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Remake wranglers mine Asia, South America

In the Hollywood remake kitchen, French is no longer the cuisine du jour, Italian has lost some of its flavor, Latin dishes may be starting to tickle taste buds and Asian fusion is so hot it’s smoking.

On the heels of DreamWorks’ retooled U.S. version of Japanese horror hit “The Ring” — which scared up $129 million last year at the domestic box office — almost every studio in town is looking East for remake fodder, dipping into a wide genre pool.

In addition to developing a sequel to “The Ring,” DreamWorks recently optioned Korean psycho-horror pic “A Tale of Two Sisters,” which Craig Rosenberg is adapting.

“The material we’ve been seeing lately from Asia just feels very commercial and has great storylines and concepts and ideas,” said Miramax co-prexy of production Bob Osher. “These stories can work in any culture.”

Miramax is shooting a U.S. remake of Japanese romance “Shall We Dance,” with Peter Chelsom directing Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.

The company also is developing Korean mob comedy “My Wife Is a Gangster,” with Queen Latifah attached, and “Teacher Mr. Kim” (now retitled “The New Teacher”), another Korean redo set up at Dimension.

High on the list of Asian titles optioned for U.S. studio revamps are horror pics like Thai-Hong Kong supernatural chiller “The Eye,” set up at Paramount-based Cruise/Wagner Prods., and Japanese frightfest “The Grudge,” being developed by Sam Raimi and Senator Intl.

Brad Grey and Brad Pitt are reworking Hong Kong cop actioner “Infernal Affairs” at Warner, while Japanese cult director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Cure” — a serial killer thriller that recalls “Seven” — is on the revamp roster at United Artists through Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern’s Single Cell Prods.

Asian comedies also figure strongly, from Korean crime yarns like “Marrying the Mafia” and “Hitman” at Warner, to romantic stories like “My Sassy Girl” at DreamWorks.

Tom Hanks is attached to an “Ikiru” redo at Paramount, one of three dramas by Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa in the development hopper, while Jonathan Glazer has set up Nipponese kidnapping tale “Chaos” at Universal.

In the fantasy realm, Jon Peters is behind a Warners update of anime biker classic “Akira,” and the same studio is reworking Korean time-travel romance “Il Mare.”

While the majority of remake material comes to studios via acquisition or development channels, part of the impetus behind the Asian wave has come from Los Angeles-based Korean-American producer Roy Lee. He brought “The Ring” to DreamWorks and has been responsible for setting up a number of projects through his Vertigo Entertainment banner.

“The types of films and filmmakers that are working in the Asian market now have a vocabulary that’s steeped in global cinema,” says DreamWorks production president Michael DeLuca.

“We’re dealing with filmmakers that grew up on American films or British and European films. What’s romantic or funny in France is so particular or sometimes hard to adapt here, and whatever’s going on in the Asian market just seems much more adaptable.”

Remakes of French films now are fewer in number after the wave that brought hits like “Three Men and a Baby” and “The Birdcage” but was dotted in between with a number of duds. However, French fare still has its takers.

MGM will release Lakeshore’s Josh Hartnett starrer “Obsessed” next spring, based on Gilles Mimouni’s “L’Appartement.” Paramount has noir romance “Read My Lips” in development, Miramax has the comedy “Tanguy” and Fox has action hit “Taxi.”

“I think there’s still a lot of great French films being made that are prime candidates for remakes,” says Osher. “But many of these films need a strong creative vision to translate them and achieve something that warrants a remake. Simply to do a remake that doesn’t advance the story or is (not) a better version of the original film is in my mind a waste of time.”

Any mention of an Italian remake conjures pained recollections of last year’s Guy Ritchie-Madonna revamp of Lina Wertmuller’s “Swept Away.”

But a handful of other projects are in the pipeline, including an update of frightmeister Dario Argento’s gore classic “Suspiria” at Dimension and an Americanized version of generational comedy-drama “The Last Kiss” at Lakeshore.

Latin America could be the next terrain to be tapped.

Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight stable is in production for Warners on “Criminal,” based on Argentine hit thriller “Nine Queens,” while “Son of the Bride” from the same country is on the remake slate at Sony with Adam Sandler attached.

“The challenges in adapting this material are the same ones you face when you’re adapting from any other medium, whether it’s a book or comic book or play,” says DeLuca.

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