Monday, November 10, 2014

Why It's Ok to Compare Remakes


This post has been on my mind for a few weeks now, as the seemingly growing popularity of remakes in Korea has thrown out inevitable drama comparisons and criticisms of those comparisons all over the net. I admit to being very much on the pro-comparison camp, particularly when it comes to my favorite stories. You can see that many of my posts (including Liar Game, FTLY, and Hana Yori Dango) have substantial bits of comparison built in, and I've always enjoyed reading other people's opinions of one version versus another. I like the ability to cross-analyze and dissect a drama, and in my view re-tellings are by design meant to encourage relative evaluation.

It's also come to my attention that there's this rising backlash against making comparisons. This anti side argues that it's annoying to read comments referencing other versions, that dramas should be appreciated as distinct and special snowflakes, that we should judge everything as if it exists in a vacuum. I think that's a nice little idealistic message to tout around and pull out as needed to reprimand comparisons, as if all comparisons are naughty schoolchildren that need to be disciplined and taught what's proper (in this case, to not exist). And as you might tell, it's also a side that I fundamentally disagree with and believe to be far more harmful than positive to the discussion community.

My biggest issue with the anti camp is the inherent censorship it's propagating in our discussions of these dramas. By demeaning the validity of comparisons, by pronouncing them as useless and annoying, they're essentially shaming people into silence and closing off the expression of views that others might be interested in, and that they might even learn something from. My stance on comments and opinion-stating in general is on the very liberal side. As long as you're not being vile and useless, I want you to feel comfortable voicing whatever thought or reflection you have on the topic at hand. You should not be made to feel like your comment is going to be met with dozens of attacks and attempts to shut you off on the premise that what you've expressed is "irrelevant" or "wrong". That's the complete antithesis of an online community; you can disagree with and ignore someone, but I don't think it's ever right to make it as if their opinion is an unwanted waste. Because again, you might not agree, but someone else likely will, and different viewpoints (including comparisons when relevant) should be allowed to flourish.

One of the most popular complaints is that comparisons get so repetitive, that you're tired of seeing these comments "everywhere." Can I just argue the other side a bit? While you might gripe about reading comparison comments, there are plenty of others like myself that actually like them. In fact, I tend to find repetitive raves far more irritating. I swear, if I come across another "Woo Jin is so hot!" comment, I will blow my brains out. And if we're really trying to argue the repetitiveness case, why not just make a general rule to not repeat a similar thought from another comment? Heck, why even have discussion boards? But there really is a massive double standard here. Just because one type of comment is more critical and the other is blindingly positive (and one-dimensional imo), it's acceptable to make the same positive comment over and over but not ok to respond to the more critical one?

From a numerical standpoint, this complaint is also overhyped. Let's first recognize that there's been less than ten popular Kdrama remakes that I can even think of from the last five years. These dramas do tend to get more online reaction, but this is precisely because they're a remake, and I can assure you that the media industry doesn't give a crap about being compared so long as the show's drawing the numbers. It's true that we've had three big remakes in a relatively recent time period, but they're definitely still a minority of the Kdrama output, and comparison comments a similarly minute number and rare discussion opportunity.

As a whole, we should also stop being so uptight and realize that at the end of the day, we're talking about TV shows. Yes, some of us devote exorbitant amounts of time and emotions to these shows, but ultimately it's a fictional piece made for both individual and collective enjoyment. If something makes you giddy or mad and you want to discuss it, please do so because many others probably feel the same. Let the conversation go where it will, be it comparisons or raves, and accept it for what it is, because TV is a reflection of popular culture and culture does not exist in a vacuum. Remakes are remakes usually because the base story is well-recognized and widely enjoyed. In fact, I would even argue that they're designed to stimulate discussions relating to the original source. You can push for appreciation of a work on its own merits, but you should also expect a natural degree of debate centered around the source, especially when that source is well-loved and relatively recent.

I believe that's also why remakes aren't ever perfect replicas of the original story, because the producers understand the background knowledge the audience is coming in with. Take Liar Game, which took some fairly large liberties with the premise in an attempt to freshen a story that many were familiar with. I personally don't agree with most of the changes, and have enjoyed the opportunity to discuss these issues with the multitude of other viewers who have seen both versions. We have a right to discuss and debate these discrepancies, just as those new to the LG series have a right to discuss the Kdrama alone. In fact, the producers have almost designed the series into a comparison topic for viewers of the Jdrama, with so many plot changes and a purposely distinct take on Akiyama.

Additionally, when you make a remake within such a short time span of the original (or make a remake of an essential legend, a la Hana Yori Dango or Legend of the Condor Heroes), you're pretty much asking for a certain level of fan attention and scrutiny. Spiderman is the biggest Hollywood example that comes to mind, and most everyone will agree that the perception of the reboot was impacted by the fact that the previous version had ended a mere six years earlier. We are people with memories and opinions, for better or worse, so when a remake emerges within a conscious timeframe, you really can't find it offensive for people to remember and reference what came just before.

Finally, I'll say that the reason remakes inspire so much comparison is because stories are timeless and emotional. Good stories make us care, and make us want to engage in the world they paint. With such personal investment comes the unfortunately stretched wish for the story and its characters to be portrayed exactly as we envisioned. Often, this expectation is not met, but sometimes it gloriously is. If something meets our expectations, we should praise it. If something falls far short of that, we should voice it. Rather than arguing with and trying to restrain one another, let's recognize that viewpoints differ, that watching a drama isn't a passive or isolated activity, and that comparing remakes is ok.

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