Hello loves~ I’m slowly easing back into my area of expertise: Real People Stuffs. I know I’ve been on hiatus from Real People Stuffs for a long time, but I promise I have lots of things planned!~ Today’s post will be a bit of a first from me. Today is more of an opinion piece. I obviously love my manga and anime series. However, we all know that I’m also BAYOG’s expert on live action movies and drama. The discussion on western remakes aren’t new. I’m sure we’re all familiar with that. Still, I wanted to weigh in some of my opinions and discuss whether western remakes can indeed be successful.
Before I get into it, I do want to remind everyone that everything I’m going to say is just -MY- personal opinion. It doesn’t reflect that of the whole BAYOG Crew. In fact, I know that we probably have some differing opinions. Originally I (and the BAYOG bros) wanted this discussion for a podcast episode. The bros really wanted me to be a part of it; As did I. However, we all know I’m unable to be part of the podcasts due to my schedule. Still…maybe we’ll do that podcast episode one day. I think it’d be fun to get everyone’s opinions and input. I will warn you: This will be a lengthy post. I’ve been an anime/manga and Asian drama/movie fan my whole life. I’ve seen the attempts, the trends, and noticed alot of things. I also want to point out that while I may use some specific examples, I’m just talking about things in general.
Live action adaptations of manga and anime aren’t new. In fact, many Asian dramas and movies are based on different manga and anime series. Asian dramas and films have grown increasingly popular over past couple of years. I’d personally say ever since the early 2000s. With globalization and the internet, the popularity of manga, anime, dramas, movies, and music from Asia have exploded. It’s also much easier to access now too. I remember spending an entire day or two being a pirate just to watch fansubs of different series. This was before there were any official English releases or subs guys…
We talk about Hollywood wanting to make western remakes as if it’s something new. It’s really not. The trend from before was that Hollywood was doing western remakes of Asian horror movies. To name a few: The Ring (US 2002) – リング/Ring (Japan 1998), Shutter (US 2008) – Shutter (Thailand 2004), The Grudge (US 2004) – 呪怨じゅおん/Ju-On: The Grudge (Japan 2002), One Missed Call (US 2008) – 着信アリ/One Missed Call (Japan 2003), and The Uninvited (US 2009) – 장화/A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea 2003). So yeah, at first Hollywood was all about remaking Asian horror films. Some of these remakes, like The Ring, found great success. Many others were not so lucky. Many were seen as flops and paled in comparison to the originals. Most of these also greatly disappointed fans of the originals.
Don’t forget that there were remakes of some Asian entertainment and game shows. Some examples include: American Ninja Challenge (US 2007-2009) and American Ninja Warrior (US 2009 – Present) – サスケ/Sasuke (Japan 1997 – Present), Wipe Out (2008-2014) – 筋肉番付/Unbeatable Banzuke (Japan 1995-2002) and 風雲！たけし城/Takeshi’s Castle (Japan 1986-1990), and Better Late Than Never (US 2016-2018) – 꽃보다 할배/Grandpas Over Flowers (Korea 2013-Present). Personally, I’ll always prefer the original shows. I’ll get into why in a bit. Although American Ninja Warrior has been pretty successful.
There was also some venturing into the non-horror genres as well. The 2001 Korean film 엽기적인 그녀/My Sassy Girl is a classic film that was popular all over Asia. It’s also the one that made actress Jun Ji Hyun a household name. This one might sound a bit familiar as there was a Japanese drama remake a few years ago. A more recent Korean drama remake was made as well. However, that one has a historical twist to it. The 2000 Korean film 시월애/Il Mare was another film that starred actress Jun Ji Hyun. I also should say My Sassy Girl and Jun Ji Hyun were part of that first big Hallyu/Korean wave that drove Korean media into popularity. K-Pop, Korean dramas/movies, and pop culture wouldn’t be where it is today without that first big Hallyu Wave. Anyways, there were Hollywood remakes of both films. The Hollywood version of My Sassy Girl came out in 2009 and starred Jesse Bradford and Elisha Cuthbert. I’ll say that the Hollywood remake was a travesty, and I was hella disappointed in that. The Hollywood remake of Il Mare was the 2006 film The Lake House. It starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. It was alright. I enjoyed it more than the My Sassy Girl remake for sure.
“Minty, this is getting pretty long… What’s your point?” I’m just pointing out this isn’t something new. I also wanted to point out that just like now, many people were disappointed in western remakes. 10-15 years ago, liking anime or manga made you seem like a weird and unpopular kid. However, things that seemed weird and unpopular then are now hella in. Hollywood and other Western film companies have taken note of it. However, we’re familiar with a few of Hollywood’s attempts and the results. Past attempts have been flops (and rather sad at times). However, we’re now seeing Hollywood really try to delve more into these remakes. Discussions for several titles have been going on for years. Take Cowboy Bebop. They’ve been discussing that shit foreeeeeeeever. Although, it’s basically probably never going to happen.
The Ghost in the Shell movie and Netflix’s live action of Death Note had really started quite the discussion (and arguments) on Hollywood’s attempts at remaking the different series we’ve enjoyed. I can’t comment on Ghost in the Shell since I never got into the anime/manga, and I didn’t watch the movie. I can say that I watched part of Netflix’s Death Note. Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of that. Let me just say that I watched the anime AFTER attempting to watch Netflix’s version. I did it that way so I wouldn’t be as biased. Sadly, I couldn’t get past 20 minutes of the Netflix version. Yeah, totally not a fan of that version. If I had to simply explain it…I’d say that it felt like an awkward mess. Goat scream for one thing…
I thought it was a joke at first…I still can’t take this scene seriously…
What’s the Issue With White Washing?
[You can skip this section if you’d like, but you’re welcome to read on. I’m not here to be political. I just want to point out why people have issues with it.]
We know that one of the biggest issues people have on western remakes is whitewashing. I’m not here to be political. However, I am Asian-American (Asian by descent, but American born and raised) and was involved in alot of Asian organizations in the past. So I can understand the concern. Again, I’m not here to be political or biased. I just want to point out –why– people have issues with it. The world is alot more accepting and open than it was when I was growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s. Bullying due to one’s looks, ethnic background, and culture did happen. I didn’t have it as bad as others. Though minor instances did happen since I was basically the only Asian kid in my class (or one out 3-4 Asian kids in my schools). I didn’t really have any Asian friends until college when I joined different Asian organizations. I’ve had these kinds of discussions with friends and acquaintances and we’ve all been through pretty similar things; Some have had it pretty bad too. Often times we were picked on for things that were just a natural part of us and our other cultural identity. Take food. People used to pick on us for eating “weird” foods. These days, those “weird” foods are hella popular and pretty normal (Sushi, noodle dishes, stir fried dishes, boba tea, and so on). Same thing with hobbies. Anime, J-Pop, J-Rock, K-Pop, C-Pop, and so on were also seen as odd hobbies. Now all these things are becoming more acceptable and mainstream. I personally didn’t give a fuck and just did me. However, I know some people who had been badly picked on for these things. I know I’m simplifying everything, but you get the point. It’s kind of a WTF moment for us kids who were made fun of and/or bullied for these very things. I know another thing that adds to this WTF kind of feeling is that my friends and I are often told how we’re wrong about these things that are part of -OUR- culture. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people wanting to show off and throw out wrong information. Then these very same people try to school me and my friends on our culture; Even though they’re incredibly wrong.
The other prominent issue people have with white washing is representation. There isn’t alot of Asian representation in the media. For the most part, Asians play very stereotypical roles: bad ass martial artist, socially awkward and/or hella smart geek, FOB (Fresh Off the Boat – A term basically meaning an Asian not from that country; They may stick to their cultural norms and usually do not speak English very well), Asian restaurant or laundromat worker/owner; Just to name a few. Often times Asians don’t play the main character; They’re usually the side kick character. For Asians in multicultural countries like the US, this is upsetting. You usually hear things like “I didn’t see a face like mine”, or “I didn’t see anyone who represented me or the Asians I knew and grew up with”. Western media embellishes alot of things and often seem to misrepresent alot of different cultures. Overall, there’s a feeling that Asians are made to seem undesirable or told that they’re not talented enough to be the lead actor/actress. It’s bad because believe it or not, alot of people take it as that’s what Asians are supposed to be like and that’s how our cultures are supposed to be like. In a way many Asian-Americans (and other Asians who are born and/or live in multicultural countries) often feel alienated or out of place. I’m Asian, but I was born and raised in the US. I lived here my whole life. Yet often times, I’m constantly treated or viewed as an outsider. I’ve even had people decide that I must not be American born/raised and that I have an accent (I don’t; Native English speaker here); Just because of how I look. So yeah, many Asians in these western and multicultural places just want representation as well. “Well [Asians] in [Asian country] don’t seem to have a problem…” Here’s the thing: Asians in Asia have a very different experience and perspective from Asians who grew up and/or live in these MULTICULTURAL places in the west. They’re in a place where they are the majority, or a more homogeneous population. So they may not have dealt with the same issues Asians in western countries have faced; Or at least to the same extent. I know sometimes people in Asia just think “Oh it’s cute and great that people are interested in [Asian country/culture].” I think that’s great too, but only if it’s accurately portrayed. If you’re truly interested in it, respect it. Also as I’ve said before, we’re talking about western productions produced in -MULTICULTURAL- countries for a -MULTICULTURAL- audience. Also the whole “There wasn’t any talent Asian actors to fit the role” excuse is kind of weak. If there truly is a matter of who had more talent okay. However, we’ve seen in certain adaptations that the acting of the selected actor wasn’t that impressive at all. I just want someone who can accurately represent integral cultural aspects is all. The other issue people have with white washing in Asian settings is the whole “white savior” issue. To sum it up it’s basically, “Why do we always have to be portrayed as dumb and helpless, and in need of some white dude to save us?”
Reasons why Western Remakes/Adaptations Fail or Fall Short
Other than the issues of white washing, there are several reasons that Western remakes/adaptations fail or fall short. One is just not staying true to the originals or source material. I mean more so of not staying true to the essence of the originals that made everyone like them so much. Asian live adaptations are guilty of doing this at times as well; Which you can all see in my various live action movies/drama reviews. However, Western adaptations and remakes are guilty of this to an even further extent. It’s understandable that there may be changes here and there. Things tend to get pretty watered down too. Especially when you can only fit so much in such a small amount of time. However, I think the key is keeping the essential parts of the story and characters. After all, that’s why people liked them so much. Fans of the originals always feel like the essence gets lost as the western remakes end up making really big changes. I know some people get into different Asian media because of how different it is from Western media. People often get upset because the westernized versions basically make it into all the things they didn’t like. I remember when 花より男子/Hana Yori Dango, or Boys Over Flowers, was announced to have a US remake. If you didn’t know, the iconic shoujo manga and anime were incredibly popular. There have been MANY live action adaptations throughout the years. It had a popular Taiwanese live action drama called Meteor Garden in 2001; A remake is being aired now and will be on Netflix. There was also a popular Japanese live action drama in 2005 starring Matsumoto Jun and Shun Oguri. The popular Korean adaptation aired in 2009 and starred Lee Min Ho and Kim Hyun Joong. In 2012-2013 a US adaptation was announced titled Boys Before Friends. I remember there was alot of buzz and they made it seemed hella hyped up. I tried watching it. It was awful. It was really low production; Not the big production they made it sound like it would be. It ended up looking like a fan produced web series made with some friends. You could see obvious wigs and the actors reading their scripts (very badly). I didn’t make it past the 10-15 mark. People who did push on complained about the Westernized treatment. I remember people liked Asian dramas because they were more sweet and fluffy. They were sick of all the sex and types of drama that American shows had going on. People also enjoyed different Asian media because of how different the characters were from those found in Western media. So that’s one reason people don’t like western adaptations. People just feel disappointed when a series they like is made into the very things they were trying to get away from. There’s so much change that it’s a bit difficult to see the aspects of the original.
See the trailer for the US version, Boys Before Friends [HERE] (I can’t embed this sorry…) And here’s the trailer for the 2009 Korean version, 꽃보다 남자/Boys Before Flowers
People often get disappointed when there are drastic changes in the characters. Let’s use Light from Death Note as an example. He’s supposed to be a hella intelligent and in a way charming. He’s smart and popular. It’s a key aspect that makes him interesting because no one would suspect him. Now take the version from Netflix’s Death Note. He’s basically the exact opposite of the original. He’s an awkward and angsty social outcast. Honestly, he seems like the creepy kid in class that you’d suspect of causing shit to go down one day. Also, did you hear that scream? Again, they’re very different from one another.
Yes, there’s the argument of him being a completely different character. However, it’s hard not to compare consideration the popularity and love people had for the original. It’s also a bit difficult when they’re trying to remind you of the original. Here’s another thing, it’s kind of weird for an American kid to be named Light. Sure, it was a shout out to the original. Still, it might’ve been better to have the kid have a western name that meant “light”. This version definitely had a big white washing controversy as well. I feel like maybe they could’ve tried going for a Japanese-American actor. They could’ve had an American born/raised Japanese character or a mixed Japanese character. Would’ve made more sense for a few things. I’m just saying it seemed weird for a white kid to randomly know about and accept shinigami, and the “Kira” part just seemed a bit out of place in the Western adaptation.
It may also sound confusing, but these adaptations can also just try more of being their own thing. In regards to Death Note, I feel like they should’ve just made it more of a spin-off type of thing. Nothing that directly relates to the original story and characters. It could have just been something with the same concept. Again, keep the key aspects or essence. An example of something has managed to be successful of this is the 2017 TV series, The Good Doctor. Bet you didn’t know that it’s the Western remake/adaptation of the 2013 Korean drama series 굿 닥터/Good Doctor. The US adaptation was produced by Lost actor Daniel Dae Kim. The series itself is about an autistic surgical resident with savant syndrome. He wants to be a top surgeon one day, but faces many challenges and alot of scrutiny because of his autism. Still, he’s a genius due to being a savant. It’s ultimately a very human drama. It shows the growth and relationships of all the characters. However, the feel and characters are very different from each other. The Korean version is more of a sweet, fluffy, and innocent version. Park Si Yeon is a bit socially awkward, but he’s also like an innocent little child who is crushing on one of his fellow doctors. I’d say the Korean version has a brighter and fluffy feel to it. The US version is very much more Americanized. Part of the differences is also a matter of cultural differences. In Korea you have what’s called “chaebols”. They’re influential and high society/rich families that run large companies or conglomerates. In regards to chaebols and their affairs, it can be very political. The hospital in the Korean version is a private hospital and there are more political aspects going on in that version. The American version keeps the basic idea of the main character being an autistic savant. It even keeps the relationship of the hospital chairman being his guardian/father figure. It also keeps a bit of the main character’s background story. However, everything else is pretty different. In the American version, the female doctor isn’t the main character’s love interest. They’re just friends. The characters are their own and have different struggles and challenges than those of the original. Everything really is changed to suit a more American setting. Still, it worked. I remember my K-Drama circle friends and I weren’t expecting much. However, we were pretty impressed. We still prefer the original, but we felt like this remake was actually acceptable. I know some people were also upset that the American version had a white lead instead of an Asian one. However, it wasn’t really necessary to the story here. Don’t get me wrong, it would’ve been nice to have an Asian lead. However, this story doesn’t have any big cultural aspects tied to it and the characters. It really is a general idea and story that can happen anywhere. Despite the lead being white, the rest of the cast is incredibly diverse. So in this case, this Western adaptation had a more positive reception. Again, I point out that while it is vastly different from the original, it still kept many key aspects of the original.
Here are the trailers for the Korean drama and the US version:
I think one of the tricky parts and failure of Western adaptations are cultural aspects; Especially those that play integral roles in the original. I know I keep jumping around, but everything really is kind of tied together. This is probably one of the biggest issues with Western adaptations. Often times the important things revolving the original story and characters deal with certain and/or unique cultural aspects. The thing is that it can lead to an issue of authenticity. Does this character really know and/or can represent that cultural aspect? Is it accurate? Sometimes it also seems like Western productions try too hard. For example, I’ll sometimes watch a movie where some white character is in Asia. Supposedly they’ve lived there for years and they’re fluent in the local language. I’m multilingual and I at least have a good ear for discerning different languages and whether it sounds accurate. I can’t tell you how many times it’s garbage and inaccurate. It makes my ears cringe. If you must, at least make it more accurate. Sell me that part and the story dammit. I don’t want to be sitting there doubting the character, film, or series.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the hit animated film 君の名は。/Kimi no Na Wa, or Your Name. If you haven’t heard, it is slated to get a Hollywood remake. This had me concerned. I think I’ve had a discussion with one of the BAYOG bros about this. I loved the film. However, I feel like it’d be hard to make a Westernized version. That film relied heavily on alot of different cultural aspects.
The Shinto religion and beliefs played some key roles in one of the characters and other things. One of the important things is the kuchikamizake, “mouth-chewed sake”. These undoubtedly played huge roles in the characters and what transpired in the film. I honestly can’t think of a way where it would fit or make sense in a Westernized version.
I apologize for the long and disorganized post. I wanted to try to keep it as short as possible, but there really are alot of factors and things. I could have a discussion about it for hours, but I tried to simplify my points as much as possible. I also really wish I could talk about this on a podcast with the boys one day to hit up some points and concerns from everyone. Change is inevitable, but the adaptations should keep the key aspects and essence of the originals. Things can be changed to fit the different setting and culture, but it’s important to somehow work in the things that made people love the originals. There are some unique cultural aspects that just don’t fit in a Western setting. Don’t force cultural aspects that don’t fit with the setting. It makes it seem awkward and weird. While Western adaptations/remakes have a bad reputation, it is possible to make a good adaptation that works. As seen with The Good Doctor, it is possible to be different and still keep the essence of the original. Either make something that can stay true to what made fans love the original, or make something that can be it’s own thing while keeping the original’s essence and key aspects. What’s your take on Western adaptations/remakes? Let me know in the comments or through Twitter~