Foreign remakes of famous movies you didn't know exist

It's a common complaint that Hollywood has a tendency to remake foreign films, often losing a lot of the appeal of the original in the translation. It's not surprising from a business standpoint: a successful foreign film is one with a proven formula, and American audiences are notoriously subtitle shy. But when even films from other English-speaking countries get the remake treatment, it's inevitable that some will grumble about Hollywood ruining films that were perfectly good in the first place. For every great remake, like Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven, you get a host of stinkers, like Spike Lee's lackluster Oldboy, Roland Emmerich's ludicrous Godzilla, and of course The Wicker Man ("The bees! The bees!)

What's less known is the fact sometimes the stream goes in the other direction, and foreign filmmakers take an American property and make a localized take on a Hollywood hit. Sometimes the results are good, or at least an interesting depiction of cultural difference, with the same story manifesting in different ways across borders. Other times, the results are just as ludicrous as the worst Hollywood remakes. These are foreign remakes of famous movies you didn't know exist.

What Women Want (in China)

Creepy subtext notwithstanding, the 2000 Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt comedy What Women Want was a massive crowd-pleasing hit. In 2011, it was remade in China as Wo Zhi Nu Ren Xin, or 'I Know A Woman's Heart,' starring Andy Lau and Gong Li. The core conceit was identical: a smarmy and chauvinistic advertising executive can read women's minds following a magical accident and uses it to manipulate the women around him until finding eventual redemption through love. The focus shifts a little, however; the Chinese version is less about shifting gender dynamics in the workplace than the rise of consumer culture and the middle class overall, which is to be expected given the cultural, historical and social differences between the United States and China.

The remake hews close to the original script, if less convincing or coherent in execution. A few subplots from the original are lost, while newly added subplots seem a bit random: the main character's father's antisocial singing, Gong Li's characters online boyfriend who turns out to be a headhunter for a rival firm, and a bizarre scene revolving around the mystery of why a Japanese restaurant specializes in Mongolian beef. Sadly, the remake of a movie about the secret thoughts of women feels the need to introduce the complications of additional male characters.

Blood Simple as a feudal Chinese farce

In 2008, Chinese director Zhang Yimou acquired the rights to the Coen brothers' 1986 film Blood Simple, a movie he'd seen a quarter-century earlier—despite not understanding English at the time and watching it without English subtitles. Clearly, Zhang had been heavily affected by the movie, and since the rights were owned by the Coens rather than a studio, Zhang was able to negotiate with them directly.

Zhang's interpretation of the gritty noir flick, called A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop in the US, is set in a stylized vision of the feudal past, a clever way to avoid hassles from censors in the country. Much like the original, the film features a detective hired by an unhappy cuckold to kill his adulterous wife and her lover, an employee of his. While the detective in the original was a somewhat sillier character, the remade version is solemn, one of many ways the film shows how the same story can be told very differently. Where the Coens' vision is desaturated and nihilistic, Zhang's is colorful and farcical.

Bollywood remakes anything it wants

Mumbai's film industry has a long history of sneakily remaking Hollywood movies, usually ignored by American studios as being too much hassle to pursue with legal challenges. Bruce Almighty was remade as God Tussi Great Ho, with a more incoherent scriptReservoir Dogs was remade in 2002 by Sanjay Gupta as Kaante, but while it was savaged by critics, Dogs director Quentin Tarantino spoke favorably of the film.

But the strangest adaptations have to be Bollywood's revamps of American horror classics, transformed into genre-benders with musical numbers and comedic scenes. A Nightmare on Elm Street was remade in 1993 as Mahakaal, with the daughter of a police chief battling a child-killing sorcerer named Shakaal. The killer doll Chucky from Child's Play had an Indian counterpart in Papi Gudia, though the results were far tackier. They even managed an adaptation of Stephen King's It, which was entitled Woh and ran for 52 episodes.

Unsurprisingly, a number of these adaptations lose something in translation. In the originals, the horror is the juxtaposition between a mundane world and the predations of the supernatural. In the Bollywood versions, the existence of the supernatural is accepted—and the cast may launch into a fantasy song and dance at any point, which tends to defuse a lot of the tension.

A Russian adaptation of 12 Angry Men

1957's 12 Angry Men is a classic of American film, so it was an odd choice to be remade in 21st century Russia. In Nikita Mikhalkov's 12, a jury is deliberating in the case of a Chechen boy accused of murdering his Russian adopted father. All but one of the jurors is convinced of the boy's guilt, and in explaining how they come to the conclusion each character explores his past and his philosophies, ultimately offering a commentary on the zeitgeist of post-Soviet Russia.

This approach allowed Mikhalkov to retain the core elements of the American original in the service of Russian cultural goals. As the director put it, "In the course of the film, I'm trying to show the reality of what's happening in Russia. In the end, I show what I wish was true."

One creepy element of this adaptation involves accusations the film serves as an apologetic for the policies of repressive Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is known to be close friends with Mikhalkov. Opposition journalist Zoya Svetova pointed out most of the juror characters were caricatures of archetypes of Russian political society: the anti-Semite, the Jewish intellectual, the bumbling liberal, the hypocritical Soviet; while the noble main character is a secret service officer. He also argued the premise of the story doesn't make much sense within the Russian legal system, as guilt there is determined by a simple jury majority rather than a unanimous decision.

A French adaptation of an American flop

While Hollywood has remade many French films, it's rare that the French return the favor. An exception occurred with Jacques Audiard's 2005 film The Beat That My Heart Skipped, a remake of American writer-director James Toback's 1978 release Fingers. The earlier film was a box office flop in the United States and only gained minor critical interest in Europe before being largely forgotten. But not by Mr. Audiard. "I saw the film in Paris in 1978 and I was very moved by it," he recalled. "And when a producer suggested I remake an American movie, Fingers was the very first one that came to mind."

Both films are psychological dramas about a young man torn between two existences, the violent gangland world of his father and the refined civilizing influence of his mother. As the rights to the film were owned by Warner Bros., there was no need for the directors to meet, but they did anyway. Toback said, "They actually could've made this movie without speaking to me. And I never got a dime, and will not get a dime. However, I was very pleased for it to be remade by somebody that good."

Even putting aside the rarity of a French remake of an American film, it's nice to see the remake treatment given to a flop, rather than an established classic. And according to Toback, "I always thought Fingers felt like a French film, anyway."

Brazil and Japan ripped off Planet of the Apes

1968's Planet of the Apes was a worldwide hit, so it came as no surprise when other film industries tried to take advantage of the monkey mania. Japan produced a 26-episode series called Saru no Gundan, or "Army of the Apes." This was condensed into a 97-minute feature film about a scientist and two children trapped in cryogenic containers only to wake up in a world dominated by apes with modern technology. There are elements both similar to and very different from the American original, and some fresh zany elements—there's little better way to spice up the struggle between man and ape than by introducing UFOs, robots, ninjas and a military coup by chimpanzees against gorillas.

Then there's Brazil's O Trapalhão no Planalto dos Macacos, or 'The Tramps on the Plateau of the Apes.' This low-budget effort sees a comedy troupe fleeing the law after a misunderstanding, only to end up being carried by hot air balloon to a mysterious plateau inhabited by sentient apes. It's a lot sillier, and more of a spoof than a true remake, but despite a lower budget the Brazilian production actually turns out some serviceable makeup and effects.

Japan and Korea remade Ghost

The 2010 Korean-Japanese co-produced adaptation of the 1990 classic Ghost was entitled Ghost: In Your Arms Again and reversed the gender roles of the original film. This film stars Nanako Matsushima as a young CEO who falls in love with a Korean potter, played by Song Seung-hoon. She's killed in a supposed accident by scoundrels hoping to get their hands on her fortune, and finds herself a spirit unable to effectively interact with the material world. In order to communicate with her bereaved husband and get to the bottom of the circumstances of her death, she must cooperate with a psychic played by veteran actress Kirin Kiki.

The remake stayed very close to the (ahem) spirit of the original. Still, some of the spirit of the original was lost: the supernatural sensuality of the pottery scene in the original is more saccharine in the remake, though this is likely a reflection of more conservative mores. According to the actors, much of the reason for making a localized remake was to appeal to a sense of nostalgia, while making use of the star power of the two leads to attract an audience in both countries.

Korea remakes Clint Eastwood

In 2013, Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il developed a remake of Clint Eastwood's 1992 classic Unforgiven, with Japanese star Ken Watanabe taking over the role of the squinting cowboy. Lee is said to have watched the film as a 19-year-old student, and it left such an impression on him he thought about its meaning for two decades before deciding to remake it. 

Lee shifted the setting from the Old West of the 1880s to Hokkaido in the early Meiji period, when Japan struggled with early modernization while pushing into the lands of the indigenous Ainu of the far north. Lee's intention with the remake was based on a desire to make a different type of Japanese historical epic, deviating from their clear delineation between good guys and bad guys.

The film had a mixed reaction in Japan, with some dismissing the work as merely derivative. One fan was Eastwood himself, who according to Watanabe said of the remake, "Very impressive. I am beyond contented. I feel the beginning of a new era for Japanese cinema."

An Italian remake of Groundhog Day

The 2004 Italian remake of the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day was called È già ieri, "It's Already Yesterday," though its official international title was Stork Day. Antonio Albanese plays Filippo Fontana, the host of a weather program who visits the Spanish island of Tenerife to shoot footage of a stork migration. He isn't happy there, but after being stuck on the island when bad weather stops the ferry service, he finds himself reliving the same day over and over again.

This version suffers somewhat in translation, as Albanese lacks the ready charm of Murray's performance. There's also less character development and moral growth in the main character; however, there are a few interesting differences in the portrayal of gender relations. Unlike Phil, Filippo has romantic engagements with a number of women (and at least one man) before becoming interested in his colleague Rita, in this version a biologist who already has a son.

A Nigerian remake of Titanic

Nigeria's growing film industry rose in the wake of the proliferation of cheap video cameras in the mid-'90s, allowing many budding filmmakers to put together productions on the cheap. In 2003, Nigerian director Farouk Ashu-Brown developed his own version of the 1997 hit Titanic, renamed Masoyiyata Titanic (My Beloved Titanic). In this version, teenager Binta wishes to marry a young man named Abdul she meets aboard the Titanic. Her parents, however, want her to marry the villainous Zayyad, who owns the ship.

Much of the film is made up of local shots intercut with scenes taken from the James Cameron original, as well shark attack scenes taken from Deep Blue Sea. There are also a number of Bollywood-inspired song and dance routines, including a Hausa rendition of "My Heart Will Go On" with altered lyrics more befitting of the Nigerian cultural environment. The popularity of these movies reflects the willingness of Nigerian audiences to put up with dubious special effects and stolen scenes as long as the filmmakers respect Nigerian cultural mores and traditions.