Monday, 23 January 2017

Hollywood's Interest in Asian Films Leads to Globalization

A string of profitable remakes of East Asian films has prompted Hollywood to expand its horizon in the East, which in turn, has started a trend of globalizing the film industry - blending cultural and ethnic differences, fusing cinematic styles and diverse techniques, and homogenizing on-screen performances and off-screen talents.
After the success in remakes of the popular Japanese horror movies, Dark Water (2005), The Ring 1 & 2 (2002, 2005) and The Grudge (2004), major Hollywood studios are trying to expand the American market and capture the rapidly expanding Asian market by purchasing the rights to motion pictures from South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong for remakes with Hollywood stellar casts. In fact, several dozens of Asian films are slated for remakes to be shown in 2006. Furthermore, the high-wired martial arts Chinese films, Zhang Yimou's Oscars-nominated The House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Hero (2002), and Ang Lee's Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), have attained international acclaim after gaining recognition and admiration in Hollywood. Nowadays, Asian films seem to be hot commodities in the market!
Hollywood's interest in Asian films is nothing new. Akira Kurosawa, a famous Japanese director, had inspired many renown filmmakers for decades. John Sturges' Western The Magnificent Seven (1960) was a remake of Kurosawa's classic Seven Samurai (1954). Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964) was also a remake of his Yojimbo (1961). George Lucas' main characters in  Star Wars (1977) were based on Kurosawa's drama The Hidden Fortress (1958).

When the legendary Bruce Lee introduced kung fu to the silver screen in the 1970s, he had forever captured the American fascination with martial arts. To this day, many action pictures have adopted martial arts as the standards for fist-fight scenes. Director Quentin Tarantino created the highly popular Kill Bill series, illustrating the best of the Japanese and Hong Kong martial arts genre. The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) featured martial arts moves shown in slow motion - boxing kicks, flips and somersaults, long-distance leaps, and running up walls. 

Since the 1950s, Hollywood overseas earnings have been climbing, especially in the Asian region, where today American motion pictures account for 96 percent of the box office tickets in Taiwan, 78 percent in Thailand, and 65 percent in Japan. The potential for raking in more profits in Asia is promising with the world's two largest populated countries undergoing rapid economic development: China and India. The former has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the latter has been generating a high turnout of white-collared workers, as well as churning out numerous low-budget movies.

With economic, institutional, and political power, Hollywood has been wielding its influence worldwide without any real competition. However, as Hollywood studios extend their ambitious efforts on high-tech special effects to produce a blockbuster, they often find themselves burdened with ballooning expenses. Nowadays, it takes an average $90 million to make and market a Hollywood movie. To cut costs, filmmakers move their production overseas to countries where labor is cheaper and union regulations are not so restrictive.

Another way to reduce the budget is to make sequels and remakes. Due to the consuming time and energies involved in the arduous process of creating an original motion picture, Hollywood studios often opt for sequels and remakes - no matter how inferior they are in comparison with the originals. In a remake, the director only needs to make slight alterations to the original movie that has already been tested profitable in the market.

Although criticisms have been leveled at remakes, Hollywood continues the trend to make them. In the retail business, DVD remakes actually bring in more profits to the original pictures. Remakes seldom measure up to the standards of the originals, particularly noticeable in foreign films. The common complaints cited for a foreign film remake are as follows: themes are not as deep or rich as in the original movie; character development is sometimes neglected; plot points are weakened; and the cultural aspect of the film is often lost in translation. To deal with mounting criticisms, Hollywood studios have been hiring foreign directors and screen writers to take control of American remakes. In fact, Takashi Shimizu, the original director of The Grudge was tapped to do the American version, and Hideo Nakata, who directed the initial Japanese Ringu, took charge in making The Ring 2.  Even Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong superstar known for his martial arts comedy and death-defying acrobatic stunts, had been given a free hand in conducting his performances seen in his later Hollywood works - Rush Hour series, Shanghai Noon, and Shanghai Knights.

By poaching popular stars and directors from other nations' industries, Hollywood executives not only have raised global awareness of Asian talents but also have forced Asian film centers to collaborate with each other to survive the onslaught of Hollywood dominance in the film industry. Behind the pan-Asian film cooperation lies the objective for the Asian nations to outgun Hollywood's big-budget productions at their domestic box offices. By banning Asian countries together as a single domestic market, consisting mainly of Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, the total population of these nations would be about 300 million, which is greater than the U.S. domestic market. The Japan-based Sony Corporation has made the biggest investment in Asian production, including Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In 1995, NHK, a Japanese public broadcast company, established a biennale film project to co-produce five motion pictures from Asian countries to be shown every odd year. Formed in 2000, Applause Pictures Limited produced Three, a collaborated film project which contained three short stories by three popular directors from three different countries: Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Applause Pictures was also responsible for the Hong Kong/Thailand movie, The Eye, which is slated for an American remake due out in 2006.

In our high-tech world, the Asian film industries face another obstacle - film piracy. Despite many Asian movies being popular domestically in their respective countries, much of the gains have been lost to pirated DVDs and Internet downloading. Anti-piracy laws have to be strictly enforced by the governments in all Asian nations in order for film industries to earn any benefits.

As Hollywood expands its influence globally, film industries around the world consequently become increasingly integrated with one another, breaking down the notion of a distinctly American, Chinese, or Indian cinema. What has been emerging is a global cinema that features  ubiquitous film elements which can appeal to every individual in a global audience.

(First published on, December 1, 2005)