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[PROFILE] Roy Lee - Music Producer

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  • madchinaman
    A Familiar Ring Want to see something really scary? Producer Roy Lee has just the ticket, straight out of Asia. By Eric J. Lawrence
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2002
      A Familiar "Ring"
      Want to see something really scary?
      Producer Roy Lee has just the ticket, straight out of Asia.
      By Eric J. Lawrence

      BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. - Film producer Roy Lee believes in second
      opportunities. Like a basketball player getting his own rebound, or
      someone enjoying last night's leftovers for lunch, the second time
      around can be just as good. And now Lee has created a niche for
      himself based on second opportunities: finding successful films from
      Japan and Korea, and bringing them to the United States for high-
      profile Hollywood remakes. "The Ring," the new horror film from
      DreamWorks Pictures starring Naomi Watts ("Mulholland Drive") and
      directed by Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican," "Mouse Hunt"), is the
      first in a number of Asian-bred imports that Lee hopes to bring to
      American audiences.

      Naomi Watts stars in "The Ring," now in U.S. theaters because Roy Lee
      presented the original Japanese version to DreamWorks as a possible

      Lee, 33, is one of the executive producers of the new version of the
      film. Based on a popular novel, "The Ring," or "Ringu," as it is
      known in Japan, began its cinematic life as a 1998 Japanese film,
      directed by Hideo Nakata, involving a mysterious videotape that
      causes viewers to die exactly one week after seeing it. The film was
      an immediate sensation in Japan, leading to sequels, a prequel and
      multiple television series. Its popularity extended throughout Asia
      and even led to a Korean remake. However, it remained a relatively
      unknown cult film in the United States, with only occasional festival
      screenings and rare DVD appearances in stores that cater to fans of
      international films or hardcore horror film fanatics. That is, until
      now. Due to Lee's efforts, "The Ring" is getting a new lease on its
      supernatural life, so that audiences around the world can experience
      what many consider to be among the scariest movies ever made.

      Lee's own involvement in the film industry is a textbook example of
      second opportunities. Born in New York to first-generation Korean
      parents, Lee and his family settled in Washington D.C., where he
      attended both George Washington University and American University
      Law School. His suburban upbringing was typical: school, church and
      eventually, a position in corporate law - his brother is a doctor.

      Roy Lee has created a niche in Hollywood, selling rights to films
      from Asia, including Korea's "My Wife Is a Gangster," to American

      But it became clear that corporate law was not the place for him. "It
      was very boring," Lee admits. He needed to find another direction.
      Eventually he decided the world of film might be an interesting next
      step. It was hardly an obvious choice.

      "The earliest movie experiences I had were my mother taking me to
      see 'The Exorcist' and 'The Omen,'" Lee reflects. "Mainly I think it
      was because she is religious, and she wanted to put the fear of God
      in me."

      But the allure of Hollywood proved too strong, so he packed up and
      moved out west in 1996, hoping to find something - anything -
      involved in movie production.

      After moving up the food chain with a series of jobs in the movie
      business, including working at Alphaville, the production company
      responsible for "The Mummy," Lee established a name for himself and
      had the ear of many Hollywood big-wigs and executives. One fateful
      night while at home alone, Lee decided to watch the DVD of the
      original Japanese version of "The Ring." While it did scare the heck
      out of him to the point that he couldn't finish the film alone, he
      recognized the potential for an American studio to remake the
      material. He immediately brought it to the attention of an executive
      friend at DreamWorks, who in turn showed it to the chairman of the
      company. The response was so positive that, by the next day, the
      studio acquired the rights to the film. In little more than a year
      and a half, an amazingly short period of time for Hollywood, the new
      version of "The Ring" is screening in theaters across America,
      complete with Roy Lee's name as "Executive Producer."

      A few cosmetic changes were made to the film to give it a greater
      appeal to American audiences, such as setting the story in Seattle.
      But for the most part, the story is left intact, which is something
      that is easier to do with horror films.

      "Horror generally can have universal themes throughout any culture,
      so that something scary to the Japanese or the Koreans or the
      Chinese, will potentially be scary here," Lee explains. "It's not
      something like a drama, where there are lots of cultural issues that
      may not be present in our society." A number of Lee's future movie
      projects are also in the horror genre, including an American sequel
      to "The Ring," as well as "Chaos," based on another film from
      original "Ring" director Nakata, with Robert De Niro and Benicio Del
      Toro signed on for the Hollywood version.

      But others are more varied in their subject matter. There are even
      some Korean films that Lee has deals in place for remakes, such as
      the romantic comedy "My Wife Is a Gangster," currently in pre-
      production with Miramax. Other titles include "My Sassy Girl" and "Il

      "Korean films are great," Lee raves. "I've just been amazed at the
      production values and the writing in their films.¦ I thought [they]
      would be things like what my parents watched on [Korean] television -
      soap operas and melodramas. But I couldn't believe what I saw."

      Eventually, Lee plans to produce some original material as well. But
      for now, helping shepherd Asian films to American markets through
      Hollywood remakes is a niche that is serving Lee well. Plus, it also
      serves the other participants in the deals. As Lee explains, for the
      domestic studio execs, with a pre-existing foreign film "you can see
      what works and what doesn't." For the Asian creators, "it gives them
      the opportunity to have their movie seen by a wider audience." That
      explains why Asian filmmakers are approaching Lee with their films
      even before they get made.

      "The earliest movie experiences I had were my mother taking me to
      see 'The Exorcist' and 'The Omen.' Mainly I think it was because she
      is religious, and she wanted to put the fear of God in me."
      - Roy Lee, executive producer of the new horror film, "The Ring"

      And while getting a screen credit on a major Hollywood motion picture
      may not be quite the same as being a corporate lawyer, it seems as if
      it is good enough for Lee's folks.

      Says Lee with a smile, "They still think being a producer is like
      being a lawyer."

      Photos by Jimmy Lee
      Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures
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