With the exception of “The Departed,” Scorsese's excellent remake of a very good Hong Kong picture, it's hard to think of other Hollywood remakes of Asian films that have matched in quality or effect their source materials. There have been some decent ones, like the “The Ring” or “The Grudge” series, though I still much prefer the originals.

This year may be sort of a record for Hollywood's recycling of Asian horror films, and the latest victim is “Shutter,” the remake of the 2004 Thai film. Judging by the end result, neither movie, nor director, Japanese horror maestro Masayuki Ochiai of “Infection” fame, making his English-speaking feature debut, acquits themselves honorably.

Knowing Hollywood, it's the director, not the scribe or producer, who will be blamed for the failure. It's too bad that so many gifted Asian (and other foreign) helmers make disappointing Hollywood pictures, because they do exert damaging effects on their future careers.

Like “Doomsday” last week, Fox had decided not to hold advance press screenings, which leads me to believe that “Shutter” tested poorly. The film's saving grace is its brief running time–only 86 minutes. Since the primary target audience is very young and likely unfamiliar with the original Thai work, the picture may yield some quick cash for the studio.

“Shutter” tries to cash in on the mysterious phenom of “spirit photography,” which dates back to the 1860s, and has been plagued with controversy and even fraud ever since. Some believe it to be one of the few methods of capturing ghostly phenomenon that approaches scientific methodology. Magazines devoted to spirit photography proliferate throughout Asia, and new Internet sites devoted to the subject spring up every day. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently hosted an exhibit devoted to spirit photography, “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult”).

This foreboding subject is a key element of the thriller “Shutter,” from executive producers of “The Grudge” and “The Ring.” The story revolves around a newly married couple that discovers disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate, only to learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved and that past mistakes invariably lead to vengeance.

The premise and first reel of both the Thai picture, which was named “Sutter kodtid winyan” and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, and the American “Shutter” is quite interesting. Photographer Ben (Joshua Jackson) and his new wife Jane (Rachael Taylor) perceive their assignment of a fashion shoot in Tokyo as a kind of working honeymoon. They arrive in Japan excited about this potentially exotic professional opportunity and the promise of beginning a passionate marriage. But as they make their way on a deserted road leading to Mt. Fuji, their new life comes to a crashing halt–literally. Their car smashes into a woman standing in the middle of the road, who seems to have appeared “out of nowhere.” However, regaining consciousness after the accident, they're shocked to realize that there are no traces of the girl they believe they hit with their car.

Though shaken by the accident and the girl's disappearance, the couple proceeds to Tokyo, where Ben begins his glamorous assignment. Having worked in Japan before and fluent in the language, Ben is comfortable there, eagerly reuniting with old colleagues. In contrast, Jane is a newcomer to the culture and place, and feels like a stranger as she makes tentative, unsettling forays through the city. (This story element recalls Sofia Coppola's melancholy film “Lost in Translation,” which is also about the cultural disorientation and confusion of a young American woman).

Meanwhile, Ben has discovered mysterious white blurs eerily evocative of a human form that have materialized on his day's work from the expensive photo shoot. Jane claims that the blurs in Ben's photos “represent” the dead girl from the road, seeking revenge for their abandoning her to die. Rest of the saga can not be told because it will spoil the little fun there is in unraveling the mystery.

Unfortunately, from the very first scene, there's tension in the movie between Luke Dawson's routine scenario and simplistic characterizations and Ochiai's more astute sensibility and directorial tendencies. For example, it's never made clear why Ben refuses to believe his beloved wife visions, when he himself had already experienced ghostly encounters.

In its good moments, which are few, “Shutter” touches on the issue of how one can never be sure who is his or her partner, or the surprises and disappointments when you get to know your companion's feelings and ideas, particularly in crisis situations and trying conditions that tend to bring behavior to the extreme.

The casting of the two leads doesn't help matters because they are blander and more boring than they need to be. Waspish to a fault, Ben is played by Joshua Jackson of the TV series' “Dawson Creek's,” where he was more impressive, and Jane is cast with Rachael Taylor, who was also more appealing in “Transformers” last year.

Strangely and inexplicably, this “Shutter” has omitted some of the scariest and creepiest scenes of the original, including one truly frightening nocturnal sequence on an empty road.

Perhaps out of fear of alienating teenagers (the rating is Pg-13) and/or under pressure from Fox executives, helmer Ochiai has adopted rather indiscriminately the American style of schlock horror flicks: cheap strategies, predictable tricks, jump scares, and largely cheesy CGI effects. This is particularly the case when the haunted Jane begins envisioning supernatural glimpses of the accident's victim. The image of the girl is also routine, with her ultra-pale face, ultra- dark hair, and ghost-like movements.

If memory serves, in the Thai film, the identity of the missing woman was more intricately related to the couple than they realize. And even though “Shutter” has the good sense of retaining the original's twist ending, it's not as effective here as in the 2004 feature.


Ben – Joshua Jackson
Jane – Rachael Taylor
Megumi – Megumi Okina
Bruno – David Denman
Adam – John Hensley
Seiko – Maya Hazen
Ritsuo – James Kyson Lee
Akiko – Yoshiko Miyazaki
Murase – Kei Yamamoto


A 20th Century Fox release of a Regency Enterprises presentation of a New Regency, Vertigo Entertainment, Ozla Pictures production. Produced by Taka Ichise, Roy Lee, Doug Davison. Executive producers: Arnon Milchan, Sonny Mallhi, Gloria Fan.
Co-producers: Paiboon Damrongchaitham, Boosaba Daorueng, Visute Poolvoralaks, Yodphet Sudsawat. Directed by Masayuki Ochiai.
Screenplay, Luke Dawson, based on the 2004 Thai film “Sutter kodtid winyan” directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom/screenplay by Pisanthanakun, Wongpoom, Sopon Sukdapisit.
Camera: Katsumi Yanagijima.
Editors: Michael N. Knue, Tim Alverson.
Music: Nathan Barr; music supervisors, Dave Jordan, Jojo Villanueva.
Production designer: Norifumi Ataka.
Art director: Ayaki Takagi.
Set decorator: Fumiaki Suzaka.
Sound: Jim Bolt, Masato Komatsu; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Chuck Michael.
Visual effects supervisors: Hajimie Matsumoto, Raymond McIntyre Jr.
Visual effects: BIG-X, Pixel Magic.
Stunt coordinator: Masanori Saito.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 86 Minutes.