Asian Film Monthly is a new 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.
We've heard recently that a remake of 2007's Big Man Japan is moving forward, which, as our own Peter Hall commented, is hard to comprehend since the original "is about as far removed from American culture as possible." Be that as it may, Hitoshi Matsumoto, who directed and starred in Big Man Japan, has completed two movies since then, and the latest, Saya Zamurai (AKA Scabbard Samurai), just opened in Japan.
Matsumoto has been a TV superstar in Japan for nearly 20 years, but his first two films elicited "some head-scratching at home," according to local critic Mark Schilling in The Japan Times, because Matsumoto "fully indulged the stranger, more creative side of his comic mind" rather than filling his pictures with the broad, obvious gags that might be expected. Saya Zamurai features a samurai who deserts his clan and is on the run with his young daughter. Captured by another clan, the samurai is given 30 days to make the clan's depressed and grieving master laugh just once -- or else he must commit ritual suicide.
Schilling comments: "The gags not only grow in size, but also cleverly illustrate what might be called the history of comedy in Japan, from traditional party stunts (slices of fruit over the eyes, chopsticks up the nose) to elaborate props and machinery of the type found on the wilder Japanese variety shows." The samurai's never-say-die spirit as he gamely performs earns him the sympathy of the crowd. Saya Zamurai is set to open the Locarno (Switzerland) film festival in August, and further festival dates in the fall, including some in the U.S., are likely.
Film journalist Wise Kwai reports that Yuthlert Sippapak's "genre-bending crime comedy" Friday Killer won two awards at the Shanghai International Film Festival, which concluded over the weekend. The film, the last of a so-called "hit man trilogy," has not yet opened in Thailand, but it has been reviewed in The Hollywood Reporter, where Maggie Lee says that it reflects the director's "chameleon sensibility." Friday Killer is "a curious crossfire of genres and moods that throws together Thai backwater humor, political satire, hardboiled shoot’em-ups, lesbian love and pastiche of Hollywood action."
Thai films have not often gained U.S. distribution, but some titles have secured home video release, so here's hoping that Friday Killer is a happy exception. Take a look at the trailer, via Twitch, which, indeed, looks pretty freaking' fantastic.
Contrary to its billing, Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ectasy is NOT "The World's First 3D Porn Movie." To begin with, the sex is softcore and not hardcore, and that's as much of a definition as we'll get into here. Nonetheless, the film tore up the box office in Asia, and distributor China Lion acquired North American rights last month. When will U.S. audiences be titillated?
In a prepared statement, an executive for China Lion said: "We’re looking at as wide as possible a release for this groundbreaking film." A spokesman told indieWIRE that the company plans to submit the film to the MPAA in order to receive a rating; as of this writing, no rating has been announced to the public. China Lion's theatrical partner in the US is AMC, which would require "complete executive approval" before agreeing to exhibit an NC-17 film. So the film's theatrical release may depend on the rating it receives from the MPAA; an NC-17 could be the kiss of death, relegating it to home video.
Arriving in selected U.S. theaters as summer begins, Late Autumn hopes to be a refreshing change of pace, featuring Chinese actress Tang Wei (Lust, Caution) and Korean actor Hyeon Bin in a romantic drama that's set in Seattle. Both characters speak mostly in English, which posed a problem for Adam Douglas at VCinema: "By having your leads do all their acting in phonetic English, you alienate not only the English-speaking audience but the actors from each other. How can they be expected to develop any chemistry and to really inhabit these characters, when they don’t even know what they’re saying?"
The film, directed by Kim Tae-yong (the great horror flick Memento Mori as well as the episodic Family Ties) debuted at the Toronto festival last fall before opening in South Korean in February, where it's performed respectably, if not spectacularly (#22 in box office receipts for the year). It opened in Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Jose last weekend, and will expand to New York City, Ridgefield (New Jersey), and Atlanta this coming weekend. It doesn't seem to have a lot of heat behind it, but reviews from the New York press will probably determine its longer-term fate in the U.S.
Other Asian Films in Theaters Now
13 Assassins (from Japan) is continuing to push into the hinterlands -- check the official site for theater listings -- thereby giving even more fans the opportunity to see Takashi Miike's magisterial samurai drama on the biggest screen possible. If you missed it, don't despair; a home video version will be available on July 5.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (from Thailand), the beautiful drama / ghost story by director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is also making its way across the U.S. before hitting home video on July 12.
True Legend (from Hong Kong), Yuen Woo Ping's lavish historical picture, has evidently concluded its run in US theaters, but will be opening in Toronto and Vancouver, for the benefit of our friends in Canada.
And if you live in New York City, you can look forward to attending Subway Cinema's New York Asian Film Festival, which begins this Saturday, June 25, and rocks the universe through July 8. Check the official site for complete information.
Picture of the Month
From the blog of Patrick Macias, writer and editor, we have a look at Godzilla in a stretcher, 1964.