“That’s definitely stolen.” It’s a phrase that you never want to hear in a movie theater. However, it’s being said more and more as people flock to see Asian movies. While we think of plagiarism more along the lines of schoolwork and getting essays online, does it have a place in the film industry? And is it really a “plagiarism movie,” or just an adaptation of a classic Hollywood plot?

How, What, and Why?

No, this isn’t a movie, but we’re getting there! First, we need to look at what plagiarism is, versus adaptation. Plagiarism is stealing something. Like a movie theme. Adaptation is changing a movie theme to fit a certain demographic. Asian films are often accused of plagiarism because they are often similar to Hollywood classics. However, they usually fall under the category of adaptation, meaning that enough changes have been made. Now that we know the difference, we can get to the movies!

The Villainess

Finding the similarities between this jewel of Asian theater and its western counterpart is a lot easier than finding an essay online. In fact, anyone who has ever seen the blockbuster Nikita will want this film to go through a check for plagiarism. But is it really stolen? The addition of cultural aspects to the plot gives it a setting all its own. So it should be considered as an adaptation, not a plagiarized piece.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

This movie might jump out at you. A Western, made in Asia? Definitely stolen, right? But no! While it comes across as a rugged rip-off of The Last Stand, this movie has distinctly Asian tones to it. Taking place in Manchuria, even the Japanese army makes an appearance! Again, the cultural differences are what makes this movie plot all its own. You wouldn’t find something like this in a Hollywood theater.

The Man From Nowhere

This is about a man with a “certain set of skills” (and we’re pretty sure it’s not finding the best free essays, either). A girl, close to his heart, is kidnapped. So he uses those skills to rescue her. Sounds like Taken, right? Well, you won’t find Liam Neeson here. Instead, you’ll get The Man From Nowhere. It seems like a blatant ripoff, but the plotline itself is a commonly used one. After all, who has never heard of the “damsel in distress”?

The Suspect

This movie is a mixture between Jason Bourne, sleeper agent films, and the terrifying real-world conflict between South and North Korea. Those details are enough to draw a sharp dividing line between the Bourne series of films and The Suspect. Though there are many similarities, it more pays homage to the traditional Hollywood type of films in this genre. Shaky-cam and similar filming tricks were borrowed and used here to great effect.

The Thieves

It doesn’t take much to see The Thieves as a rip-off of Ocean’s 11 if not the entire Ocean’s franchise. Some would argue that it’s the same plot, just relocated to South Korea. The idea of robbing a high-security place with an elite team of thieves isn’t the one that started with Ocean’s 11, however:  It was such a popular theme that the Muppet’s did a parody of it. Combined with intricate back-stories of the thieves (something Ocean’s 11 sorely lacked) it’s a film that stands on its own.

Veteran

This 80s-inspired, pulp-fiction noir film is certainly a reminder of Lethal Weapon. Starring a gritty cop and his able partner, the movie follows them in their attempt to put an end to a car smuggling ring operated by Russians. If the plotline sounds familiar, that’s because it shares a lot of similar features with almost every 80s action movie. Because it is commonly used, this doesn’t fit the “plagiarized” category.

Ringu

This is the one that started the fad of “Asian English movies”. It’s a horrifying tale that follows a ghost girl and a haunted tape. “That sounds a lot like The Ring,” you might say. And you would be correct! In this case, though, the adaptation is backwards:  The Ring is actually adapted from Ringu! Though the Hollywood effects were better, the original is worth seeing. It’s a fantastic horror movie that you’ll love. Just be ready to turn off the TV if someone starts crawling out of it.

There are a lot of movies in Asian culture that borrow a few things from Western classics. But with the additional aspects of the Asian culture and some pertinent changes, it shifts from theft to an adaptation. And, on occasion, Hollywood takes some ideas for its own, as well.

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.