indian production house who’d bough the remake rights to the Indonesian fight fest, Sikya Entertainment, to serve the producers of Baaghi with a legal notice of their intent to sue. The case went all the way to court, however was ultimately dismissed due to the difference in the two movies stories. Interestingly, while the director of Baaghi claimed he hadn’t even seen The Raid, Shroff himself said that it was indeed a strong influence on his movie. Confused? So are we.
Hide and Seek (2013 – Korea)
Hide and Seek (2016 – China)
Korean director Huh Jung made his debut with the 2013 horror thriller Hide and Seek, which revolved around the wonderfully creepy idea of someone else living in your home without you ever knowing it. Unfortunately the movie derails itself with a baffling late in the day twist which defies logic, but that didn’t stop Chinese director Liu Jie from transferring the locale from Seoul to Qingdao, for a remake which fits in well with China’s current housing boom. Surprisingly Jie does little to distinguish the Chinese version from the original, instead choosing for an almost shot-for-shot retelling, including all of the same problems that Jung’s version had. In fact the only way to tell them apart are the main family having one child instead of two, and the inclusion of some ridiculously lengthy onscreen text about mental disorders, no doubt to stay SAPPRFT friendly.
Key of Life (2012 – Japan)
Luck.Key (2015 – Korea)
Director Kenji Uchida’s 2012 crime comedy got the remake treatment from Korea 3 years after its release with Luck.Key. The story, which sees a down on his luck wannabe actor switch identities with a wealthy customer of a bathhouse, who slips on a bar of soap and loses his memory, draws its laughs from the fact the customer turns out to be an elite assassin. The Korean remake sees Yoo Hae-jin (in a rare starring role) and Lee Joon taking on the roles that Tereyuki Kagawa and Masato Sakai played in the original, as hitman and actor respectively. Both movies arguably draw most of their comedy mileage from the amnesia suffering assassin, as his perfectionist personality attempts to get to grips with being a penniless layabout, and wondering why he looks so much older than he apparently is. In any case, it’s a rare example of Korea remaking an original Japanese production.
Blind (2011 – Korea)
The Witness (2015 – China)
This entry is unique for the fact that both movies were made by the same director, Ahn Sang-hoon. While it’s not the first time for a director to re-make one of their movies for a different territory (notably Takashi Shimizu directed the American remake and its sequel of his early 2000’s J-horror series Ju-on: The Grudge), it is the first time for an Asian director to remake one of their movies within the region. The story itself is based on the Audrey Hepburn starring 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, and sees a police trainee who loses her sight become the target of a psychopathic killer, of whom she’s the only witness to one of his murders. While the Korean version progressively heads into darker territory, with a finale that’s more representative of a gory slasher than the thriller it starts out as, the Chinese version goes the opposite direction. How opposite? Well, it ends with a completely misguided pop concert performance by teen idol group member Lu Han. Go figure.
Haunters (2010 – Korea)
Monsterz (2014 – Japan)
A rare sci-fi tinged production from Korea, Haunters was the directorial debut of Kim Min-suk, and was not only unique for giving actor Gang Dong-won a villain role, but also for the story itself. Dong-won plays a character who can control the minds of those around him (think an evil pretty boy version of Professor Xavier), however when he comes across a pawnshop cashier, played by Ko Soo, who’s immune to his powers, his jealousy makes him become even more dangerous. While the original was almost like a comic book in its tone, when Ring director Hideo Nakata remade it for Japan in the form of Monsterz, he made it a much more sombre affair. Casting Tatsuya Fujiwara and Takayuki Yamada in the roles of villainous psychic and unlikely hero, it was also more bloated and exposition heavy, with many feeling Monsterz was a pale imitation of its source material.
Eye in the Sky (2007 – Hong Kong)
Cold Eyes (2013 – Korea)
In 2007 Milkyway released Eye in the Sky, the directorial debut (and so far only time in the director’s chair) of regular Johnny To scriptwriter Yau Nai-Hoi. The cat-and-mouse surveillance thriller, which saw surveillance operatives Simon Yam and Kate Tsui on the trail of a gang of professional thieves, led by Tony Leung Ka-Fai, was prime material for a remake, and 6 years later Korea did just that. The remake saw Sul Kyung-gu, Han Hyo-joo, and Jung Woo-sung step into the shoes of Lam, Tsui, and Leung respectively, for a version which stretched out the runtime significantly, from the originals 90 minutes to 2 hours. While some critics had actually cited Eye in the Sky for being a little on the short side, ironically others felt that Cold Eyes was a little bloated. What no one complained about though, was a closing scene cameo from Simon Yam, providing a respectful nod to Nai-Hoi’s original.
Dragon Gate Inn (1967 – Taiwan)
New Dragon Gate Inn (1992 – Hong Kong)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011 – China)
Holding the record for the longest amount of time between the original and the remake, 1967’s Dragon Gate Inn is a seminal work, both in the wuxia genre and King Hu’s filmography, being only his 2nd foray into the martial arts world following Come Drink With Me made a year prior. Hong Kong auteur Tsui Hark was such a fan of Dragon Gate Inn that he’d go on to remake it twice. The first time in the capacity of script writer and producer for 1992’s new wave classic New Dragon Gate Inn, and then again in 2011, when in addition to again writing the script and producing, he also stepped into the director’s chair for Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Both remakes are notable for their own reasons, New Dragon Gate Inn for its classic early 90’s high flying action aesthetic, and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate for being one of Hark’s first attempts at creating 3D action. Notably action director Yuen Bun also choreographed both of the remakes.
A Better Tomorrow (1986 – Hong Kong)
A Better Tomorrow (2010 – Korea)
For a long time it almost seemed sacrilegious to consider remaking one of John Woo’s trademark heroic bloodshed movies, and indeed the idea of Hollywood remaking The Killer was bounced around for a large part of the ought’s before ultimately fizzling out. Korea did decide to go ahead though with a remake of the movie that put both Woo and Chow Yun Fat on the map, with a 2010 take on A Better Tomorrow. However director Song Hae-seong is no John Woo, and fans of the original had a hard time accepting Song Seung-heon, Joo Jin-mo, and Kim Kang-woo in the roles that Yun Fat, Ti Lung, and Leslie Cheung made famous. Containing an inordinate amount of scenes with men dramatically crying, the macho bromance of the original was drowned in so many tears, that for many it became a wet leaf of a remake.
My Sassy Girl (2001 – Korea)
Maa Iddhari Madhya (2006 – India: Tollywood)
Ugly and Crazy (2008 – India: Bollywood)
Ryokiteki na Kanajo (2008 – Japan)
My Sassy Girl 2 (2010 – China)
If there’s any one Asian movie that can be cited as having an impact on other film industries around the world, it’s Kwak Jae-yong’s 2001 comedy classic My Sassy Girl. The movie made a star out of Jeon Ji-hyeon, and saw Jae-yong rarely stray from the romance genre for the rest of his career. On top of being remade in Hollywood, it was also reimagined as a historical TV drama in its native Korea which aired in 2017, as well as having an official sequel, taking the form of a Korea and Chinese co-production called My New Sassy Girl, in 2016. Then we have the Asian remakes, none of which are credited. Both the Bollywood and Tollywood industries in India made their own respective versions, and Japan also adapted it into a TV drama. Most flagrant of all, was China making an unofficial sequel in 2010 with My Sassy Girl 2. Despite it having no connection to the original, My Sassy Girl 2 was actually well received, and is arguably more entertaining than the official sequel.
A Bittersweet Life (2005 – Korea)
Awarapan (2007 – India)
It was Kim Ji-woon’s 4th movie that really put him on the map. A film noir styled revenge thriller of a gangster’s enforcer, played by Lee Byung-hun, who develops feelings for his bosses’ moll that he was asked to keep an eye on, and the chaos that ensues. While never officially announced as a remake of A Bittersweet Life, it’s clear that director Mohit Suri’s Awarapan is based on Ji-woon’s breakthrough movie. It also holds the distinction of being the first co-production between India and Pakistan. Due to the involvement of the two countries, the plot sees Emraan Hashmi, in Byung-hun’s role, being asked to keep an eye on actress Mrinalini Sharma, who plays a Pakistani victim of sex trafficking. With a heavy Muslim influence and the usual Bollywood dance numbers, Awarapan is certainly a very different beast than A Bittersweet Life.
Oldboy (2003 – Korea)
Zinda (2006 – India)
Western audiences who enjoyed Park Chan-wook’s 2003 masterpiece, Oldboy, were understandably against the Hollywood remake, eventually released in 2013 and directed by Spike Lee. What they may not know though, is that it was already remade by India in 2006 as Zinda. Even more so than the Hollywood remake, Zinda was met with almost universal disdain upon its release, generally said to be a pathetically watered down version of the original, while carbon copying other scenes completely. While Sanjay Dutt stepped into the shoes of Choi Min-sik, what’s more interesting is that John Abraham here makes his 2nd appearance on the list. After playing Won Bin’s character from The Man from Nowhere in Rocky Handsome, here he plays Yoo Ji-tae’s role. It looks like he’s trying to corner the market for playing Indian versions of Korean characters.
Scorpio Nights (1985 – Philippines)
Summer Time (2001 – Korea)
One of the most controversial movies to come out of the Philippines, the 1985 erotic drama was made during the final years of the Marcos regime, and effectively kicked off a new wave of bomba movies throughout the rest of the 80’s. In 1999 it received an unrelated sequel, however most interestingly is that 2 years later, Korean director Park Jae-ho would remake it in the form of Summer Time. While Scorpio Nights played out against the still much spoken of assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, which no doubt contributed to its importance in Filipino cinema, the Korean version set itself against the background of 1980’s Gwangju Massacre. However both movies involve a student who spies on a married couple making love each night in the same building, and the affair which subsequently develops between the student and the wife, leading to tragic consequences.
A Quiet Family (1998 – Korea)
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001 – Japan)
Definitely one of the more out-there remakes, in 2001 Japanese auteur Miike Takashi re-imagined Korean director Kim Ji-woon’s directorial debut. A dark comedy about a dysfunctional family opening a guesthouse in the countryside, not only is there a lack of guests, but what visitors do arrive keep on dying in unexpected circumstances. While the original, as the debut of a director that would become one of Korea’s most recognizable talents, was a low budget affair, Takashi takes the decision to turn it into a brightly coloured musical, complete with non-professional singers and even zombies thrown into the mix. Equally hilarious and ultimately heart-warming, many have argued that Takashi’s version (our review) is actually more entertaining than Ji-woon’s, which with its mix of stop motion animation, random karaoke singalongs, and colourful characters, could well be true.
Ring (1998 – Japan)
The Ring Virus (1999 – Korea)
In 1998 director Hideo Nakata (marking his 2nd appearance on the list, this time helming the original) adapted the Koji Suzuki novel, Ring, for the big screen, kick starting a wave of Asian horror featuring vengeance seeking long haired spirits that lasted for many years after. Sadako, the spirit in question from Ring, continues to feature in movies to this day, and has been adapted both for Hollywood remakes, and also a lesser known Korean version called The Ring Virus, released just a year after Nakata’s masterpiece. Featuring an early screen appearance from Bae Doo-na in the role of Sadako, director Kim Dong-bin’s version actually stays more true to Suzuki’s novel than Nakata’s adaption. However with Nakata making a sequel to Ring that was released the same year, Korea’s own adaption of Sadako’s terror has largely remained off the radar for most.
Asia-Pol (1966 – Hong Kong)
Asiapol Secret Service (1966 – Japan)
Definitely the most unique entry on the list, many Asian film fans know Asia-Pol as a 007 inspired early Jimmy Wang Yu vehicle, that was a co-production between Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio and Japan’s Nikkatsu Studio. What’s less well known is that Nikkatsu, believing Wang Yu wouldn’t be a ticket to box office success in Japan (a well-judged decision, considering he spent most of the next decade in productions beating up the Japanese), decided to make their own version at the same time, casting local star Hideaki Nitani in Wang Yu’s role. Apart from a few minor differences, both movies are almost identical to each other. However what’s perhaps most interesting is that, even the scenes that only contained Japanese actors (the legendary Joe Shishido notably plays the villain of the piece) were still reshot for the Japanese version, which allows it to qualify as a remake.