Language is an important thing. Wherever you’re from, whatever your native tongue, language is obviously a massive part of our daily lives. It’s easy to take for granted the beauty and the intricateness of language when we’re speaking the one we’ve known since we were knee-high to a grasshopper but start learning a new language, or do something so simple as watch a foreign-language film and you soon come to realise just how fascinating and diverse cultures and languages are.
A lot of people will avoid foreign language films like the plague; so many people have shunned film recommendations I’ve made for films I would consider to be well worth watching simply because they can’t be bothered with the subtitles. “I want to watch a film not read it” is the general consensus. But ask anyone that’s taken the time to sit down and watch the likes of Oldboy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Let the Right One In, all of which have been recently given the Hollywood treatment, and they’ll tell you; you’re missing out on a whole world of amazing films.
Subtitles mean there is no excuse not to watch! It’s all translated for you, minimal effort is required on your part. Just like businesses now use translation software like Smartling to increase their audience size, foreign films come ready-made with subtitles so you can still watch and enjoy them. Admittedly reading subtitles whilst watching a film does require a little more effort, but often this will only aid your understanding. I could delve into various audience theories about the way we consume media but let’s just say that concentrating more on the story because you have to read the subtitles means you aren’t just sitting back and letting it wash over you. Personally I find myself more enthralled in foreign films because it keeps me on my toes, I have to keep watching and paying attention because otherwise I won’t have a clue what’s being said.
Oldboy is a prime example of how shit American remakes of foreign films can be. Some remakes do the original justice but the 2013 version of South Korean thriller Oldboy, starring Josh Brolin, truly is a pile of crap. All the menace and magic of the original is lost in translation and the story just doesn’t work. The cultural backdrop of the original, set in South Korea, makes the film enthralling and interesting to watch. It’s fascinating to see a bit of an insight into another culture; why else would people go abroad on holiday? Oldboy works in its original cultural setting, remake that story in an English-speaking setting and it loses a lot of its credibility and intrigue. It is an example of how important language and culture is, and how interesting other cultures are to audiences. It also serves as a reminder that some things are best left to the experts and Oldboy would have been best left in the hands of South Korean filmmakers.
Oldboy is a film that requires your full attention, you need to be enthralled from start to finish so that the crazy twist at the end hits you at full force. Reading subtitles when watching the original forces you to pay the film a lot more attention than you’d have to if it was in English. You have to read every word so it stands to reason that you take it all in while audiences have a habit of letting films in their native language wash over them, not really taking everything in fully. Watching the occasional foreign language film makes you appreciate the intricateness of language and the diversity of culture. I can’t be the only one who’s ever sat watching a subtitled film and thought something along the lines of ‘how the heck does that word mean ‘hello”?! Language can add so much to a film watching experience, as well as to the film itself.
Credit where it’s due some remakes of foreign films are either as good as or, very rarely, better than the original because they bring something new to the table. The change in cultural setting and language can add a new depth to a story and show you it from a different angle. After all, watching a film or reading a story relies on perception and a remake of a foreign film shows you the perception of someone who is culturally different, so more often than not the remake will bring something new to the table. Take the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for example. This, in my opinion, is an example of a remake that does the original justice. It doesn’t just copy the story word for word and action for action, it puts a slightly new spin on it, giving us something new to take in. Even subtle changes to the story like the addition of the dead cat on Mikael’s doorstep put there as a warning bring something new to the story that fans of the original film won’t have seen before.
It is often interesting to see remakes of films, particularly remakes that drastically alter the films original culture. Whether for better or worse the remake will always bring something new to the story that fans of the original won’t have considered before. There are countless remakes of foreign films that show us something new or show us a slightly different angle to the story and it just goes to show how other cultures and other languages can have valuable input.
All of this just shows the importance of language and how important it is to share cultures and languages and to take the time to explore them. With translation software, the internet and subtitled foreign films readily available it is a prime time to explore other cultures and open your eyes to the world around you. Remakes of foreign films kind of work as a metaphor for this importance, because they depict perfectly how different cultures can add to and impact each other, how our different perceptions and ideas can work well together. In some cases, like the Oldboy remake, it is also apparent that we can learn something from other cultures if we take the time to explore them and sometimes we might just find that they are better at some things than we are.