Kaiju Shakedown: The Return of Asian Extreme
Kino Lorber recently signed a deal to distribute 90 titles formally with Palisades Tartan’s Asian Extreme label. Tartan was originally a U.K. distributor that expanded to the United States, but in 2008 it filed for bankruptcy. Its discs have been off the market since then, but under this deal, Kino, in collaboration with Palisades Tartan, will distribute these titles theatrically, on video, and on streaming in the United States, still under the Asian Extreme banner. It’s similar to their deal with Redemption Films, with Kino serving as the distributor of another label’s catalog.
Frank Tarzi, the VP of Acquisitions and Business Development for Kino Lorber took a few minutes to talk about what to expect from the company's fast and furious release schedule. Many of these titles will be appearing on Blu-ray for the first time, including Park Chan-wook’s grim masterpiece, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which will be available this July or August. It was formerly only available as part of the Vengeance Trilogy box set. Kino Lorber will soon be doing a stand-alone release of the third part of the Vengeance Trilogy, Lady Vengeance, too.
Sympathy will be followed by Kim Ji-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters on Blu-ray, right before Halloween, and then will probably come Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelganger, which Kino doesn’t think will feature the Asian Extreme branding. That’s a great sign since some past criticism of the Asian Extreme label focused on the fact that its name created exploitation expectations for some serious dramas and art-house movies.
Shinya Tsukamoto has never gotten much respect on U.S. home video, but Kino Lorber will be taking care of that. Priority titles for them include Tetsuo: The Iron Man, as well as Tsukamoto’s Vital and A Snake in June. Along with the stand-alone releases they’ll also be releasing horror and action box sets, priced at around $30, with potential sets including a Korean horror collection (Bloody Shoes, R-Point, and possibly Face), a Thai horror box set (featuring titles like The Ghost of Mae Nak, The Victim, and P), and a Korean action collection.
A Snake in June
Streaming is part of the deal, so you can also expect these titles to start showing up on Netflix, where only a couple are currently available, as well as on Fandor, Hulu, and for download on iTunes.
This is pretty much a win-win for fans, with the only bad news being that a few of Palisades Tartan’s titles are still wrapped up in deals with other labels and will not be handled by Kino Lorber. Dumplings, Fruit Chan’s horror masterpiece, is still with Lionsgate (who have, bizarrely, released a version missing the last 50 seconds to Netflix), and A Bittersweet Life, Kim Ji-woon’s MIA gangster movie, is still being kept off the American market due to a complicated remake deal.
What’s going to be the hottest collectible for 2014? Posters for Dante Lam’s newest and most intense action movie yet, Breaking Wind, the story of young buff boys on bicycles. Starring Eddie Peng (All About Women, blood type: AB), Ethan Ruan (Monga, blood type: B), and Carlos Chan (blood type unknown), it’ll be shot in Italy this summer. Expect the name to change before release since that’s also the name of a Twilight parody film, but surely there will be sales posters showing determined young men, bent over their bikes and Breaking Wind. The actors are totally committed to their roles with Carlos Chan vowing to “…go online and watch cycling competitions to get some experience.” Nothing will stop this Method actor from Breaking His Wind like a champ!
Another Promise, the first Korean movie to be funded entirely by crowdsourcing, didn’t turn to the public for financing as a marketing gimmick, but because its subject matter is totally radioactive.
No producer would touch this true account of a father fighting for justice after his daughter developed leukemia while working in a Samsung semiconductor plant. Hwang Yu-Mi died in the backseat of her father’s cab while he raced to get her to a hospital in 2007, and her dad, Hwang Sang-Ki, vowed to bring Samsung to justice. Everyone said he was insane to sue Samsung, one of the four chaebols, the corporate conglomerates that dominate Korea (Hyundai, LG, and SK are the other three). But Hwang refused to accept a settlement from the company’s lawyers and instead filed a case with The Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service, which ruled in favor of Samsung. Hwang appealed, and in 2011 the Seoul administrative court overturned the decision marking the first time in Korean history that a private citizen has won a lawsuit against a chaebol. The victory prompted close to 200 similar suits to be filed against Samsung and other electronics manufacturers.
Another Promise was released in February, but the movie was carried on only 100 screens, and there were rumors that Samsung put pressure on the media not to cover the film. The situation went public when the editor of NewDaily Biz was ordered by Samsung to remove an article from his paper about celebrities privately funding screenings of the movie. When the editor apologized to Samsung officials for running the article in the first place, he accidentally sent his groveling text message to a reporter at a rival paper, who printed the texts. Samsung has been vocal in their public criticism of the movie, and are appealing the 2011 verdict.
With Hong Kong’s Filmart kicking off this week, the big news is that the Chinese market might be becoming more open, although no one’s exactly sure what that means. Jackie Chan and China’s blockbuster king, Feng Xiaogang, spent the recent CPPCC meeting loudly criticizing SARFT’s censorship policies, and there have been rumors that a movie-rating system is being studied. That would be a huge step forward, but no one’s exactly sure if it’s actually happening. The government recently decided to allow provincial governments to review local Chinese films and apply the censorship guidelines themselves, rather than waiting for the Beijing Film Bureau to do it for them. But no one’s exactly sure if the guidelines will actually be changed or if the same ones are just being decentralized.
China Film Group, the massive state-run film studio, recently saw Han Sanping, the man who built the Chinese film industry into a global powerhouse where local films account for 71% of the box office, step down and La Peikang take over. No one’s sure what that means either, but change is always good, right? In other news, China Film Group just released the South Korean cut of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer in China, where it took the number-two spot at the weekend box office, after Need for Speed. With Sony and Disney jumping into the China co-production market and with new distribution avenues opening up, China seems to be changing quickly. But again, what does that change mean?
And just in case you wanted to review the landscape again, Film Biz Asia has a Chinese film industry 101 that gives the current lay of the land. It’s a refreshingly sober bunch of numbers and statistics that mean precisely what they say they mean.
In other Hong Kong Filmart news, let’s face it, the only movie that people are talking about is future trash classic Zombie Fight Club. Lurking firmly at the bottom of the barrel, it has a near-incoherent synopsis, a Facebook page full of zombie art, and a making-of video. Why should anyone care? Because production just wrapped in Taiwan, it stars Michael Wong, and it’s directed by Joe Chien (Zombie 108), and did I mention it stars Michael Wong?
Herman Yau, Hong Kong genre director extraordinaire (Ip Man: The Final Fight, The Untold Story, Ebola Syndrome) is releasing his latest movie, Second Coming, on March 27. Yau’s first 3-D horror movie it’s getting so-so reviews but it features a 3-D castration scene, and the trailer shows off an inspired bit of eyeball stabbery, as well as a scene that will turn you off of natural childbirth for good.
The Malaysian box office is not a thing of beauty, with foreign films usually carrying the day, heavy censorship hacking daring movies to pieces, and releases exclusively targeting either the Malay, the Chinese, or the Indian audience. But Chinese New Year movie The Journey, about a Chinese-Malyasian girl marrying a British guy over the objections of her conservative father, has become the highest-grossing Malaysian movie of all time, taking the spot from former winner, KL Gangster which earned $3.5 million. Made for $915,000, The Journey has taken in $5.3 million, which is insane for a film that features mostly first-time actors. Producers Astro Shaw have high hopes for the movie’s overseas prospects because it has cut across cultural barriers and been embraced by all three of Malaysia’s ethnic audiences at home.
The Seventh Curse
Wisely, Hong Kong’s answer to Indiana Jones, has been the subject of movies like The Seventh Curse and Bury Me High and now he’s been licensed by Raymond Chow’s Pegasus Motion Pictures. The franchise looks to be getting a reboot with either Louis Koo or Raymond Lam playing Wisely, and either Fan Bingbing or Tang Wei playing Pai Su, the female lead.
After many rumors, much behind-the-scenes fighting, and a lot of jockeying by two of the most powerful hitmakers in Hong Kong, Ip Man 3 (in 3-D!) is finally set to start shooting in 2015 with Donnie Yen playing Ip and Wilson Yip directing. Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen began collaborating with 2005’s Sha Po Lang and went on to make Dragon Tiger Gate (06), Flashpoint (07), Ip Man (08), and Ip Man 2 (10), a string of action movies that turned Yen into the most famous action star in the world, and Yip into Hong Kong’s blockbuster king. In the summer of 2013, rumors swirled that Yip didn’t want to return to Ip Man for a third installment and that he had suggested that screenwriter, Edmond Wong, direct instead. Or maybe Pegasus Motion Pictures boss Raymond Wong kicked Yip off the project so that Edmund Wong, his son, could direct? Either way, Donnie Yen wasn’t having it, and after a lot of negotiations, Yip returned, Yen returned, and everyone is finally happy to be moving forward.
King of Cantopop, Aaron Kwok, is making his toughest tough-guy face as he joins the cast of The Monk, the 3-D action movie from Farewell My Concubine’s Chen Kaige.
The now-annual Old School Kung Fu Fest has announced its line-up for 2014. From April 18 – 20 at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, it’ll be projecting a ton of old-school movies, including a tribute to Lau Kar-leung the great Shaw Brothers director who passed away last year. Probably the most influential martial arts director of all time, Lau Kar-leung forged the soul of modern day kung fu movies, and the three-day throwdown will screen his Challenge of the Masters (1976), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Heroes of the East (1978), Dirty Ho (1979), and Legendary Weapons of China (1982). Also screening will be Sammo Hung’s rarely-screened Pedicab Driver featuring a mid-movie smackdown between Sammo and Lau Kar-leung that’s generally regarded as one of the greatest fight scenes ever put on film. In addition, ultra-rare 1983 Korean kung fu flick Canton Viper is being screened for the first time ever in the West. Starring super-kicker and Tae Kwon Do master Hwang Jang-Lee (who fought Jackie Chan at the climax of both Snake in Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master), it’ll be live-subtitled.
Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee will be in NYC this week for a barely publicized talk about Zhang’s latest film, The Return, which won’t be screened for the audience, who will presumably just soak up the wisdom on offer from these two master filmmakers.