Movie Talk: A look at Hong Kong movie remakes
I was walking along Orchard Road a few weeks ago when I chanced upon the movie poster of “A Chinese Ghost Story” (倩女幽魂), a Hong Kong movie. In fact, this is a 2011 movie remake of the 1987 classic.
What makes the poster striking is not the allure of the poster but rather, the memories that come flooding back – of Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong, of innocence lost and of an eternal love that transcends death itself. Scenes of this classic film have forever been etched into my mind since I first set eyes on them.
As I continued walking, I pondered upon the reason that makes the original film so memorable – and settled on the fact that it’s the realistic portrayal of the characters in the film by the cast that makes this film shine.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
Although movie remakes and sequels are more common in Hollywood, it can be observed that the Hong Kong film industry is following the trend in recent years. Some examples include a film version of the Hong Kong drama “Police Academy 3” (學警狙擊)(2008) titled “Turning Point” (變節) (2009) (which have not done well when it comes to the box office takings), the two sequels of “Infernal Affairs” (无间道) (which have not done as well as their predecessor) and “What Women Want” (我知女人心)(2011) (which is a remake of the Hollywood film “What Women Want” (2000), starring Mel Gibson).
Maybe it’s the trend of Hollywood that the Hong Kong film industry is following but the results from Hollywood remakes is not too impressive, of which “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009) is an example. At the time of writing, this writer has watched the third installment of this series “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011) and finds it acceptable but not exceptional.
The Hollywood remake of “Infernal Affairs” does impress some viewers. Nevertheless, the feel of the movie is different, probably due to different artistic visions of the directors and the varying settings of the story. All this adds up to the fact that film remakes and sequels – more often than not – do not work, regardless of the countries where the original films are from.
Maybe there is something in all if not most original films that gives viewers a deep impression, something that is embedded in the psyche of film-goers, something that mesmerise them at a subconscious level of which they themselves are unaware of. But one thing is certain: first impressions are often the most memorable and the deepest. After all, the early bird catches the worm. This does not only apply to tangible and physical objects of desire but subconscious impressions and originality too.
Now, I know.
However, this does not discount the fact that some films are as good if not better than the original, as Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” (2010) (a remake of the 1963 original) can firmly attest. Maybe when the right elements come together -be it the director, cinematographer, editor, scriptwriter or the cast (or all of them combined) – cinematic and box office magic happens. The combination of artistic talent of the film crew and the financial prowess of a film is always omnipotent. But the sad thing is that this is more of an exception than the norm.
Just as I turned around the corner, I realised something. It’s not the onscreen characters that make the actors and actresses but rather, it’s the actors and actresses that immortalise the onscreen characters.
And with smile on my face, I know that in my heart, Leslie Cheung will always be Ning Choi-san (寧采臣) and Joey Wong will always be Nip Siu-Sin (聶小倩).