Yet Another Hollywood Remake.
So it has happened again. The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender, as directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is predominantly white with the exception of British-born Indian actor Dev Patel, last seen in the blockbuster movie Slumdog Millionaire.
That reads like a news report, doesn’t it? Except for my choice of the word ‘predominantly’, and my establishing tone of ‘Oh look, here is one more case for the archives, nothing new here!’
I would love to continue this article in the style of a tirade because it would be easier and also simply much more pleasurable. However, I am going to carefully weigh what I say in my very first feature article. The point of this weekly feature is to be as convincing as possible in discussing the importance of Asian cinema in various contexts – without sounding like a far too immersed film-buff cum film-bigot.
Despite not wanting to offend with biased views, I stand by my freedom to make a personal complaint!
Why does the American film industry ‘make over’ the cast of a show which is supposed to be made up of Asian characters?
In the case of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I suppose it won’t be fair to say that the Americans are taking everything Asian-inspired and making it their own because the original television series was created by American producers.
Avatar: The Last Airbender, featuring Caucasians in an Asian role
The racism regarding the choice of the cast only comes in with – Yes, *Razzle Dazzle* Hollywood.
There have been a string of Hollywood remakes of Asian films since The Ring (2002), which was remade based on Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998). This movie is a hot favorite among horror fans, and both the Japanese film and its American remake have enjoyed huge commercial success. This paved the way for more American remakes of other Japanese horror films such as Ju-On (2002) and Dark Water (2002).
There have been other remakes that are not within the horror genre such as Shall We Dance? (2004), The Lake House (2006) and The Departed (2007). Discussing The Departed will require a more in-depth analysis of the work of its acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, and perhaps this movie could be an example of how an American remake is not always a ‘failure’ (or a ‘crap remake’, as phrased by fans of a Stop Remaking Asian Films Facebook page) because this movie is well received even among film critics.
But, what part does Asia have to play in this whole remaking business? I’d say that Asia is not a player at all because Hollywood is after all America’s own market place. Therefore, it is only natural for America and Asia to go about their respective ‘film-mongering’ in their own market regions.
The question is, don’t the Asian-originated movie plots deserve some creative credit at the very least? American movie producers buy the rights for an Asian story, and then butcher it up to make it more easily digestible for American audiences. How did I get round to talking about a plot idea as if it were a piece of meat? But it is a dog-eat-dog world where money is involved, and money sheds a different light over everything.
“Give that little nodding Oriental man some money and let’s make that idea MY BIATCH.”
I did not just say that. No seriously, that was said by some high-rolling producer in my senseless dreams of running amok in Movie-Land and I do not claim the right to be quoted.
If not because American film director Quentin Tarantino is known to reference Asian popular culture with due respect, it almost sounds like some character could have said that in one of his films.
Granted, once Hollywood film producers have bought the rights to a story, they are free to adapt it any way they like. They do so to make the movie more accessible to American audiences, and perhaps this is acceptable because the Asian-originated movie may not be in their first language, English.
Hollywood is simply making the movies more digestible for an American audience. Digestible, yes. Delectable, maybe not.
Far too often, Hollywood remakes have been compared to the original Asian films, and many hold the view that remakes devalue the story in the original films.
This would not be such a shame if people actually had the chance to watch both the original and the remake, but the truth is original Asian films remain very much in the shadow of their glorious blockbuster remakes.
Since those doing the remakes are saving themselves a whole lot of trouble for not having to plan an original movie, the least they could do is to include a simple credit slide to acknowledge the original story that came from another part of the world.
In this way, audiences will know that there is another version of the film they can check out if they want to. But, this is probably exactly what the Hollywood industry does not want to see happening in its twilight years.
It doesn’t make sense to say that Hollywood remakes give Asian films more exposure if the remakes disregard the Asian context of the original films. If they strip the films of all their Asian aspects, how will that bring any sort of attention to Asian cinema?
There will be a remake of 2010 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, Okuribito (“Departures”). The film shows the ancient Japanese art of embalming, and I am clueless how a ceremony rooted in Japanese traditions can be represented somewhere else other than in Japan.
I can only hope Robert Pattinson doesn’t get cast in the remake, or my own dead body will be ready for embalming. But I am not reassured enough to bet my life over this either!