The Director of ‘Train to Busan’ Says the Movie’s U.S. Remake Shouldn’t Really Be a Remake

'Train to Busan' Yeon Sang-ho 'Hellbound'

In a world in which Squid Game is Netflix’s most-watched series of all time and Parasite is a Best Picture Oscar winner, it feels as if the boom in Korean genre content creation and consumption has only just begun. Yet another case in point: Director Yeon Sang-ho’s Hellbound just became the most-watched non-English television series on Netflix when it premiered late last month, and his 2016 zombie smash, Train to Busan is now getting a U.S. remake.

In terms of the talent involved, the stateside reboot of Train to Busan looks to be in good hands. The supremely skilled Timo Tjahjanto (The Night Comes for Us, V/H/S/2) is set to direct, and horror heavyweight James Wan will produce. Back in August, Tjahjanto shared these words from Wan, which set the tone for the project, on Twitter: “Timo, we 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.”

Also Read: Train to Busan Pulls into English-Language Remake Territory

Yeon, however, seems to have a different perspective on what a “great remake” of Train to Busan should or shouldn’t do. In a conversation with Time, he shared his belief that the remake should be almost entirely unrecognizable from its source material—a far cry, then, from the approaches that The Ring and Dawn of the Dead took when they were made in the early aughts.

We use the expression or word ‘remake,’ but I do not think that a remake is something that you just apply more sophisticated technology to based on an original piece of work,” Yeon explains. “I believe a remake should be a completely new creation. And as the creator of the original work, I do not think that there need to be similarities between the remake and the original Train to Busan. I actually hope that it will have its very own unique qualities and a new vision.”

“In fact, as the creator, if it was almost exactly interpreted compared to the original work, wouldn’t it be better to just watch the original Train to Busan?,” Yeon continues. “I think that the new creation is definitely going to be something that holds the new director’s vision, and my personal hope is that the new remake will not really refer to or think too much about being loyal to the original work, but be a completely new creation.”

Since New Line won out in a bidding war over the rights to remake Train to Busan in 2018, some raised concerns that the project would abandon the cultural context and narrative nuances that made the original successful to begin with. These concerns only intensified when it was reported that Tjahjanto and Wan’s version would be titled Last Train to New York.

Broadly speaking, remakes, like any work of art, are free to exist in whatever sociocultural context their makers see fit. Whether or not that approach leads to a horror film as effective as the original, though, remains to be seen. (For every English-language The Ring there is an English-language Dark Water.)

Yeon has good reason to be concerned that Train to Busan‘s sharp commentary on class divides may be completely lost in a retelling of his story set in New York City. Still, he’s more confident than ever that Western audiences will seek out what horror comes out of Korea, rather than hold out for a reboot they perceive as more “palatable.”

“When we we first creat[ed] Hellbound, we really didn’t have the mass public in mind,” Yeon says. “We were thinking that the core target audience was going to be those who have always been fans of this genre. [Both] Netflix and the creators of Squid Game didn’t expect [it] to be a global phenomenon, and it’s the same for Hellbound. Korean content gradually won the trust of the global audience in the past 10 to about 15 years, and that has led to this explosive event.”



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