Friday, September 9, 2011

This is not a good idea: Remaking "Comrades, Almost a Love Story"

Remaking a classic and much loved movie can be a minefield of artistic and financial decisions that can blow up in one's face. It isn't exactly drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa or painting the Parthenon DayGlo orange since the original is still there; updating characters, narratives and images can be useful to reach a new audience; there are only seven (or five or ninety-nine) basic stories anyway so something is always being retold; blah, blah, blah.

The original almost ran the table of awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1997. It deserved to win every award offered anywhere in the film world that year. If Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk had never made another movie--actually if this was the only movie she ever made--she would still be a huge star. Everything about Peter Chan's script and direction worked beautifully.

But remake it they will as covered in Chinese Film. "Boyfriend Girlfriend" will star Kwai Lun-Mei and Hsiao-chuan Chang and will be directed by Yang Yazhe. There is probably a sound PR reason for them to make the announcement while sitting on exercise equipment.

From the original

Best use of a McDonald's hat ever.

ITP; HK Cinemagic


  1. Madness is how I feel re the idea of remaking "Comrades, Almost a Love Story"! And to repeat my usual lament: why oh why keep on remaking good movies when there are still so many great stories yet unfilmed?

  2. Yeah, McDonald's looks a whole lot better in that shot.

  3. I LOVE this film. So much so I set out on a quest to find it's NYC film locations. I sat at the same table as Eric Tsang during a restaurant scene =D

    I'm generally OK with remakes. And I'm kinda OK with an 'updating'. The story probably wasn't that much original in the first place?

  4. Announcing "Boyfriend Girlfriend" as a remake of an unremakable icon seems strange unless the marketers think there will be a built in audience who want to compare it to the original. Which makes no sense so I will stick with strange.

    They could have announced a movie about two star-crossed lovers who meet, are separated by circumstances they can't control and come together in unexpected times and places as the story develops. A lot of people might have said "That sounds a lot like "Comrades", a movie whose dialog I can recite in three languages" but no more than that. There will be different crises to deal with--no Asian monetary collapse, no AIDS epidemic, no PRC takeover, etc. etc.--but the almost perfect melding of the personal and political that seemed so effortless in "Comrades" may be impossible to recreate--and without that, why bother?

    This would be like an American studio announcing a remake of "Casablanca"--nothing good can come from it.

    I felt that the New York scenes were some of the strongest in "Comrades"--and tracking down the locations is brilliant!

  5. Hi again ewaffle --

    Funny, I found certain of the New York scenes to be the film's low points -- notably the portrayal of black youths as akin to feral criminals.

    On a strangely topical note: since 9/11, it's been very painful to see the scenes featuring the World Trade Center in "Comrades, Almost a Love Story"; and this especially as I too had ventured up to the top of it with a loved one.

  6. YTSL--you are right about the way the black kids were used as a trope for the urban wilderness that surrounds the touristy/upscale parts of Manhattan. I must have been so caught up in the hyper-romantic near misses between the two leads that I edited them out of my memory of the scenes.

    Chan exploits the audience during the New York scenes, secure in the knowledge that those watching are so invested in the final successful meeting of Lai and Lee that they will go along with the manipulation--he certainly go me. I recall watching it and thinking about how well the strategy worked while loving every maudlin minute of the "Oh, no, he doesn't see her" stuff.

    We lived in New York literally in the shadow of the World Trade Center, in Battery Park City. I think I spent part of every day in them, either walking through the lobbies, catching the subway, standing in line (on line in NYC, of course) at the TKTS booth. My barber was in the 44th floor sky lobby of WTC1. It is still strange not to see them in shots of the skyline but just as shocking to watch movies done before 9/11/2001 (the opening credits of "Working Girl" for example) with them there, a permanent part of the city.