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Chris Rock to pen ‘High and Low’ remake

Chris RockRemember that Martin Scorsese project to remake Kurosawa’s High and Low? The one that has been on and off for about 20 years now. Well, the latest bit of news about the project is brought to us by Black Voices, which reports that Chris Rock has now replaced David Mamet as the screenwriter.

Rock, best known for his comedy roles, may not feel like the obvious candidate to pen the new remake. He does, however, have some screenwriting experience, although all four of his previous ventures have been for comedies, and not entirely successful ones, either: I Think I Love My Wife (2007, co-writer) currently has a 18% Rotten Tomatoes rating, while Head of State (2003, co-writer) fares a little bit better with 30% and Down to Earth (2001, co-writer) has 19%. The 1993 mockumentary CB4, which Rock also wrote, stands at 58%.

According to the Black Voices article, veteran director Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, and most recently Charlie Wilson’s War) is still attached to helm the production. Whether Martin Scorsese or Scott Rudin are still involved as producers is not clear. Neither is it mentioned whether Rock is starting from scratch, or if he is simply adjusting David Mamet’s earlier script.


Discussion

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Ugetsu

Will he call it Everybody Hates Gondo?

Sounds a bizarre choice at first thought, but I did make the comment when the AK Club was discussion High and Low that if Gondo was a Baraku then it would be the equivalent of a Hollywood film of the time casting an African American actor in the role. I guess nowadays thankfully that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but maybe it is an element that Rock could play with in his script.

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Vili Maunula

That’s a good point, Ugetsu. Maybe we should send Rock an email to let him know about the opportunity (I doubt that they have considered this).

I do wonder though why they specifically want to remake the Kurosawa film, rather than filming the Ed McBain novel on which it was based.

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Ugetsu

Vili

do wonder though why they specifically want to remake the Kurosawa film, rather than filming the Ed McBain novel on which it was based.

I haven’t read the book, but the writer of this blog seems to think that there isn’t a lot to the original story – Kurosawa expanded on the plot significantly. So maybe they intend to use his ideas. Certainly, I can see why any film maker would want to use the train scene, its superb. They probably couldn’t do it if it isn’t in the book without tempting some legal letters from Japan…

Maybe we should send Rock an email to let him know about the opportunity (I doubt that they have considered this).

I wonder how much a co-writer credit is worth? 😉 But thinking about it a bit, I think it would not be a direct equivalent, even if the film is set in the 1960’s. I think the point Kurosawa is trying to make with the hints about Gondo’s status is that while the audience and the police know his background, the kidnapper doesn’t. The irony is that the relatively privileged medical student has no idea that the man he hates so much isn’t the arrogant big shot he thinks he is. If, say, Denzel Washington was cast as Gondo (a good choice I would have thought), and the kidnapper was played by a white actor, there would be an all too obvious racial element to the plot – nowhere near as effective or as interesting as Kurosawa’s hints as to Gondo’s background.

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Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: I haven’t read the book, but the writer of this blog seems to think that there isn’t a lot to the original story – Kurosawa expanded on the plot significantly. So maybe they intend to use his ideas.

That could well be the reason, and probably is. I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet.

The cynic in me, however, thinks that the rights for the Kurosawa film might be cheaper to acquire than those for the book. 😛 Especially with the additional free marketing that the name “Kurosawa” could still generate.

While not directly related to High and Low, today’s major film news was that Scorsese is planning a 3D film. That, to me, seems like a surprisingly quick move for 3D technology to make from pure entertainment and novelty value into (and I assume this only based on Scorsese’s name) more artistic cinema.

Anyway, so maybe we’ll get High and Low in 3D? Will the title be High, Low, Deep and Shallow?

Ugetsu: If, say, Denzel Washington was cast as Gondo (a good choice I would have thought), and the kidnapper was played by a white actor, there would be an all too obvious racial element to the plot – nowhere near as effective or as interesting as Kurosawa’s hints as to Gondo’s background.

That’s a good point. It’s actually too bad Michael Jackson died, for here would have been an ideal role for him. (Yes, that’s a cheap shot, but someone had to say it! Plus I’m a fan, so it’s almost ok.)

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Jeremy

This is odd. Although I don’t really care who ultimately butchers the movie, Chris Rock will at least give me enough curiosity to watch it.

Unless Spike Lee is to direct, there is no reason for a obvious, out-dated, and pointless attempt at making the film racial. Having a rich white guy, not want to help a poor black guy, is just beyond lame, and removes the depth of the original film. Rock has never played into racial elements, to the degree he should go so lame as Spike Lee does(Rock will call blacks, black, oppose to Lee’s African-American, as thou any of them have ever been to Africa or could ever link their past far enough to Africa. Which is about as stupid as calling myself European-American, because 400 years ago I came from Spain), and unless this is to be a comedy, to which Rock often jokingly does blacks versus whites, I don’t see him playing racial stereotypes into anything more serious, even if the film turns into some sort of comedic drama, like his TV show.

Personally, if we are to put race into the film, the interplay between a rich black guy, and poor black guy offers equal depth to the original movie, far more then everyone or anyone being white. To some degree, and really I think Rock could agree, the rich black guy is held in far more contempt for a black, then a rich white guy.
If the film goes this direction, it could very well be worth watching.

I don’t think Scorsese is trying to legitimize 3D, the guy is old-school, and refuses to adopt even digital. This is simply a films being market towards children, and 3D is a must do nowadays, for any studio to pick it up. Additionally, I think Scorsese has lost his way, and does more based on influence, then what is in his character.

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Ugetsu

Jeremy

Personally, if we are to put race into the film, the interplay between a rich black guy, and poor black guy offers equal depth to the original movie, far more then everyone or anyone being white.

That is a good idea – it would certainly give a psychological edge to the story that it would lack if it was a straightforward crime case – part of the greatness of High and Low is the odd way Gondo and the kidnapper seem like they have a bond together, despite never having met. It would be a very hard thing to translate to a contemporary setting (assuming it is to be set in contemporary America, they could I suppose go back to a 1950’s setting so they can get away from the whole CSI type plot approach).

I wonder though if Rock was hired not to rewrite the script, just maybe to try to spice up the dialog, like Tarantino was allegedly brought in to do the same for Hunt for Red October (I kept watching that film to see if I could catch any Tarantinoisms in there, but I couldn’t spot any!).

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NoelCT

Ugetsu raises a good point about Rock possibly just punching up the script instead of doing a full rewrite. Could be wrong, but that does make sense.

I have read the novel on which the film is based, and remaking the film is certainly more exciting than just readapting the book. The 87th Precinct novels were the literary equivalent of basic police procedural shows. The same cops in the same positions who get a new case each week.

SPOILER WARNING: In the film, the book itself is only really used (largely faithfully) for the first half. The kidnappers were completely redone by Kurosawa and, in the book, King actually refused to pay the ransom. But it still balances out in a very odd way because he personally hops in a car and chases the kidnapper down. Really ridiculous climax to an otherwise moderately entertaining read.

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Vili Maunula

I read Ed McBain’s novel today (hurray for a sudden two-day holiday handed to me by chaos in the European air space!), and Noel is absolutely correct: while the film’s “high” part (King’s residence) is quite faithful to the novel, the “low” part (with the kidnappers) is markedly different.

The novel actually has no such real distinction. The kidnappers are talked about more than they are in the film. Instead of a mastermind who has hired two drug addicts to assist him, as in the film, we have a more basic combination of two lowlifes and a girl, who is the wife of the less rotten of the two kidnappers.

The wife plays a fairly big part in the story, as it is she who leads King and the police to find the kidnapped boy. While she apparently has had no problem with her husband robbing banks, she doesn’t feel comfortable about the kidnapping, and feels sorry for the boy.

King’s own wife is also a slightly more important character than she is in the film, as she really stands up to her husband’s refusal to pay the ransom. Meanwhile, King himself is a bigger bastard than his film version. Kurosawa has kept the whole shoe factory takeover plot pretty much intact, and just like in the film, we learn that also the King in the novel has worked his way up from a poor family background.

It was interesting to see that the money drop was written pretty much like it is in the film, but with the exception that instead of a train, King (and one police officer) drives a car, and is asked to drop the money bag when driving over a bridge.

I didn’t actually find the climax that ridiculous. It did however end quite suddenly, and I felt that the complete disappearance of the “better” kidnapper and his wife was a little contrived.

To answer my earlier question — why remake Kurosawa when you could just adapt McBain? — I have little to add to what Noel wrote. You will want to go with Kurosawa if your intention is to make use of the film’s “rich/poor” theme, if you want to use Kurosawa’s version of the kidnapper character, or if you wish to make a scene-by-scene remake. The basic story is in the book, just without the extensive police procedure to find the kidnapper, or the film’s haunting final scene. I was actually surprised how much Kurosawa has kept of the novel. I would say that more than a half of the book is in some form or another in the film — but Kurosawa has really built on the novel, and extended on its contents.

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lawless

Thanks for the information and summary, Noel and Vili. I read Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, which is sometimes cited as the, or a, source for Yojimbo, a few months ago and thought about doing a writeup on it, but have been both too busy and too lazy to do so. The short version is that the movie is not a remake or even an adaptation of the book, though the book might have inspired the movie.

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NoelCT

Whenever you get the writeup done, Lawless, be sure to post a link, because I’d love to read it. Actually, on of my first posts to this site was about a connection between the book and the film.

[EDIT: I’ve tried putting a link to that specific thread, but my post hasn’t been appearing. Vili?]

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lawless

I was going to post it here, actually, either in a new thread or in an appropriate existing thread. It ticks me off to see uninformed comments in IMDB forums about the Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars controversy suggesting that Leone’s ripoff of Yojimbo was no big deal because Kurosawa, in turn, ripped off Hammett without credit or royalties. That is not the case with regard to Red Harvest.

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Vili Maunula

For some reason your posts were picked up by the spam filter, Noel (I will investigate what’s going on). Here’s the thread: All things Dashiell Hammett.

Your views about the connection between Red Harvest and Yojimbo would certainly be welcome, lawless. I should also read the book(s) again, as I think that I missed something on my first read-through.

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