Asian collaborations taking Venice by stormAlong the sunny beaches of the Adriatic, there are temptations other than blue waves and golden sunshine. The 62nd Venice Film Festival, currently under way on Lido Island, is raising the summer temperature by a degree with an Asian flavor. Movies from Asia have been selected for both opening and closing films, an honor that had been usually reserved for Hollywood. With Tsui Hark’s “Seven Swords” (“Qi Jian”) released as the opening film, the festival is due to wrap up with a Chinese musical by Peter Ho-sun Chan, titled “Perhaps Love.”
Posters for Asian movies such as Park Chan-wook’s “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” are easily spotted, and audiences swarmed in front of the theater for Japanese director Kitano Takesh’s latest work. This year the cinema competition lives up to its status as an “international” film festival. “The selection of Asian cinema was not out of special consideration on our part, but a result of the rapid growth of the Asian movie industry,” said festival director Marco Muller.
To festival insiders, “Seven Swords” is regarded as the product of a strategic alliance between Korea, China, Japan and Hong Kong. At the press conference, journalists from the respective countries all shared a common interest in the movie, which was directed by a Hong Kong citizen, with actors from China, Hong Kong and Korea, and a music score done in Japan. “I could fully appreciate how big an impact can be made when China, Korea and Japan work together in producing the movie,” said Kenji Kawai, music director for the Japanese animation “Ghost in the Shell.”
Hollywood has almost no rivals in its competitiveness, but if Asian movie forces can be combined, it means an expanded market and a larger production size that could pose a different threat. China’s enormous market provides a large potential for commercial success. The popularity of Korean actors in Asian countries is a sure factor to bring audiences into theaters. “With Asia’s human resources, market and capital combined, large-scale movies can be produced at a lower risk,” said Lee Ju-ik, the producer for “Seven Swords.”
The Asian movie industry is forming a league of its own beyond the Venice festival. Wei Keung Lau, who directed “Infernal Affairs,” joined hands with Korean actors Jung Woo-sung, Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Sung-jae in the production of “Daisy,” a story of a love triangle between an international police officer and an assassin who both love the same girl, due to be released simultaneously in Asian countries next January. “Asians share similar emotions and tastes, and their geographical proximity is an advantage for collaborations with Hong Kong. When Asian movie forces come together, they may hold their own against Hollywood’s enormous capital and distribution power,” said Kim Sang-young of I-Film, which produced “Daisy.”
Chen Kaige’s Chinese martial arts movie “The Promise” has a lineup consisting of Jang Dong-gun, Cecilia Cheung and Sanada Hiroyuki, three major actors from Korea, China and Japan. “Chen Kaige is an acclaimed director worldwide, and the popularity of the actors guarantee box-office success,” said Lee Jeong-seok of Showeast, the company in charge of investment and co-production. “The Promise” is a major blockbuster with a 30 billion won ($29 million) budget, a daunting size without multi-national support. Distributors in America have already secured distribution rights, which according to Mr. Lee shows interest in Mr. Jang and offers a good chance for Korean actors to establish themselves beyond Asian markets.
Lee Ju-ik has also set out to begin another collaboration project. Raising a budget of 12 billion won from the four East Asian countries, the film “Muk-gong,” originally based on Japanese manga and starring Korea’s Ahn Sung-gi and Hong Kong’s Andy Lau, starts filming at the end of the month.
The U.S. movie weekly “Variety” wrote for its headline of Venice coverage “Asian Invasion,” implying the force of Asian movies is increasingly advancing. “This year Asian movies have taken over the Venice Film Festival, which had previously been dominated by Hollywood,” reported the ‘Italian Cinema.’ Asian movies, joining hands and transcending national boundaries, are ready to charge into the world’s spotlight.
by Lee Hoo-nam, Baik Sung-ho