Korean film wave ripples to the U.S.

Remakes galore, including DW pursuit of 'Old Boy'

Remake rights to Korean feature films have long attracted the interest of the Hollywood studios -- but not the biggest director in town.

That all changed Friday when Steven Spielberg's camp confirmed that DreamWorks is working on a deal to remake Park Chan-wook's hit flick "Old Boy" in collaboration with the current rights holder, Mandate Pictures. Spielberg would direct Will Smith in the starring role.

Mandate is expected to remain a part of the new project as a financier or producer, alongside remake specialist Vertigo Entertainment, which originally acquired the rights with Universal back in 2004. Universal would distribute under the proposed DreamWorks deal. Production is not expected to begin before September 2009 with Spielberg likely to direct "Tintin" next.

After approaching potential writers, the word spread on Spielberg's intentions as far as the South-Korean capital Seoul in recent weeks where "Old Boy's" sales representative Suh Young-Joo of Finecut (then CineClick Asia) said that she had trouble believing what was then still a rumor.

"The film has a lot of potential as a Hollywood remake," said Ji Young-joon of Egg Film, the co-producer of the original "Old Boy," which sold over three million tickets in Korea in 2003. "It touches on guilt, taboo and original sin - issues that are easily identifiable to Western audiences through their knowledge of myths."

Since Miramax acquired the remake rights from Cineclick to "My Wife's is a Gangster" back in 2001, a steady slew of Korean titles have been snapped up by the studios here. Many of these remakes, including "Gangster," have yet to be realized Stateside. (Weinstein was spotted scouting Korean companies here at the AFM this week.)

DreamWorks' upcoming "The Uninvited,"  a remake of Kim Ji-woon's "The Tale of Two Sisters," is the first of Cineclick/Finecut's remake deals to the U.S. to have been produced, and will be released in the coming months.
Other Cineclick/Finecut titles which have sold for remake include Lee Chang-dong's 2002 Venice prize-winner "Oasis," and, most recently, "The Chaser," which sold to Warner Bros. this summer. Writer William Monahan and Leonardo DiCaprio are reportedly interested in the remake.

"I am very excited to see "The Uninvited'," said Suh, adding that Finecut's agreement means their returns on the films are held up for the long time it takes these films to be made.
These remakes can, and usually do, take several years as per rival shop CJ Entertainment, to realize.

Other high-profile remakes in the works include "Die Bad," which Marc Forster is reportedly in negotiations to direct for Universal Pictures. "Die Bad" consisted of four short films surrounding the rise and fall of a gangster, and was made in 2000.

"It can be complicated, so these films usually take quite some time," said CJ's vp international film financing and distribution, Josh Lee.

CJ's titles to have been remade in the U.S. include the Warner Bros. film "The Lake House," ("Siworae"), which grossed $52 million Stateside in 2006; and Alexandre Aja's Kiefer Sutherland starrer, "Mirrors" ("Into the Mirror"), which has made $30 million since its August release here.

A long-time collaborator with Park, CJ recently completed a deal on his latest film, "Thirst," with Universal to part finance the story of a failed medical experiment, which turns a man into a vampire. Universal has U.S. rights.

At the AFM this week, Jason Chae of Korea's Mirovision said that the remake business is still going strong. Currently negotiating a U.S. remake deal on its hot AFM title "Death Bell," previous Mirovision remake deals include 2001's "My Sassy Girl." The U.S. version, starring Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford,  was released in the U.S. in August by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Mirovision also sold U.S. remake rights to "Driving My Wife's Lover" at Pusan last month to Circle of Confusion.

"The success of a remake lies in how well you extract the core sentiment in the original and deliver that into a new work," said Ji. "'Old Boy' lends more materials for Hollywood to work with to suit their context than other remakes of Korean films done in the past like "My Sassy Girl.' "