Creative Close-Up: From The Hollywood Reporter


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Why Local-Language Adaptations Are the Next
From left: Another Round, Parasite and Nosotros Los Nobles are among the widely accessible foreign-language films being adapted in English. THR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION / ROUND: HENRIK OHSTEN/SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMS. PARASITE: COURTESY OF NEON. NOBLES: ALAZRAKI FILMS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO. ILLUSTRATIONS: CHARLES ANDERSON/CSA IMAGES (3)

Why Local-Language Adaptations Are the Next Round of Remakes

Despite a recently announced wave of U.S. remakes of foreign films, the “much larger business” is in creating local-language adaptations as streamers court international subscribers.


International films and series have a greater reach and wider audience than ever thanks to the success of global streaming platforms and a growing acceptance to leap over, as Parasite director Bong Joon Ho put it, “the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles.” So why, then, is the adaptation business booming?

In the past three weeks, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way has optioned the remake rights to Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-winning Danish dramedy Another Round, Chris Columbus’ 26th Street Pictures has agreed to put an English-language spin on hit 2013 Mexican comedy Nosotros Los Nobles for Netflix, and Bron Studios and Headline Pictures confirmed they’ll adapt cult French series Call My Agent! as a cameo-heavy satire of the entertainment industry in the U.K., with Amazon Prime taking rights in Britain and Ireland.

And that’s just the English-language adaptations. The business of non-English to non-English adaptations is growing even faster.

Take Miss Granny, Hwang Dong-hyuk’s 2014 Korean dramedy about a septuagenarian who magically finds herself in the body of her 20-year-old self. The original film earned $55 million in Korea before being remade as 20 Once Again in China, where it took in $54 million, and as Sweet 20 in Vietnam, in 2015 setting a then-all-time box office record of $4.4 million (it was made for a fraction of that). Successful versions soon followed in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, with a Telugu-language take in India.

Or there’s Instructions Not Included, the bilingual comedy from actor-director Eugenio Derbez, which grossed $46.1 million at the Mexican box office in 2013 and is still the most successful local movie of all time in the territory. While a planned U.S. remake is still working its way through the Hollywood system, the film, about a father who finds himself saddled with a daughter he didn’t know he had, has already been successfully remade in France (as Two Is a Family, starring Omar Sy), as well as in Turkey, Brazil and Korea, with versions for India, Indonesia and the Philippines in the works.

“Hollywood tends to overthink the process,” says Derbez, explaining why the international versions of his film have been first out of the gate. “Everyone is so scared of making mistakes, of making a flop that they do a lot of focus groups, work and rework a story. By the time a remake is ready, the story has gotten old.”

Another prominent example is Danny Boon’s culture-clash comedy Welcome to the Sticks (worldwide gross: $245 million). Will Smith optioned the remake rights for the French hit back in 2008 but was unable to successfully relocate the story — about an urbane public servant banished to the boondocks — to the U.S. In the meantime, however, the film has spun off two Italian versions — Welcome to the South (2010), and its sequel Welcome to the North (2012) — as well as a Dutch remake, Weg van jou (2017).

Anders Kjaerhauge, CEO of Another Round producer Zentropa, says there was interest in remaking Vinterberg’s feature — about a group of teachers who deal with their midlife crises using day-drinking — in “Germany, France, Russia, even Indonesia” before the company chose the U.S. deal, which comes with hold-backs preventing other versions of the film from being made in the interim. It wasn’t money, Kjaerhauge says, but a shiny “creative package” starring Leonardo DiCaprio that clinched the deal.

U.S. remake options used to go for “between $150,000 and $170,000” a decade ago, when it was mainly the deep-pocketed studios buying the rights. These days it’s mostly indies, and Kjaerhauge says, “it’s between $10,000 and $70,000; in the last five years, closer to $10,000.”

Since he estimates that “only one in 10 options get made,” that one-off payment “is usually all the money you are going to see.”

Meanwhile, Kjaerhauge says, the “much larger business” is in adapting mainstream movies or series between two international territories. It’s a business that’s been turbocharged by the global streamers, who are investing heavily in local-language content, a proven strategy for growing and keeping local audiences.

“There are these competing philosophies: There are those that want to own it all, and others that are open to experimenting and creating [without] needing to fight over every single piece of the pie,” says Kelly Wright, an adaptation specialist at Israeli producer-distributor Keshet International, whose hits include Prisoners of War (adapted in the U.S. as Homeland and in multiple non-English versions).

Already, an international land grab is underway, as studios, streamers and independent giants try to lock up the best global talent. Netflix has several output deals with top international players, including with Dark producers Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar in Germany, and Studio Dragon, the TV drama subsidiary of Korean powerhouse (and Parasite producer) CJ Entertainment. ViacomCBS counts Argentina’s Telefe and producer Iginio Straffi’s Italian TV shingle Rainbow, in which it has a 30 percent stake, among its global assets. In April, Fremantle bought out Tel Aviv-based Abot Hameiri, the producer of Netflix hit Shtisel and Acorn TV’s The Attaché.

“It’s a natural process because every platform has a ceiling. If Netflix has 80 million subscribers in the U.S., they’re done. They can’t grow beyond that,” notes Straffi, who has adapted his Italian-language animated series Winx Club into the live-action hit Fate: The Winx Saga for the streamer. “All their growth has to come from international, and local content is the best way to secure that growth.”

Wright sees the adaptation business at a crossroads. While the global streaming boom means there has never been more demand, or more money available, for international adaptations, it has also made those adaptations “harder to do, because [the original] shows are available everywhere.”

Francis Chung, a former executive with Korean giant CJ Entertainment who was involved in the upcoming Jonathan Rhys Meyers remake of Jung Huh’s 2013 thriller Hide and Seek, and a planned U.S. version of 2019 comedy actioner Extreme Job, to star Kevin Hart, believes the streamers have changed the dynamics of the adaptation business.

“In the past, I think it was much easier to adapt genre stories mainly because of the twists and suspense aspects, which are easier to do than local comedy or dramas,” he says. “But that’s when local genre content wasn’t readily available globally.” With the rise of global streamers, any fan can check out the “twists and suspense” of the original without having to wait for a remake.

Instead of high-concept thrillers, Chung thinks dramedies like Another Round — films that combine a clear central concept with something very culturally specific — are now the better bet.

“One reason why we were so successful in remaking different versions of Miss Granny was because, despite the core concept being the same, the dynamics of family, relationships with grandparents, the dichotomy between the new and old generation were all very different from culture to culture,” he says. “All those differences made it worthy of a remake. There needs to be more than just [a change in] setting and language [for an adaptation to work.]”

Alongside straight adaptations, another growing trend is “in the world of” spinoffs, such as Bong Joon Ho and Adam McKay’s serial take on Bong’s Parasite for HBO. Instead of a shot-by-shot remake, the small-screen version will be a six-part original story set in the same universe as Bong’s Oscar-winning movie.

The “in the world of” adaptations go both ways. German producer Constantin took the core idea of Patrick Süskind’s German best-seller Perfume — The Story of a Murderer — made into an English-language period thriller starring Ben Whishaw in 2006 — and spun it off as the modern-day German-language procedural Parfum for Netflix and local broadcaster ZDF. Constantin has already begun shooting a second spinoff, a stand-alone feature film, Der Parfumeur, also for Netflix.

“Ninety percent of the content I’m developing [right now] is focused on exploiting IP or creating originals to build a world around using multiple languages,” says Chung. “A frame-by-frame remake is unnecessary for streamers [who] would much rather have content to build a world around and to exploit in different languages in different countries. The barrier of language is definitely collapsing, and now it’s more about concepts and how we can expand upon it.”

A version of this story first appeared in the May 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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Featured image: The Hollywood Reporter

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