Producer Roy Lee, Hollywood’s current remake expert, wasn’t surprised when he received a dinner invitation from Korean mogul HT Jung.
Jung’s Korean talent agency and production company, iHQ, represents Wai Keung Lau, the director of “Infernal Affairs” — the Hong Kong hit that Lee brought to the U.S., where it became Martin Scorsese’s biggest hit as “The Departed.”
At dinner, Jung mentioned that his company has 700 employees. Lee was amused, since Hollywood-based Vertigo Entertainment, which Lee heads with Doug Davison, has a staff of six.
That small but hardy team is prepping more than a dozen pics for production in the next year.
Since his first onscreen credit as exec producer of DreamWorks’ 2002 “The Ring,” Lee has had credits on seven other films, all of them English-language remakes of Asian pics. That’s earned him the nickname of the Remake King.
Lee says he doesn’t really know how he does it. It just … happens.
“I don’t really have a game plan, I just sort of bumble around, meet people,” Lee says. “Whenever there is a project I really want, I zero in. I’ll contact absolutely everyone involved with the project. I hear complaints from other producers who are like, ‘I was shaking this thing for a long time.’ And I’m like, ‘You coulda made an offer.’ ”
Obnoxious or justified self-confidence? In conversation, the 37-year-old Lee practices a sort of carefree aggression. He describes the Weinsteins as “generally rather unresponsive. They passed on everything: ‘The Grudge,’ ‘Departed,’ ‘The Eye.’ ” He says Warner Bros. is “my best life insurance,” describing the studio as an unofficial second-look deal to Vertigo’s home base at Universal Pictures.
“If there’s a finished film I really want,” he says, “it’s hard for me to lose it.”
However, it was only five years ago that Lee was a development exec at management company Benderspink. Eight films later, including franchises like “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” Lee has become something of a brand in his own right.
Even so, the man who brought Asia’s horror film culture to America can still stumble over the names of Korean actors and directors.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Maryland, Lee says he faces awkward moments when residents of L.A.’s Koreatown presume he is a Korean national. Says Lee, “I have no idea what they are talking about.”
A 2002 New Yorker profile suggested Lee was driven, ruthless and neurotic in equal measure. It pointed to eccentricities such as tossing out his single-designer wardrobe every 18 months and keeping a perennially empty kitchen due to a fear of cockroaches.
Lee doesn’t challenge the piece’s accuracy, although he does feel the writer may have missed the point.
“I buy all from one place. That way I don’t have to shop around. I don’t think much about extraneous stuff,” he says. “I make movies. I go to the same restaurants and do the exact same thing many times over.”
Lee’s success might indicate that America is fascinated with Asian cinema. Not necessarily. Lee suggests Hollywood has little interest in the local box office success of an Asian movie property, nor is it interested in doing strategic deals in a particular territory.
What counts is helming talent — like most observers of the Korean scene, he cites Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon and Bong Joon-ho — and concept. “Is it an interesting story? Can it be packaged? It was a bonus that (Korean all-time B.O. champ) ‘The Host’ did well, but if it wasn’t a good story, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Having been snapped up last month by Universal after a contest with another entity, “Host” presents Lee an interesting problem: how to remove the pic’s underlying anti-American stance while making it more than a generic monster pic.