The Problem with Live Action Adaptations in Hollywood

Aang is not white

First name: 安昂 Last name: Brown… Wait, what?

Most of us tend to despise live action adap­ta­tions of the anime/manga and car­toons we love, most­ly because there is always some­thing wrong with them. Whether it be adap­ta­tion decay, white­wash­ing, mis­cast­ing, char­ac­ter derail­ment… you name it. Most of the live action adap­ta­tions I’ve ever hat­ed come from Hol­ly­wood because they usu­al­ly com­bine all of these ele­ments into one big clus­ter­fuck of fail.

Do not pro­ceed if you are a white suprema­cist, a fan of M. Night Shya­malan, or if you enjoyed most of his movies that are not The Sixth Sense.

Dragon Ball

Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Aki­ra Toriya­ma in 1984, Drag­on Ball was an adven­ture series that was heav­i­ly based on the Chi­nese sto­ry Jour­ney to the West dur­ing the first sev­er­al chap­ters. Dur­ing the man­ga’s run, the sto­ry has changed from adven­ture to mar­tial arts to sci­ence fic­tion while still main­tain­ing a quirky sense of humor found in most of Toriya­ma’s works.

In the recent decade, a cou­ple of self-pro­claimed “fans” decid­ed to direct a movie based off of this mem­o­rable Japan­ese man­ga… enti­tled Drag­on Ball Evo­lu­tion.

You guys all prob­a­bly know a lot about Son Goku by now. Strongest being in the Drag­on Ball uni­verse, brawny but still a child at heart. Before we find out he’s an alien from anoth­er plan­et inhab­it­ed by the strongest race of peo­ple in the uni­verse, he was just some strange human boy raised in the for­est, with immense strength that would make the major­i­ty of sumo wrestlers piss their mawashi.

Some­how, the peo­ple behind the mak­ing of Drag­on Ball Evo­lu­tion decid­ed to shoe­horn Goku into a high school set­ting in order to have a cheesy romance devel­op with his future wife (in the man­ga) Chi-Chi. They also give him con­fi­dence prob­lems such as being the tar­get of bul­ly­ing and rather unusu­al name call­ing. The prob­lem is, they nev­er explain why Goku is being picked on in school — HE LOOKS AND DRESSES THE SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE! And when you think about it, this is Goku. Goku! He should­n’t be the type of per­son who would give a shit if he gets his bike stolen or some­thing. He can eas­i­ly kick any­one’s ass in his weak­est state (him at the begin­ning of the manga).

Not to men­tion, he’s some­one who is social­ly inept when it comes to any­thing oth­er than fight­ing, so he real­ly should­n’t get these kinds of con­fi­dence prob­lems because he would just shrug it off. The per­son who decid­ed to cast GOKU as a scrawny teenage boy with self-con­fi­dence prob­lems was most like­ly sniff­ing some­thing unholy dur­ing the production.

Who the fuck are you?!

You do not look like Goku sim­ply by spik­ing up your hair, kid.

Goku vs. Superman

One of the gripes peo­ple have against the movie is the fact that Goku is played by a Cau­casian actor instead of an Asian one. This is usu­al­ly refut­ed with the “Goku isn’t a spe­cif­ic race, he’s an alien!” claim.

Very good point, but I nei­ther agree or dis­agree with peo­ple want­i­ng Son Goku to be played by an Asian actor. Hon­est­ly, is him being an alien a real­ly good excuse to cast him as a Cacau­sian? I know plen­ty of peo­ple would get pret­ty pissed if Super­man were to be cast as an Asian guy. Are we for­get­ting that Super­man’s an alien too? The fact that Drag­on Ball was ini­tial­ly based on Jour­ney to the West, a Chi­nese sto­ry, and Goku being mod­eled from Sun Wukong, a Chi­nese char­ac­ter (whose Japan­ese name is Goku)… it makes much more sense if he was cast with a Chi­nese actor. Just my two cents.

This char­ac­ter derail­ment is only part of the rea­son why the movie was bad. Guess how much the rest of the movie sucked. =D

Avatar is totally not Asian
The Last Air­ben­der… Even though the source mate­r­i­al, Avatar: The Last Air­ben­der, is not exact­ly an ani­me, the cre­ators took heavy influ­ence on East Asian and Inu­it cul­tures and cre­at­ed a “fan­tas­ti­cal Asian world” (as described by Nick­elodeon). Not only that, they made sure that the cul­tur­al ele­ments in the show were accu­rate to their real-life coun­ter­parts. The sto­ry and char­ac­ters were also very col­or­ful, and proved that a car­toon does­n’t have to be made in Japan to have a cer­tain amount of depth to it.

The movie adap­ta­tion, on the oth­er hand, took all of the good things that made the psue­do-ani­me series a cult hit and threw it all out in favor of white­wash­ing the lead char­ac­ters and churn­ing out a sto­ry you can only get from watch­ing only three episodes of the show.

What a disaster.

I admit, I’m afraid to even watch the movie because of the 8% rat­ing on Rot­ten Toma­toes, but I’ll take their word for it after read­ing detailed com­par­isons and sum­maries of the movie writ­ten by avid fans. From what I’ve heard, the only thing good about the movie are the fan­cy effects, which is a bad rea­son to watch a movie. If the script is ter­ri­ble, if the movie is a failed adap­ta­tion of a beloved car­toon series, if the act­ing is a life­less per­for­mance, and if the movie is direct­ed by M. Night Shya­malan, I refuse to watch it.

Appar­ent­ly, the dark-skinned Inu­its (Katara and Sok­ka) were white peo­ple in the movie, the Chi­nese and Japan­ese-inspired vil­lains of the movie (the Fire Nation) were either Indi­an or Mid­dle East­ern, the only East Asian actors you see are back­ground char­ac­ters (the pris­on­ers and stuff…), and the main char­ac­ter with the appear­ance of a Bud­dhist monk and the Chi­nese name “Aang” in the car­toon is played by a white boy in the movie. Before any­one accus­es me of any­thing, I’m not exact­ly being racist myself here, see­ing as the act­ing was con­sid­ered bad as soon as the movie was released in the­aters and I doubt the actors were cho­sen because of their skill. Are you hon­est­ly telling me that these Cau­casian actors were more suit­ed to play an Asian role than actu­al Asians? White peo­ple por­tray Inu­its bet­ter than Inu­its? wut?

One argu­ment would be that this is a fan­ta­sy world, and there­fore, the char­ac­ters aren’t real­ly Asians. Yet, this is telling me, fan­ta­sy world = “Whites sav­ing the Asians in an Asian-inspired movie while fight­ing against the col­ored folks”. Yes, Prince Zuko does a Heel Face Turn lat­er in the series and is pret­ty badass, but he’s played by an Indi­an (South Asian)… Take a wild guess at the direc­tor’s eth­nic back­ground. And the direc­tor claims that Zuko will be the REAL hero of the series. Of course.

Real­ly, every­thing in the series points to Avatar being set in a “fan­tas­ti­cal Asian world”. I don’t see how you can get “white” from that… unless it’s in Hol­ly­wood (see: 21). Ohandbtw, the cast­ing call was “Look­ing for Cau­casians and any oth­er race.”


Death Note Live Action

If Hol­ly­wood even thinks about touch­ing Death Note, riots will ensue.

Let me ask you Full­met­al Alchemist fans some­thing: Would you be sat­is­fied if they made a live adap­ta­tion of a Euro­pean-inspired series in Asia? I thought not. There always seems to be a dou­ble stan­dard when it comes to Asian Amer­i­can actors in Hol­ly­wood, and frankly (as an Asian), I’m tired of it.

I could go on to and com­plain about the Super Mario Bros. movie, but that movie was so bad it was good.

19 thoughts on “The Problem with Live Action Adaptations in Hollywood

  1. Woah, for a sec­ond I thought Super Mario Bros. was fake until I searched it up @_@

    I have got to watch that.

    The prob­lem with Hol­ly­wood, IMO, is that Amer­i­cans don’t real­ly watch non-Amer­i­can movies. They’re used to the same old “White guy kills peo­ple with a gun and has [cen­sored] with white chick”, so they can’t real­ly “accept” an Asian film. Even Jack­ie Chan is in West­ern sce­nar­ios; his first movies were yeah, kung fu, epic­ness, and now most/all of his movies are West­ern comedies. :/

  2. The Air­ben­der movie isn’t as bad as it seems. Not per­fect, by any stretch, but not hor­ri­ble. “Meh” is prob­a­bly a good descrip­tion, but the effects were very good.

    I agree with the com­plaints about Sokka’s and Kitara’s race, but Shya­malan does try to inject a rea­son­ing for that by mak­ing their grand­moth­er and pret­ty much all of the North­ern Water Tribe white as well, although he does leave out the reveal that their grand­moth­er is from the NWT… Frankly I don’t see why they could­n’t split the mid­dle and make the sibs biracial-looking
    (lots of good His­pan­ic actors out there) and the NWT a lit­tle less white­washed. The fact that he sin­gled out Nico­la Peltz as Katara before cast­ing even began prob­a­bly ini­ti­at­ed the whole mess, and since she was prob­a­bly the worst actor of the bunch (con­trary to pop­u­lar net opin­ion, the guy play­ing Sok­ka was actu­al­ly pret­ty good, but in a weak role), I can’t real­ly defend him for that.

    As for Aang, I per­son­al­ly think his white cast­ing was a decent idea, and fed on a lit­tle the­o­ry that had been hint­ed at in the series but is more or less con­firmed as true for the movie. In the movie, as in the series, all Air Nomads are also air­ben­ders. This is com­plete­ly not the case for the oth­er three coun­tries, as there are ben­ders and mug­gles present. May took this as evi­dence that the airen­ders are more mys­ti­cal and clos­er to [insert source of bend­ing here], but I per­son­al­ly took it as those show­ing air­bend­ing tal­ent being select­ed from the oth­er king­doms (per­haps by wan­der­ing air­bend­ing mas­ters) when they show that tal­ent. They’re called the Air Nomads, and yet we clear­ly see that they have two per­ma­nent “homes”, and we nev­er see any kind of famil­ial struc­ture. In the movie this appears more explic­it, as there are muli­tra­cial air­bend­ing acolytes and mas­ters, and Aang’s mas­ter (for­get his name) is black. If that is your basis for the Air Nomads, then any race is okay, and the inclu­sion of a few “token white guys” is arguably warranted…

    As for the absence of East Asian races, that should­n’t be an issue for the next movie. All the earth­ben­ders we see in this one are East Asian, it’s just with the com­pressed sto­ry­line, that is lim­it­ed to the pris­on­er break­out scene. As long as Toph is some cute Asian girl, I see this as a non-issue.

    All the Fire Nation char­ac­ters are awe­some, though (after a lit­tle narmish­ness by Zuko at the begin­ning, which was admit­ted­ly sim­i­lar to his series debut), and suf­fi­cient­ly racial­ly homog­e­nized. If your inner con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist wants to chalk that up to them being of sim­i­lar race to the direc­tor, then so be it.

    If you liked the series, I rec­om­mend see­ing it as a “slight­ly dif­fer­ent take” (there are more core dif­fer­ences than racial cast­ing), or at least Net­flix it when it hits BD/DVD. Just don’t see it in 3D. Biggest waste of mon­ey in my life…

  3. @Mushyrulez: Jack­ie Chan’s Chi­nese movies are still pret­ty good. I tend to stay away from his Amer­i­can flicks (except for Rush Hour).
    Peo­ple need to remem­ber that Amer­i­ca IS NOT a white coun­try, it was built on a mix of races and cul­tures. We should­n’t need to go to Asia just to see Asians get good roles in good movies, right? What real­ly con­sti­tutes as an “Amer­i­can” movie? We, as Amer­i­cans, real­ly need to think about that.
    Super Mario Bros. is worth a watch for kicks. xD

    quigonken­ny: Being an East Asian, the fact that the movie is diverse ASIDE from the main leads both­ers me due to how Asian Amer­i­cans are usu­al­ly treat­ed with­in Hol­ly­wood. Can’t deny that the back­ground char­ac­ters are pret­ty diverse, but all the heroes are white peo­ple who were orig­i­nal­ly Asian in the car­toon, sav­ing the Asian peo­ple in the movie. It would real­ly just be a thought in the back of my head if it was­n’t for the fact that they were specif­i­cal­ly look­ing for Cau­casians for those roles. That seems pret­ty racist to me, and in my opin­ion, racism can’t real­ly be “jus­ti­fied”. If they real­ly want­ed diver­si­ty, don’t focus that aspect on just the back­ground char­ac­ters, focus that aspect on the heroes too.… or don’t adapt Avatar, a “fan­tas­ti­cal Asian world”.
    (Not real­ly try­ing to accuse M. Night of any­thing par­tic­u­lar, but it is a pret­ty amus­ing coin­ci­dence that the only “Asian/non-white” that would join the pro­tag­o­nists’ side is the direc­tor’s very own race, not to men­tion M. Night also said he’s excit­ed to give a ton of focus on Zuko in the upcom­ing movies. I’m not going any fur­ther than that, but if any­one wants to make some­thing of it, be my guest.)
    Let’s just agree to dis­agree, how­ev­er, I still won’t be watch­ing the movie. I’ve already gone to the the­aters and watched an excel­lent movie today, Incep­tion, and The Last Air­ben­der will real­ly look more hor­ri­ble than it is if I watch it right after… I’ve heard that pret­ty much all the humor and per­son­al­i­ties are sucked out in the movie, so I fig­ure I would­n’t enjoy it regard­less, since that’s what made the TV series for me. To be hon­est, even though the cast­ing gives me bad mem­o­ries of 21, the cast­ing isn’t the only rea­son I refuse to watch the movie and poten­tial­ly waste my mon­ey (and time xD), which I lack a lot of in the first place.
    lol, if I ever change my mind, I won’t be watch­ing it in 3D, cer­tain­ly. I’ve already heard that it made no dif­fer­ence besides the begin­ning and end. o_o

  4. Agreed! For cer­tain adap­ta­tions, I would not mind a cau­casian cast, but for Avatar, I thought it should have had an Asian male lead. The sto­ry is clear­ly fla­vored after Buddhist/ Taoist ideas. The char­ac­ters and designs have heavy Asian influ­ences. I just think it might be nice if the direc­tor kept the feel con­sis­tent by casting.

    Of course, that isn’t the only thing wrong with this movie. I felt real­ly bad about pay­ing for 3D after I watched it. 🙁

  5. @Yi: Yeah. Besides the hor­ri­ble taste the movie gen­er­al­ly left in my mouth, I did­n’t mind the Cau­casian cast­ing for Drag­on Ball Evo­lu­tion. The only oth­er thing it need­ed was to be…well, faith­ful and good.
    It’s one thing to cast Drag­on Ball’s char­ac­ters as white, and anoth­er thing to cast Avatar, of all movies, like that. Some of the things that made the car­toon good would have trans­lat­ed well into live action form if they stuck to its ori­gins a lit­tle bet­ter, white­wash­ing or not. ):
    And aw, hope you still have enough mon­ey for Incep­tion though (rec­om­mend­ed!). Very thought-pro­vok­ing film and has a lot of action. xD

  6. crap sor­ry for dou­ble post

    lol, if I ever change my mind, I won’t be watch­ing it in 3D, cer­tain­ly. I’ve already heard that it made no dif­fer­ence besides the begin­ning and end. o_o”

    we watched it in 3D and the only 3D there was the sub­ti­tles… X_X

  7. @baka~: Oh well. I guess a white guy being called Light Yaga­mi would be the most fun­ni­est thing ever… 😛
    I can under­stand Cow­boy Bebop, but why Death Note of all things? That’s just scream­ing white­wash right there, or cast­ing oth­er Asians as the Japan­ese (:rolleyes:)… Unless they film it in Japan and have Eng­lish sub­ti­tles, but that’s high­ly unlike­ly for Hol­ly­wood. Oh well, let’s hope that every­thing else is good.
    Also, extreme The Last Air­ben­der in Avatar ftw! xD

  8. I guess very rich peo­ple would like to waste away their mon­ey, rid­ing on the pop­u­lar­i­ty of var­i­ous media pro­duced nowa­days, only to make a s***tload of fail adap­ta­tion. If you’ll look up Nos­tal­gia Crit­ic’s review of Street Fight­er the movie as well as Mor­tal Kom­bat in youtube or google, there will always be a pat­tern on how west­ern adap­ta­tions fail X_X

    as my friend said, The Last Air­ben­der should’ve been enti­tled “The Last M.Night Shya­malan” Movie XD

  9. @baka~: What a fit­ting name…lol
    Nev­er under­stood that mind­set with the peo­ple that shell out mon­ey for bad adap­ta­tions. One would think they would get more mon­ey if peo­ple hear it’s a good mon­ey instead of a cou­ple thou­sand peo­ple going to the movie, telling their friends it was hor­ri­ble, and get­ting less.
    Then again, some peo­ple have real­ly bad taste. A cer­tain psue­do vam­pire flick gets more mon­ey than it deserves… As a teenag­er, who knew my female coun­ter­parts could be so eas­i­ly warped?! D:

  10. If i’m guess­ing it right about this “pseu­do vam­pire flick”, a friend once men­tioned that its pop­u­lar­i­ty might’ve been influ­enced by a boom in teen angst… well, i nev­er real­ly watched that movie so i could nev­er under­stand his point but if any­thing, just by observ­ing local fans in my coun­try, that movie was very much over­rat­ed *facepalm*

  11. @baka~: From what I’ve seen from the movie when I was forced to watch it in class (GOD), your friend pret­ty much summed up its pop­u­lar­i­ty in those very words. 😛

  12. @baka~: Actu­al­ly, Mor­tal Kom­bat was entire­ly Aner­i­can from the begin­ning (the game was cre­at­ed by Mid­way for the US), with pri­mar­i­ly (one) white guy(s) in masks and make­up as the char­ac­ter mod­els (except for the women, Liu Kang, and Shang Tsung), since that’s what they had to work with. And the actors for the lead char­ac­ter and main vil­lain in the first movie were both Asian. And it was­n’t bad (cer­tain­ly bet­ter that either of the Street Fight­er adaptations).

    Of course the sec­ond one was prob­a­bly one of the worst movies of all time (right down there with High­lander 2 and Crow: City of Angels), and had a white dude play­ing a mask­less Shao Khan, so you might be on to some­thing… ^_^

  13. @quigonkenny: I think he was talk­ing about West­ern adap­ta­tions in gen­er­al (regard­less of source mate­r­i­al). Oth­er­wise, I would have scratched my head too. xD
    Yeah, the first Mor­tal Com­bat movie was actu­al­ly pret­ty good. It was­n’t until the sequel that the movie series start­ed to be shit. xD I hat­ed how they killed off John­ny Cage immediately…

  14. @quigonkenny: The race-cast­ing was the only thing they did right if we’re talk­ing about street fight­er and mor­tal kom­bat (except for mk2?) and as Miko­to says, i’m talk­ing about west­ern adap­ta­tions in general. 

    remem­ber dead or alive? it could’ve been bet­ter but ayane had just to wear a wig and one of my friends com­plained on how the boobs weren’t real *facepalm* and quite recent­ly, we noticed a poster of tekken the movie. we were like “wtf! jin had his hair straight­ened?!” but as far as tekken was con­cerned, we have to wait and see for pos­i­tive reviews before we head out and watch it.

  15. Per­son­al­ly I haven’t got any gripes with cast­ing ani­me char­ac­ters as white. After all the car­toon fig­ures are styl­ized to such an extent that it’s dif­fi­cult to per­ceive them as any par­tic­u­lar race through looks.

    ATLA is anoth­er case, since there’s a clear dis­tinc­tion between races there.

  16. @Grimmer: Well, it’s not just appear­ance, but the way the char­ac­ters eat and dress too. Inspi­ra­tions are pret­ty impor­tant also. Drag­on Ball was ini­tial­ly based on a Chi­nese sto­ry, after all. I don’t have any gripes on cast­ing him with anoth­er race either — he is an alien, after all. As long as he isn’t mis­cast with a guy that does­n’t fit the part of “Goku”… which unfor­tu­nate­ly happened. 😛
    I mean, unless they’re exclu­sive­ly look­ing for Cau­casians or some­thing to be the heroes, which is the case with TLA.

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