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

by The Playlist Staff
February 28, 2013 11:01 AM
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5 Disappointments

"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 (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 (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.

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  • cirkusfolk | February 28, 2013 3:37 PMReply

    Oh comon. Where is Mimic and Alien Resurrection? The two most notorious.

  • wes | February 28, 2013 1:02 PMReply

    Agree with everything, but Hard Target and Constant Gardner should be swapped. :)

  • Ville | February 28, 2013 12:45 PMReply

    "Breaking the Waves" was not Lars von Trier's english language debut...his first film, "Element of Crime" was also in english...bad research! BAD RESEARCH! :)

  • yer | February 28, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    My Blueberry Nights is truly awful. I'm glad there hasn't been an attempt at some sort of revisionist history because he's such a popular director.

  • Tom | February 28, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    I know that Fear X was a box office failure, but I really liked it. So I wonder where The Playlist places Refn's English debut?

  • Tobi | February 28, 2013 11:58 AMReply

    Thank you for mentioning 'The Constant Gardener,' I love that film, and I keep getting shit for it from everyone I know. The rest of Meirelles' catalogue though, like mentioned, I don't know what happened there and it's brutal.

  • Ras | February 28, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    Breaking The Waves is not Trier's first English language film. Both Element of Crime and Europa are in English.

  • Ras | February 28, 2013 11:49 AMReply

    Breaking The Waves is not Trier's first English language film. Both Element of Crime and Europa are in English.

  • Eds | February 28, 2013 12:40 PM

    We took some creative license there. They're not all in English, (at least not Europa), but I see your point and will amend.

  • RC | February 28, 2013 11:40 AMReply

    "...but you can feel every cut and meddling hand, like a bullet to the head."

    Nice touch, hahaha.

  • Marie | February 28, 2013 11:20 AMReply

    The constant gardener is one of my favorite movies, awasome, perfect! I loved the book too.

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