Backlash to Train to Busan's Hollywood remake from fans of the Korean zombie hit, despite the involvement of horror-film veterans James Wan and Gary Dauberman

Train to Busan, Seoul Station, Peninsula, Bong Joon-ho, James Wan, Insidious, the Conjuring universe, It, The Ring, SCMP Film

It’s not news that the Korean zombie apocalypse hit Train to Busan (2016) by director Yeon Sang-ho will soon have an American remake by Hollywood’s New Line Cinema.

It was announced in February, but fans only took to the internet to express their concern online last weekend when the news went viral – and sparked a lot of negative reactions.

The backlash seems to have started when Singaporean entertainment news portal GameSpot reposted on Twitter an earlier article dated February 19 announcing Train to Busan’s American remake.

Since being posted on August 28, it was retweeted 2,987 times and quoted more than 38,200 times.

Twitter users’ responses ranged from “NO. Stop this immediately. Its [sic] perfect and does not need a remake” as posted by user @Brujj, to “America constantly ruin [sic] foreign films when they remake them,” as posted by user @rikijamie.

The main criticism and concerns raised by fans hinted at why making an English-language version of such a recent international hit when it can be enjoyed with subtitles, or specifically dubbed into English for the United States market, especially given it already has an animated prequel, Seoul Station (2016), and a sequel, Peninsula (2020).

As the film industry becomes more globalised, Hollywood’s need to produce English-language remakes become more controversial.

Many internet users cited or posted memes featuring the pungent remark by Oscar-winning Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who criticised America’s low-attention span for international films by saying that “once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” at his 2020 Golden Globe Awards acceptance speech.

Most of the negative reactions against Train to Busan’s upcoming Hollywood remake claimed that “a US remake will tarnish the name of the [original Korean] movie” even though the new Train to Busan, which is currently in pre-production, seems to be in good hands.

Train to Busan, Seoul Station, Peninsula, Bong Joon-ho, James Wan, Insidious, the Conjuring universe, It, The Ring, SCMP Film

Australian-Malaysian producer James Wan is backing the remake. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP

It will be backed by the wonder duo of horror, Malaysian-born Australian director and producer James Wan (co-creator of the Saw and Insidious franchises, and creator of the Conjuring universe) and American screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who penned Annabelle (2014) and It (2017) among others.

While another recurring theme of the critiques against the remake was that “it would be better to leave movies like this to Asian filmmakers,” the new Train to Busan will be directed by an Indonesian director, the up-and-coming Timo Tjahjanto. His brutal action movie The Night Comes for Us (2018) was distributed internationally by Netflix, and his schlock horror May the Devil Take You (2018) won a Maya Award in Indonesia in 2019.

On August 29, Tjahjanto answered on his official Twitter account that if James Wan believes they “need to rise above and beyond everyone’s expectations, just like other great remakes have done, such as The Ring or Dawn of the Dead”, then “who am I to let my boss down?”.

Train to Busan, Seoul Station, Peninsula, Bong Joon-ho, James Wan, Insidious, the Conjuring universe, It, The Ring, SCMP Film

A still from The Night Comes for Us, the 2018 film directed by Timo Tjahjanto. Photo: Eriekn Juragan/Netflix.

When I asked Tjahjanto about the upcoming remake at an interview a couple of months back, he said that “the challenge is to keep the heart of what made the original film so special, but trying to give a different flavour to it”.

Considering Tjahjanto’s penchant for gnarly horror and take-no-prisoners action, the advantage of using the higher budget of a Hollywood production may actually deliver a film that, if it can’t top the original, will be something striking in its own way.

“If the original Train to Busan may be compared to a ballet, this one will be a hardcore mosh pit dance, so to speak,” said Tjahjanto.

Train to Busan, Seoul Station, Peninsula, Bong Joon-ho, James Wan, Insidious, the Conjuring universe, It, The Ring, SCMP Film

Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto, director of the upcoming Hollywood remake of Train to Busan.

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