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"Better" can be measured quantitatively and qualitatively ie commercially, technically etc; Clearly superior camera work; better costumes, acting, special effects, post production work etc may all enhance the audience experience. Whether a remake is better than the original in this respect has to be judged on an individual case basis but its not a given that a hollywood remake should be "better" than the original
Must a remake follow the original plot/script slavishly to be true to the original ? Clearly not. West Side Story is effectively a remake of "Romeo and Juliet" .It's a perfectly legitimate artistic tool to contemperize settings , language and costumes etc if it makes the story more accessable to the audience and even to emphasise/demphasis aspects of the story which are more or less relevant to the target audience. There comes a point however when deviations from the original are such that the story is not a remake but a different story with the same/similar theme. Does this matter ?.. not unless it "claims" to be a remake
And herein lies a problem. Even when Hollywood adapts a film like "Infernal Affairs", whether intentionally or not, there is a tendency to "reinforce western (American) cultural sterotypes and values (after all its what the target home audience identifies with, and is comfortable with) This means that along the way the cultural values and perspectives in the original production get washed out and sanitised away. It becomes just another "hollywood" movie. Is this a good thing ?... depends what you views are on cultural imperialism and whether you believe it is healthy to reinforce a home audience's world view rather than give it a different and perhaps challenging perspective.Consider "The Departed" as a case in question....
The plot is a thumping good yarn which could be placed in Tokyo, London, Naples or indeed anywhere where there is serious organised crime. Simply by following the plot you should have a good movie. By and large "The Departed" follows the original closely with a couple of exceptions; Hollywood only bought rights to "Infernal Affairs 1", and not the the prequal or sequel, and as a consequence some "prequel" elements were slipped into begining to give characters some depth and the ending has been changed. In the original the good guys all get killed and bad guy gets away with it . Not the righteous ending you would expect from aHhollywood film. Coincidently the ending of the film also had to be changed for Chinese mainland so as not to give message that crime pays. The mainland Chinese ending though was not as cheezy as the Hollywood ending.
And what was all this rubbish about stolen US military technology being sold to dodgy Mainland Chinese agents ??
Is the quality of acting higher in "The Departed" than in "Infernal Affairs" ? I don't think so. Jack Nicholson gives a masterly performance, expected from an actor of his standing, though I kept being reminded of "The Shining". With such a body of work behind him such comparisons are perhaps inevitable. Martin Sheen should perhaps stick to TV drama. The two rats Dicaprio and Damon gave solid workman like performances. I suspect that the value they bring to this film is not their acting skills but their capacity to put bums on seats. Dicaprio tried hard, very hard, perhaps too hard to be the good guy passing himself of as a bad guy. I am not sure whether this was to remind the audience which side his character was on or whether he was simply trying invest more of himself into the part. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai who played the role in "Infernal Affairs" played it "less in your face" and if anthing with more edge.
No question Damon can act and is a pretty boy. So can and is Andy Lau, but his features are sharper; harder and he projects a corrupt machievellian aura that frankly is missing in Damons performance. Overall I also think the chemistry between the chinese actors worked better.
As to the non acting aspects of the productions: I was struck by a difference in sets and location. My impression is that "Infernal Affairs" was filmed on location in some of the more sleazy parts of HK rather than on the studio lot. Overall the ambience of "Infernal Affairs" was grittier and more sinsister. After reading the reviews of "The Departed" waxing lyrical about how "black" it is , I wondered how many of the writters had seen the original..
So the outstanding questions in my mind are: