Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shuddering At SHUTTER

Director: "Act bored.  Like you're watching this movie."

written by: ImSoChinese, Esq

As a devoted reader of AATV, I was honored when they allowed me to write an article where I could rant and hope that you stay with me.
This is a little late in the game, month-wise, but I thought I’d share some thoughts on an Asian horror remake I’ve had the misfortune of watching recently: Shutter (did I say month-wise?  I meant year-wise).
What we have here is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy meets girl’s craziness.  Pretty typical setup seen in the likes of Audition, Misery, and Beauty and the Beast (singing and dancing with houseware… obviously batshit).  But I digress.
Ben Shaw and Jane are a recently married couple who move to Tokyo because Ben landed a job there.  While driving around one night, Jane hits a woman on the road, but there’s no body or any trace of an accident.  What follows is a below average J-horror ghost story where not everyone is as they seem and the ghost turns out to be a woman that was wronged.
Here’s a fun fact: while it may be in the J-horror style, the original is actually a Thai film.  So Shutter is a Thai horror film… transplanted to Japan… for… for an… American remake… hrgh… hold on… I’m having an aneurysm…
Not every Asian horror film is Japanese, Hollywood!  In doing this, it narrows American views on Asian horror.  Not all Asian horror films are Japanese, and not all of them involve the ghost of a dead woman.
The kicker is that the original film isn’t even credited.  That’s right, check IMDB.  Infuriating, roll your eyes, facepalming narrative elements aside, that’s a huge problem, Houston.  Hollywood has become so lazy in ripping off... I mean remaking... foreign films that they’re not even giving credit.  Here are some other issues.
"I'm sorry this movie makes your own vomit but you have to face reality, DAWSON'S CREEK IS OVER!"
Jane, who is obviously uncomfortable in a new country, doesn’t have any scenes where she deals with those anxieties.  Hollywood wants to set this film in an Asian country yet doesn’t want to acknowledge the culture at all.  Maybe they’re being culturally sensitive by putting on cultural blinders.  They don’t have to acknowledge the culture because that’s not what this film is about.  They just want to tell a good old fashioned ghost story, right?  Sarcasm time.  So that must be why rather than promoting the original–something they were obviously interested enough in to remake it–they would rather spend money and time on something that they don’t even acknowledge is a remake.
It’s as if they want to take Asian culture completely out of it.  Remakes like these are the laziest kind of filmmaking.  It’s what I like to call a “cultural vasectomy.”  Studios want to impart some essence of the original film’s impact by giving us the remake, but in giving it their least, they end up chopping off what makes it potent.  Stay away from our balls, Hollywood!
By having absolutely no explanation for the setting other than the plot device of Ben’s job, the characters begin sticking out worse than Hugh Hefner after a dose of Viagra.  Particularly Megumi, the she-demon.  She’s a clingy Asian female, a character that so obviously fits in the original Asian film because everyone is… Asian.  But with the remake, things become a bit complicated.
SPOILER ALERT (you’re not going to watch the movie, read it anyway):
Megumi is actually good.  The only problems she had were being a little too in love with Ben, and after her father father died, moving into full Kling-on mode.  So what Ben decides to do is have his buddies rape her while he photographs the whole event so that if she were to speak out, he could use the photographs against her.  Wait... what kind of logic is that?  So if she says they raped her... then Ben brings out the photos, which explicitly show the rape.  But sadly, she doesn’t come out with it and ends up killing herself.  Hmm, there seems to be some metaphor for Asians in mainstream media here... nah, probably not.
Not only is Asian culture vasectomized, Asian women are demonized (literally, Megumi is a demon) and the general American population feels that much safer because, hey, these aren’t our (in the majority sense) women.  So Hollywood is getting something right, there may be less misogyny (the protagonist in the film is female), but not necessarily for women in the ethnic minority.  And like poor Gaston, we are forced to watch our Belles sing and dance with the fantastical houseware that is the empty content of some studio executive’s lack of imagination.
What’s depressing is that the film, although a critical failure, is still a commercial success, which ultimately means it’s a success.  While Asian horror remakes may be dying down, when we go out to purchase that movie ticket, it should be more than just passive entertainment.  Films are extremely democratic in letting the audience decide (just look at the wonders it’s done for Asian horror remakes).  And now with the success of groups such as Far East Movement, Wong Fu Productions, etc. more outlets (whether it be blogs or digital media channels) are available for Asians to be heard.  So should we continue to be like Megumi and keep silent or like Gaston as we watch our Belles devolve into madness (Beauty and The Beast was a tragedy, trust me, people)?  Neither of those sound that great.
I’ll end this with a quote from Dennis Harvey, a Variety critic, discussing Shutter:
“By turning the story into one about Americans abroad, first-timer Luke Dawson's OK screenplay should have allowed Ochiai to comfortably reach new audiences while working primarily on home ground. (Prologue and epilogue are set in the U.S.) But pic's portrayal of Japan is glib and oddly Westernized, with a couple of significant Japanese characters that seem Japanese-American, sans explanation. Performers make too lightweight impressions, though they're not so much miscast as flatly handled.”
Even people inside the industry are scratching their heads.  Let me get off my soapbox now.  Who wants to step up?

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