Sunday, March 11, 2007

Eureka moment for Asian filmmakers?

From the "Hope springs eternal that they actually will finally learn" department...

The following comments by Hong Kong filmmaker Alan Mak and related coverage originally appeared in an article entitled Hollywood's Asian affair that looks to be making the rounds of newspapers over here in Asia:-

WRITER-DIRECTOR Alan Mak made a startling confession on the line from Hong Kong: “I didn’t like The Departed. I didn’t like the ending."

He is the creator of Infernal Affairs, the seminal 2002 Hong Kong triad thriller which was remade into The Departed and which won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Martin Scorsese last month.

Not mincing his words even though he chuckled lightly as he spoke, Mak said that the finale of The Departed ran counter to what he was trying to achieve in his film, the first of a trilogy

...during the Oscar broadcast, a female voiceover mistakenly called Infernal Affairs a “Japanese film”. The boo-boo prompted the film’s producer, Hong Kong’s Media Asia Entertainment, to demand an explanation from the Oscar organisers.

Mak’s own reaction: “I’m not upset. I think it’s a joke.” When informed that US showbiz trade paper Variety had also mistakenly called Infernal Affairs “a Korean film”, he noted with resignation that Americans cannot tell East Asian countries apart.

...Mak’s final analysis is that while Hollywood will ransack Asian films for ideas, it is not likely to accept Asian films on Asian terms.

After all, he pointed out, Infernal Affairs was Hong Kong’s submission to the Oscars in 2002 and it did not even make the short-list.

He said: “Maybe they want to send you a message. If you really want to go further, maybe a remake of your film will be a success.

But your original movie, it’s something they don’t accept.”

So, Hong Kong and other Asian filmmakers: If you would please try to stop looking to Hollywood for approval and recognition, and focus instead on making movies with the audiences you know best in mind...

(And for those seeking additional plus related links of interest on this subject: click here for a piece which details and compares five Asian box office hits and their Hollywood remakes; here to see that the highlighted article is not the only one in which Alan Mak has voiced his disappointment with The Departed; and here for confirmation that Mr. Mak was not imagining things when he said that at one point, the men behind the Oscar-wnning Hollywood remake had sought to hush up the fact that it actually was a remake.)


Edmund Yeo said...

I don't know, I guess I'm one of those rare few who ain't blinded by Infernal Affairs love and chose to condemn The Departed and Hollywood for creative bankruptcy.

Yeah, so it was boneheaded of the Academy to make those mistakes during the announcements, but the makers of IA (along with their hardcore fans) had been drinking so much hateraid that I'm starting to feel annoyed that people can't appreciate The Departed for what it is, and understand that if it weren't for Scorsese, and if they had went for a frame-by-frame remake, the film would have sucked.

Besides, sheesh, it's not as if HK filmmakers haven't been 'borrowing' ideas from Hollywood in the past few decades.

YTSL said...

Hi Swifty --

You're not going to like this but here's my take on the matter: i.e., INFERNAL AFFAIRS was/is a perfectly good film and there really was little need for Hollywood to remake such a good and recent movie. And even if that were the case, the people behind THE DEPARTED should not have sought to hide that it is an adaptation of a (recent) Hong Kong/Asian film.

As for it being okay for Hollywood filmmakers to "borrow" ideas from Hong Kong (and the rest of Asia) because Hong Kong filmmakers have been "borrowing" from Hollywood for years now: Firstly, two wrongs don't make a right; and sorry, but there is no way I am going to rush to check out Hollywood remakes of Asian films that I like and even love.

(And in case you haven't heard: Hollywood remakes of Asian films that have already been released include SHALL WE DANCE?, THE RING, THE EYE, DARK WATER and THE LAKE HOUSE (which was a remake of IL MARE) as well as THE DEPARTED. And there's supposed to be far more to come -- including remakes of MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER, MY SASSY GIRL, THE HOST (currently playing in U.S. cinemas) and THE COLOUR OF PAIN.)

Edmund Yeo said...

Actually, I thought The Lake House was better than Il Mare (Keanu and Sandra Bullock, to my horror, had more chemistry compared to their Korean counterparts, and the ending didn't feel as, I dunno, anticlimatic or deus ex machina-ish as the Korean one), and The Ring was comparable to Ringu (I said comparable because both are so different, though they share the same concept that I'm incapable of comparing them). Kinda like comparing Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai.

Come to think of it, I almost wanted to murder the original director of Ringu after watching what he did with Ring 2 (and those Grudge films).

So yeah, guess I'll be one of those rare Asian indie filmmakers who actually defend mainstream Hollywood. Whoa.

YTSL said...

Hi again Swifty --

Here's my (additional) take on Hollywood remaking Asian films: i.e., I think that there's some unsavory cultural politics, etc. involved there.

Consequently, for me, it's one thing for a film industry to remake movies from its own industry and tradition but quite another when that hegemonic behemoth known as Hollywood chooses to remakes movies from territories whose films don't get much of a chance at all to be shown in cinemas in the U.S. -- and many other parts of the world -- for cultural political along with commercialist reasons.

"So yeah, guess I'll be one of those rare Asian indie filmmakers who actually defend mainstream Hollywood."

Whoa and woe indeed! :(

Edmund Yeo said...

Well, whether we like it or not, filmmaking is ultimately a business. (and no, I'm really not those avant-garde types that believe the entire capitalistic culture has to be completely removed and that films have to be purely art just so artists can happily indulge themselves while everyone else starve to death. The Taiwanese film industry is the only place I can think of where art films take precedence over commercial films... although, come to think of it, there really aren't that many commercial films for the mainstream audiences over the last few years. Both extremes are bad, a balance has to be reached. I'll rip my own eyes out if every single film that comes out will stick to the Tsai Min Liang template, or Matthew Barney. Without mainstream films, you can't appreciate the unique-ness of these so-called arthouse fares, without mainstream films, well, entertainment is forgotten)

No need to feel so woeful about my plight. I'm just trying to appreciate everything with an open-mind just so I can appreciate some beauty about Hollywood films that others are too busy or blinded by hate to notice. Makes my day brighter.

So yeah, there's this awful cultural politics involved. But the US is just one country, I'm idealistic enough to believe that even if Hollywood has monopolized the entire world with their big-budget blockbuster films, as long as fine films are made in other countries, there will be audiences for these films. The voices of people can never be quenched that easily anyway.


(note: Despite being a filmmaker, Swifty's degree was in marketing management, hence having a higher tolerance towards commercialism)

YTSL said...

Hi once more Swifty --

Yes, filmmaking is ultimately a business but I hope that filmmakers -- especially Asian ones -- also recognize and realize that what they produce are cultural as well as commercial products that often have an intrinsic value which cannot be measured in monetary terms alone.

Also, I really don't think you need to feel obliged to stick up for Hollywood films. It's not like they don't have their fans -- or, perhaps more importantly, an army of publicists, marketing folks and distributors behind them.

(On a related note: Malaysia appears to be the rare territory where American cinema chains have yet to establish a foothold. OTOH, in other Asian territories like Hong Kong and Japan, the likes of AMC and UA have cinemas galore -- and ones that I can't help but think have a preference for showing cinematic products from the U.S.A. rather than, say, the territory that in which they are situated.)

Edmund Yeo said...

Yeah, that's why I said that it's better to reach a balance. Commercial works do not have to suck (... LoTR trilogy, old Star Wars, Johnnie To's less personal works), whilst artistic works that try desperately to showcase their cultural values can sometimes end up becoming caricatures and such.

I don't defend Hollywood out of obligation, I just love films in general, so mainstream Hollywood works aren't immediately dismissed in a condescending manner merely because I am the artistic sort. Like I said, there are still beauty in Hollywood films, I'll rather admit that than to be hypocritical and, I don't know, watch Spidey 3 right after I write my latest hissy fit about Hollywood.

So... I'm not really a poor misguided peon of evil, blinded by Hollywood's manipulation, I just refuse to take sides, or become too much of an extremist, thus depriving me of some... mindless entertainment.

Yee hah.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Swifty --

Of course I don't think that commercial works suck. Otherwise, I wouldn't delight so much in so many of the cinematic offerings that come out of Hong Kong!

However, even I must admit that I do like to have some substance in my movies and my favorite films are those which are entertaining *and* thought-provoking -- like the best works from Tsui Hark and Johnnie To.

The thing though with Hollywood is that I so wish that they would leave other cultures -- especially those with their own cinematic traditions -- alone. Frankly, I'm often fine when watching Hollywood fare that focuses on America.

Indeed I often wish that there would be more "real" Americans represented in Hollywood offerings. And, instead, it's when the Hollwood works have jingoistic themes of Americans trying to save the world or destroy others, or -- sometimes this is even worse! -- trying to be the rest of the world that I find myself tending to get irritated and even downright annoyed! :<