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5 Great & 5 Disappointing English-Language Debuts By Foreign-Language Directors

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist February 28, 2013 at 11:01AM

This Friday sees the release of the much-anticipated "Stoker." The melodrama would probably be of note just because it stars Mia Wasikowksa and Nicole Kidman, but it's even more so because it marks the English-language debut of acclaimed Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, the man behind "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance," "Oldboy" and "Thirst," among others. The film lands hot on the heels of "The Last Stand," from Park's countryman Kim Ji-Woon, and a few months from the English-language debut of another Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer." The three are only the latest international filmmakers to seek wider audiences and acclaim by making a film in the English language.
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5 Disappointments

"Hard Target" - John Woo
"Hard Target" - John Woo (1993)
The story goes that Universal was so nervous about having John Woo (an unproven director known for his hyper-violent Hong Kong action flicks) helm their big-budget movie that they forced producer Sam Raimi to hang around the set as insurance in case Woo couldn't perform his duties. (Raimi, a huge fan of Woo's Chinese output, was never in doubt.) And by all accounts shooting the movie was relatively easy and straightforward, even with the temperamental Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role (supposedly it was Van Damme who threw out the movie's original speedboat chase ending for a baffling horseback chase; Woo would later use the original chase for his lone English-language masterpiece "Face/Off"). When the movie, which is a loose remake of "The Most Dangerous Game" set in Southern-fried Louisiana, was in post-production, it was then that everything went to hell. After Woo's initial cut, the MPAA demanded over a dozen changes for it to even have a chance of securing an R-rating (it's rumored that Woo re-cut the film 17 times), and at one point Van Damme stepped in and fashioned his own cut of the movie, one that replaced a number of scenes with superfluous "hero shots" of the actor (according to a biography of Woo). The resulting film is a shadow of its former self – you can see slivers of the talent and ingenuity that Woo brought to Hong Kong movies like "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled," but you can feel every cut and meddling hand, like a bullet to the head.


"The Ring Two" - Hideo Nakata
"The Ring Two" - Hideo Nakata (2005)
By the time Japanese horror director Hideo Nakata (who also directed the soppy supernatural chiller "Dark Water," poorly remade by Walter Salles which we'll get to in a moment) made his stateside debut with "The Ring Two," he had already directed two entries in "The Ring" franchise back in Japan. So it's not a huge surprise that "The Ring Two" felt so lazy and phoned-in, but what was truly shocking was just how awful the movie would be. Instead of the elegant weirdness that Gore Verbinski brought to the remake, it was replaced by meandering spookiness that felt like an odd mishmash of elegiac Japanese storytelling styles uneasily mixing with the more Western focus on narrative mechanics. The resulting film was neither fish nor foul, less a movie than a collection of limply realized scares draped over "Scream 3" author Ehren Kruger's anemic script (Verbinski's script had a huge, wholly un-credited assist from Scott Frank) and punctuated by long stretches when literally nothing happens. None of what made the original Japanese "The Ring" such a late night kick was present in "The Ring Two;" and returning star Naomi Watts looked like she was embarrassed to be there, something the audience could sympathize with.

"The Tourist" - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
"The Tourist" - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2010)
Jesus. Where to begin with "The Tourist"? A prestige end-of-the-year thriller starring handsome movie stars Johnny Depp (in a rare recent role that sees him free of both prosthetics and wigs) and Angelina Jolie, it also marked the English language debut of German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who just a couple of years earlier, directed the Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others," a film that managed to elegantly blend edge-of-your-seat thrills with a deeply melancholic, emotionally resonant worldview. "The Tourist" (based on the popular French film "Anthony Zimmer," which we only assume is million times better) showed nothing of von Donnersmarck's considerable abilities, instead serving as a series of banal, loosely connected chase set pieces that involved a mysterious criminal and mistaken identity (or something) and always took place in obnoxiously glamorous locations. The script has a similarly pedigreed background, having been worked on by "Downton Abbey" mastermind Julian Fellowes, "Usual Suspects" screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and von Donnersmarck himself, but all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put humpty together again. It's hard to tell where, exactly, "The Tourist" went wrong since it's such a complete and utter disaster, but we're fairly sure that the language barrier was the least of this thing's worries.

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Stoker, Wong Kar-wai, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Walter Salles , Chan-wook Park, Fernando Meirelles, John Woo, Alejandro Amenabar, Michelangelo Antonioni, Lars von Trier


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