Asian Film Monthly is a movies.com column that rounds up recent notable theatrical releases in Asian countries to see what's hot and what might be coming to the US.
According to the Weinstein Co., Americans will only attend Asian movies if they contain one of the following words: legend, fight, or dragon. Thus, Drunken Master 2 became The Legend of the Drunken Master, Fong Sai Yuk became The Legend, and so forth. The distribution outfit's tradition of retitling films continues with Peter Chan's Wu Xia, which has been re-christened Dragon for its forthcoming U.S. release.
Wu Xia, or Dragon if you please, opened in China recently after playing at Cannes in May. In his review for Love HK Film, Kevin Ma called it "2011's Hong Kong film to beat. … a smaller but still gripping action drama that offers a much-needed twist to an old genre. … More a thriller with action elements than a typical martial arts film with wall-to-wall action." Donnie Yen stars as a peaceful paper maker who becomes a local hero after killing two dangerous criminals; Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a police detective who becomes convinced that there's more to the meek paper maker than meets the eye. The Weinstein Co. has not yet announced their distribution plans for the film, and there's no guarantee that they will release it in theaters. If they're going direct to video, they should hurry up and get it out there.
Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy, which we wrote about last month, will be opening in the U.S. on August 12, with its first showings scheduled for Austin (in 3D) and San Francisco (in 2D). It's a pattern that's repeated with the theaters listed on the official site; for example, it opens the following week in New York (two theaters in 3D) and Los Angeles (two in 3D, one in 2D). That suggests some theaters with 3D capabilities are not willing to show the film, notably AMC Theatres, with whom distributor China Lion Entertainment has an agreement to show a certain number of titles.
The local film industry churns out many low-budget horror flicks that are intended for the local market and rarely, if ever, travel to non-Asian territories, either at festivals or on DVD. But it's still fun to watch the trailer, stare at a cheesy poster, and wonder "what if," as in, "What if Gancore Gud had English subtitles and played at my local multiplex?"
According to film journalist Wise Kwai, Gancore Gud is the directorial debut of hip hop mogul Joey Boy; the film finds the "Gancore hip-hop collective stranded on a remote island where they hope to party with a bunch of bikini-clad Playboy models. They instead are confronted by zombies and other supernatural beings." What if they retitled it "The Legend of Bikini Dragon Zombie Fighters"?
On the higher-brow end of things, Wise Kwai also reports that The Moon opened last week in Bangkok. It's a bio-pic about beloved 1980s superstar Pumpuang Duangjan, a girl who grew up singing in the sugarcane fields before becoming a pop music sensation, blazing a new trail with a form of Thai country music. She passed away at the age of 31 in 1992.
You can watch the trailer to hear snippets of the music that made her popular. It seems like this is the kind of movie that is more likely to play at international film festivals and possibly gain a DVD release in the U.S.
"What Japanese and overseas audiences want from Japanese films is often quite different," begins film critic Mark Schilling in an article for Japan Times. "Many mega blockbusters here, from smirky cop thrillers to lachrymose medical melodramas, go unseen outside Asia, while quirky/gory indie films that barely open in Japan become foreign festival favorites with their directors hailed by critics abroad as unappreciated geniuses."
Schilling writes about four films (Helldriver, Yakuza Weapon, Alien vs. Ninja, pictured above, and Deadball) from the Sushi Typhoon label that recently played at a local theater. His conclusion is that, in the right setting, say, "a midnight festival screening with everyone in a party-down mood," the films "can be fun in ways Hollywood and much of the Japanese film industry have long since forgotten. But four in a row stone cold sober? Don't think so, dude."
Sushi Typhoon is continuing to forge ahead, with newer releases such as Karate-Robo Zaborgar hitting the film festival / fan convention circuit and playing best, no doubt, in coveted midnight slots. Nearly all of the Sushi Typhoon films have been zoned into a very specific demographic, which is small but loyal. If they can broaden out, bit by bit, into other genre fare that will still attract a decent-sized audience, they may be able to increase that audience. I'm thinking specifically of the very dark and challenging Cold Fish, which is also headed for a limited release, as an example of the type of films that I hope will join the splatter flicks that midnight fans find so appealing.
Asian Films in Theaters Now
Sunny, a drama from Korea about seven friends reuniting 25 years after their attended junior high school together, opened in Los Angeles last weekend and will expand to New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Virginia, Washington D.C., Seattle, Texas and Hawaii. according to The Korea Times. The film has proven to be very popular in its native land, becoming the top domestic release of the year.
The trailer, which you can watch below, features nostalgia, 80s fashions, young people dancing, and a spit-take into orange juice, which are, of course, the unquestioned ingredients for international success.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, produced by IDG China Media and released by Fox Searchlight in the U.S., is in its second week of limited release. Reviews have not been very positive for the drama, directed by Wayne Wang and starring Russell Wong, Li Bingbing, Archie Kao and Gianna Jun, and box office receipts have been modest.
Perhaps it's not too late for Fox Searchlight to capitalize on the publicity surrounding one of the film's producers: Wendi Deng Murdoch, wife of media baron Rupert Murdoch. She has a mean right hook, we hear, and maybe she can threaten to flatten anyone who doesn't go to see her movie.
Picture of the Month
Nothing says summer quite like Studio Ghibli, and their latest animated film, From Up on Poppy Hill, opened in Japan a little while ago. It's not due for international release until next week, but until then, you can view the quietly evocative trailer and/or simply gaze upon the picture below, posted by The Ghibli Blog, a wonderfully informative site.