12 Films Remade in Asia

Hollywood gets flack for remaking foreign films. Little do people know is that Asia has done the same.


By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on

Hollywood gets a lot of flack for remaking foreign films, especially ones that originated in Asia. Some are met with positive reaction, like The Departed (a remake of the Hong Kong classic Infernal Affairs) and The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai). Even The Grudge and The Ring received positive feedback, and both films made the world start paying attention to Japanese horror.

However, let’s face it, the majority of Hollywood remakes of Asian films did not live up to the source materials. Just to name a few: Oldboy, My Sassy Girl, Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, and every Asian horror remake made after The Grudge.

But, unbeknownst to many of us, Asia is also guilty of remaking films of foreign origin. It’s a case by case situation as to whether or not those films have lived up to the originals.

It goes to show that truly nothing is sacred.
So, let’s talk about 12 films remade in Asia.

Note: Keep in mind that in this list, we will talk only about adaptations of films. So, we will not focus on Asian adaptations of novels, manga, video games, and TV dramas, because those are discussions for another day.

1. Monsterz is a cut and paste of Haunters

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The original: Haunters (2010/Korea)
The remake: Monsterz (2014/Japan)

The original Korean story is about a troubled young man who shuns himself from society because of his ability to control the minds of people. He uses this power to get away with crime, but the psychic’s streak comes to an end when he encounters a single man who has total resistance. This turns into a thrilling game of cat and mouse, with the lives of many people hanging in the balance.

Did the remake work?
The Japanese adaptation only changed a few details, like changing the scenery to Japan. Most of everything else was lifted straight from the source.

So, there were no new surprises to appeal to fans of the original piece, resulting in a pretty soulless copy-and-pasted film. It’s disappointing, as Monsterz starred two talented actors in Fujiwara Tatsuya and Yamada Takayuki.


2. Miss Granny was adapted by China the following year

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The original: Miss Granny (2014/Korea)
The remake: 20 Once Again (2015/China)

One of 2014’s biggest hits at the Korean box office was Miss Granny, the story of a 74-year old woman who magically transforms into her 20-year old self. The adorable Shim Eun-kyung leads this adorable story about family, sacrifice, and the pursuing of dreams. If you are in need of a film to put a smile on your face (as well as tears in your eyes), this is the film to do it.

Did the remake work?
The Chinese remake was created with the involvement of CJ Entertainment, the studio responsible for the original. 20 Once Again to Miss Granny is very similar to the aforementioned Monsterz/Haunters pair, in which the remake was a total cut-and-paste of the original. The Chinese version set itself to feel more like a drama than its comedic source. This resulted in film that didn’t have as much charm, and no new surprises. Of course, 20 Once Again wasn’t a bad film, per se; it just didn’t surpass the original in any way.

And in actuality, your bias to one film or the other will depend if you’re more a fan of Jinyoung of the K-pop band B1A4, or Luhan of EXO.


3. Unforgiven was reimagined as a Meiji period piece

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The original: Unforgiven (1992/USA)
The remake: Unforgiven (2013/Japan)

Unforgiven is one of the US’s most renowned Westerns. It starred Clint Eastwood as a retired killer who decides to take up one last job in killing two men who have horribly disfigured a prostitute. Things get messy when the town’s corrupt sheriff, played by Gene Hackman, gets involved with everyone trying to get the bounty. This film is one of Clint Eastwood’s best, and has taken home numerous awards and a place in the United States National Film Registry.

Did the remake work?
The Japanese version swapped Clint Eastwood with another A-lister in both sides of the Pacific: Watanabe Ken. The setting was also changed from the American wild west to the beginning of the Meiji Period, when the days of the samurai have just ended.

The story is essentially the same, but instead of cowboys, it features retired swordsmen and Ainu (who are basically to Japan what Native Americans are to the United States). The remake indeed lived up to the original, and had remarkable performances from both Watanabe Ken and Sato Koichi, who took the role originally played by Hackman.


4. Eye in the Sky, and even a bit of Simon Yam, was brought to Korea

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The original: Eye in the Sky (2007/Hong Kong)
The remake: Cold Eyes (2013/Korea)

Eye in the Sky is a crime/thriller starring the renowned Simon Yam and “Big” Tony Leung Ka-fai. Yam leads a team of elite police officers (which also includes then-newcomer Kate Tsui) who specialize in surveillance, as they chase down elusive high-profile criminals. The premise was slick, and the story was full of enough twists and turns to make this gritty crime flick a must-watch for genre fans.

Did the remake work?
The Korean version brought superstars Sol Kyung-gu and Jung Woo-sung in the places of Yam and Big Tony. The main points of the original story remained, but a lot of creative and cool cinematography made Cold Eyes stand out from Eye in the Sky. The film also starred the beautiful Han Hyo-joo in place of Kate Tsui.

This blockbuster nabbed numerous awards just like the original, but Cold Eyes was one of the few examples of a remake transcending its predecessor. Make sure to watch the ending scene, and you will catch Simon Yam popping by to say hi.


5. Japan remakes Ghost, complete with pottery and “Unchained Melody”

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The original: Ghost (1990/USA)
The remake: Ghost: I Want to Hold You in My Arms Again (2010/Japan)

The classic supernatural romantic drama Ghost starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. The story centers around a man who returns as a ghost after being murdered by an unknown assailant. In order to protect his lover from suffering the same fate, he recruits the aid of a quirky medium, resulting in an adventure that has made everyone who has watched it (read: our moms and dads) cry waterfalls.

Did the remake work?
The Japanese version takes the basic premise of the original and adds its own spin to things. The first noticeable change is that the girl (played by Matushima Nanako) is the one who suffers Swayze’s fate. She must work together with a quirky medium (Kiki Kirin) to come to the aid of her Korean husband (Song Seung-Heon).

It seems strange to recruit a non-Japanese male lead, but perhaps the words “I love you” would have a stronger effect on female viewers if spoken by a Korean (in Korean, no less). A cute reimagining of the classic film, but definitely nowhere near as popular. But hey, at least the iconic ballad “Unchained Melody” made an appearance, getting a nice cover by pop star Hirai Ken.


6. Dangerous Liaisons worked its way into Korea and China

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The original: Dangerous Liaisons (1988/USA)
The remakes: Untold Scandal (2003/Korea) and Dangerous Liaisons (2012/China)

This entry is a bit of a special case. The 1988 American film Dangerous Liaisons was adapted from the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, though it wasn’t the first adaptation to come into the world.

It was, however, the most renowned one, and set the bar for other remakes, including the 1999 American film Cruel Intentions. They share the same basic story, in which an upper-class woman makes a bet with an acquaintance, promising sexual favors to be awarded should he succeed with the seduction of a certain young girl. What follows is a tale of revenge, betrayal, love, and redemption.

Did the remakes work?
The Korean and Chinese versions did their own spins on the original story. Untold Scandal, which stars Bae Yong-joon, Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Mi-sook, and Lee So-yeon, takes place in the same time period as the original novel and film, but in Joseon period Korea instead of pre-Revolution Paris.

The Chinese take on the story stars Jang Dong-gun, Zhang Ziyi, Cecilia Cheung, and Candy Wang in the respective main roles, and sets the story in 1930s Shanghai. Both films did well at adapting the original piece, but it was Untold Scandal that really shone between the two, having the awards and nominations to show for it.


7. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was transformed into a kimchi western

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The original: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966/Italy, West Germany, Spain, USA)
The remake: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird (2008/Korea)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is one of the definitive Spaghetti Westerns ever made. Clint Eastwood headlines this epic, which was known for its stylish use of violence and its nail-biting Mexican standoff. As the name suggests, the story follows three gunslingers – a hero, a villain, and an oddball thief – in the American Wild West as they search for buried treasure.

Did the remake work?
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird takes a similar premise from its predecessor, in that the three titular characters race each other to search for buried treasure.

The scenery was changed to 1930s Manchuria, but the vibe of the story is kept to feel like a typical Western. Starring superstars Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun, and Song Kang-ho as the titular trio, the story is filled with tons of fun moments, charismatic characters, and exhilarating action sequences. It’s not as influential as the original, but it does hold a spot as one of the Korean films to definitely see in one’s lifetime.


8. Sideways inspired Japanese dudes to go on a wine trip

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The original: Sideways (2004/USA)
The remake: Sideways (2009/Japan)

Sideways is an award-winning film starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as two middle-aged wine connoisseurs on a road trip in the Santa Ynez Valley. Along they way they meet two women who they take along for the ride, igniting an adventure filled with wine, sex, and the eventual acceptance of reality. The acting was phenomenal, and did so well critically and commercially that tourism increased in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Did the remake work?
The Japanese remake, unlike many of the films on this list, didn’t relocate the story to the country that produced it. Instead, the road trip was shifted to the wine country in Napa, and placed Giamatti and Church with two veteran actors in Kinohata Fumiya and Namase Katsuhisa.

The reason for the road trip was altered, with the two men driving across Napa as a sort of bachelor party before one of them marries off an American. The remake’s basic sequence of events and characters’ personalities are kept intact, and each of the actors admirably took on the English language.

Indeed, the film had big shoes to fill with the original, and the subject matter of wine connoisseurs is a niche in The Land of the Rising Sun. The remake would have been more of a standout if relocated to Japan, and had the wine replaced with some nihonshu. But overall, it didn’t perform so well. But hey, at least it had Kikuchi Rinko.


9. China’s What Women Want replaced Mel Gibson with Andy Lau

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The original: What Women Want (2000/USA)
The remake: What Women Want (2011/China)

This action-packed flick features Mel Gibson as an arrogant, yet successful advertising executive who, through an accident involving a hairdryer and a bathtub, inherits the superpower of hearing women’s thoughts.

Rather than using this power to fight crime, he decides he wants to steal back his promotion from the witch who he felt stole it from him. Actually I lied; this is a total romantic comedy which everyone’s mothers have probably watched. This film is definitely recommended for date nights, but only if you can appreciate the time Mel Gibson was considered a heartthrob.

Did the remake work?
Other than relocating to Beijing, and replacing the hairdryer with a lamp, the Chinese remake followed the original’s story pretty spot on. Though, the biggest improvements that the remake had was the casting Andy Lau and Gong Li in the stead of Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. That being said, the remake is definitely a step above the original, just because Lau and Gong are two pieces of a winning formula.


10. Korea remade A Better Tomorrow, minus Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo

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The original: A Better Tomorrow (1986/Hong Kong)
The remake: A Better Tomorrow (2010/Korea)

A Better Tomorrow was the first of the numerous collaborations between director John Woo, the master of action films, and Chow Yun-Fat, himself the master of aviators and trench coats. This crime drama not only proved that a film can become an international success despite having a low budget, but also that a supporting actor can outshine the lead hero. A Better Tomorrow is notable in that it paved the way for the John Woo flavor of heroic bloodshed action films.

Did the remake work?
Though not directed by John Woo or starring Chow Yun-fat, the Korean remake was enjoyable in its own right. Changing the scenery from Hong Kong to Korea, the story focuses on North Korean defectors who get entangled in a smuggling ring. Of course, it’s nowhere near influential as the original, but the remake definitely did the Woo classic justice. And, in some ways, the story was a bit more tragic.

After all, Korean films HAVE to make you cry, even with the absence of lead female roles and sneaky romantic side stories. Lastly, we will say that Song Seung-Heon did a better job at cosplaying as Chow Yun-fat than he did Patrick Swayze in the remake of Ghost.


11. Sadako and Ring took a flight to Korea

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The original: Ring (1998/Japan)
The remake: The Ring Virus (1999/Korea)

Ring is the biggest name in Japanese horror films. Although preceded by 1995’s Ring: Kanzenban, the 1998 adaptation of Suzuki Koji’s novel of the same name is the one that everyone remembers. By far, it is the biggest trendsetter, paving the way for not only the 2002 American remake, but also a wave of Hollywood remakes of Asian horror flicks.

The story, which stars Matsushima Nanako and Sanada Hiroyuki, follows a divorced couple who must uncover the secret of a curse. The curse revolves around a video tape, which anyone who watches gets killed after seven days pass. The killer is the vengeful ghost of Sadako, a young girl who was brutally murdered and thrown down a well.

Did the remake work?
The Ring Virus is said to be an adaptation of the original novel, as opposed to the Japanese film. However, the Korean remake borrows elements that were used in the Japanese film. One such example is the gender of the main character, who was played by Shin Eun-kyung in Matsushima Nanako’s place.

Sadako has been renamed to Eun-suh. The tragedy surrounding Eun-suh was made to resemble more of the novel; she was raped, but upon being discovered as a hermaphrodite, was thrown down the well. All versions depict her as a psychic who could project her powers unto TV screens and video tapes, creating the cursed video we all know.

Overall The Ring Virus contained material recognizable to fans of the Japanese film, but also enough fresh material to keep them interested. The eerie atmosphere is kept intact, as well as the fear of what will happen to viewers seven days after watching. A definite watch for fans of Asian horror.


12. My Fair Lady went from teaching proper English to the Kyoto dialect

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The original: My Fair Lady (1964/USA)
The remake: Lady Maiko (2014/Japan)

My Fair Lady is the 1964 adaptation of the 1956 theatrical musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the 1938 British film Pygmalion, which adapted the 1913 stage play of the same name. Confusing enough? Well, the most important thing you should remember is that My Fair Lady is an Audrey Hepburn classic.

At the story’s center is Hepburn’s character, a girl with a thick Cockney accent. She becomes part of a wager by a phonetics professor (played by Rex Harrison), who bets that he can make her speak “proper” English, and fit in with the high society of London. The film was a critical success, collecting eight Academy Awards and millions of fans.

Did the remake work?
The remake, named Lady Maiko, shifted the scenery from London to the beautiful Kyoto, and Japanized the story in every sense. Inheriting Audrey Hepburn’s role is Kamishiraishi Mone, a newcomer who beat out hundreds of other girls. She plays a naive girl from Kagoshima who makes the trip all the way to Kyoto to become a geisha. A lot of obstacles stand in the way of her dream, such her messy speech – a combination of dialects of rural Kagoshima and Aomori.

Harrison’s character is inherited by Hasegawa Hiroki. As a linguist professor, he sees Kamishiraishi as an interesting case study, and wagers that he can teach her the Kyoto dialect, which will undoubtedly help her succeed in her dream. A light-hearted twist on the geisha profession, with musical dance numbers added in, Lady Maiko is more than worthy to be successor to My Fair Lady. It is also worth watching because of all the clever ways it outfits the original story with all the fun nuances of Kyoto, and Japanese, culture.


Did we miss any Asian remakes? What remakes do you think were well done, or a waste of time? Let us know in the comments!


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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