Salman Khan made his direct-to-streaming debut with Radhe yesterday. The film, directed by Prabhu Deva, is a remake of the 2017 Korean thriller The Outlaws. The original was a major hit, becoming Korea’s highest-grossing R-rated film. Radhe is a pretty faithful remake.
But Radhe isn’t just a remake, it’s also a tired and incoherent Salman Khan star vehicle. Time and again, Bollywood has found solace in the successful Korean film industry, especially in genres such as action and crime dramas. Whether they have been successful or not is a different question altogether. They’ve been a mix of official and unofficial remakes – with at least one instance of a filmmaker learning the hard way that rip-offs often end up in trouble.
Here’s a list of Korean films that Bollywood adapted, but shouldn’t have:
Oldboy (2003) and Zinda (2006)
Park Chan-wook’s iconic Oldboy is perhaps the origin of Bollywood’s barefaced remake relationship with South Korea. Released to widespread acclaim in 2003, the film won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Roger Ebert wrote it was “a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose.” The story of a man who is imprisoned for a decade and a half, with no idea why, before being released unceremoniously, Oldboy was remade by Sanjay Gupta as Zinda in 2006. Gupta’s film was an unofficial remake, which led to murmurs of legal trouble from Oldboy’s producers. Ultimately, these went nowhere, but Gupta learnt his lesson and the next time he remade a Korean film (Seven Days), he credited the source material.
My Wife is a Gangster 3 (2006) and Singh is Bliing (2015)
Singh is Bliing was a remake of My Wife is a Gangster 3 (which had no relation to the previous films, just as Singh is Bliing bore no connection to the earlier Singh is Kinng). Since the source material itself had a mixed reception, Singh is Bliing suffered from the same problem of an inconsistent tone, alternating uncomfortably between silly (but often funny) comedy, action set-pieces and sudden bursts of sentiment. It also got worse by adding a string of random and interchangeable songs (although ‘My Heart Says Choo Che’ will be seared into the memory of anyone who watches it), and having a 48-year-old Akshay Kumar romance a 23-year-old Amy Jackson, while playing son to a 54-year-old Rati Agnihotri. And that inexplicable title – with its inexplicable spelling – didn’t help matters.
Seven Days (2007) and Jazbaa (2015)
Seven Days was a Korean thriller about a lawyer who had never lost a case. After her daughter is kidnapped, she must fulfil the kidnapper’s demands by defending a convicted rapist and granting him bail. The film was a breakthrough lead role for star Yunjin Kim. In 2015, it was remade (officially!) by Sanjay Gupta as Jazbaa, with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan. The faithful adaptation meant that we got an unusual-for-Bollywood platonic friendship without overt romance, but the good stuff ended there. A review of Seven Days stated, “the film’s production values are slick, delivering a gritty look without ever seeming less than technically proficient”. Jazbaa, on the other hand, was… green. Shot and edited entirely like a tacky music video, and extracting a terrible performance from Rai, it was a slog from start to finish.
I Saw the Devil (2010) and Ek Villain (2014)
Director Mohit Suri said Ek Villain was not inspired by the brutal Korean revenge thriller, I Saw the Devil (he claimed he took “just one dialogue” from it), but the similarities were obvious. The death of the protagonist’s pregnant wife/fiancée, the protagonist’s relentless pursuit of her murderer, the psychopathic killer, the violence – it was all here. Suri “Bollywoodised” it, of course, fleshing out the dead/dying wife character, making the story more sentimental, and ending up with a film that critics called “inconsistent” and “so bad”. The film was a big hit, though, and a sequel has now been announced.
Montage (2013) and Te3n (2016)
Two kidnappings, set fifteen years apart, yet strikingly similar in nature: could the second one help the detective who failed to solve the first one, redeem himself? Montage told this story, focussing on three characters: the detective, the mother of the first kidnapped child and the grandfather of the second. It was remade as Te3n, which kept the essential storyline the same, but switched up the characters a bit. Te3n is certainly not as bad as some of the other remakes on this list – and it has a terrific performance by Amitabh Bachchan – but it suffered from some muddled and far-fetched plotting. Also in the film were Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan, turning in competent but unremarkable work. Ultimately, Te3n ended up being forgettable.
Ode to My Father (2014) and Bharat (2019)
The Korean melodrama Ode to My Father was a sweeping tale of a man whose life intertwines with the history of modern Korea. The film had a mixed critical reception in its home country, but was enormously popular amongst audiences. It emphasised nationalism and patriotism arising from a nostalgic appraisal of the past, which, of course, made it seemingly perfect material for an Indian adaptation. The problem was that the Indian adaptation had Salman Khan in the lead. Khan’s persona – the loveable superman – is always front and centre in his films, so director Ali Abbas Zafar had to cater to it with dance numbers, two love interests and much macho bluster. These took away from the everyman appeal of Ode to My Father.