‘Sympathy For Lady Vengeance’ Remake Continues Hollywood’s Korean Film Obsession

By Hannah Soo Park

It’s pretty much official now. Hollywood’s remake of South Korean movie “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” is no longer just the subject of rumors, now that Charlize Theron is confirmed to play the leading role of a wrongfully accused woman who emerges from prison seeking—you guessed it—vengeance. Theron has also signed on to produce, while screenwriter William Monahan, who penned “The Departed,” has been tapped to write the script.

With grisly and complex plotlines played out in hard-to-look-away scenes, it should come as no surprise that “Lady Vengeance” isn’t the only third of director Park Chan Wook’s revenge trilogy slated for a remake. Director Spike Lee is currently filming his interpretation of 2003’s “Oldboy,” and rumors were once swirling around the Internet about Warner Bros. acquiring the rights for “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” the second installment before “Lady Vengeance.”

Whether you’re squealing with excitement or disgruntled over the reinterpretation of cult foreign films like Park’s, it’s still impossible to deny the sheer number of Korean films that have been rumored or slated to get the Hollywood treatment. Dimension Films announced in March that it had snagged the rights to the English-language remake of “The Man From Nowhere,” an action thriller that beat out “Inception” and “Iron Man 2″ at the Korean box office. And even more recently, news broke that Allen Hughes would direct a remake of the 2005 crime drama, “A Bittersweet Life.”

It’s hard to blame the skeptics of American-adapted Korean language films when quite a few flops have been made in the past few years. The storyline of romantic comedy “My Sassy Girl” (often considered to be one of Asia’s most popular films) didn’t translate well with American audiences in the 2008 remake with Jesse Bradford and Elisha Cuthbert. Similarly, “Il Mare,” which was remade under the title “The Lake House” in 2006 with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, was criticized for its confusing and directionless plot. While these fall under the drama and romance categories, most of the recent remakes—at least the well-received ones—tend to be crime dramas, tales of revenge, thrilling melodramas, or all of the above.

And while we’re on the topic of discussing the growing influence of the Korean film industry, we have to bring up the fact that scripts aren’t the only hot property in the pursuit for fresh material and perspective. Korean directors are also finding success in Hollywood. Park, along with Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jae-woon are taking on their first English-language movies: “Stoker,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Last Stand,” respectively. Surely, having big names (Nicole Kidman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska, to name a few) attached to their projects, can open doors to whole new audiences—not just Americans—who aren’t quite willing to read subtitles.