[Marxism] Comments by Michael Hoover on Asian film

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 23 11:25:56 MST 2005

(This was posted to pen-l by Michael Hoover in response to my review of 
"Save the Green Planet". Michael co-authored "City on Fire" with Lisa 
Stokes--a Marxist analysis of Hong-Kong cinema.)

lisa stokes and i were recently interviewed by a uk student working on hong 
kong/hollywood dissertation, our comments appear below...

a few years ago the hk film industry was abuzz about which directors and 
actors might follow john woo and chow yun-fat to hollywood.... more 
recently, speculation has revolved around which us film companies will open 
hk offices alongside those of columbia (owned by sony of japan), miramax, 
20th century fox, and warner bros. that already already operating there... 
draconian restrictions failed to materialize following the 1997 return of 
hk to the mainland, and the 1998-99 economic meltdown did not deter 
american investors from plans to expand asian operations.

hong kong filmmakers have looked towards the day when the prc will consider 
their films domestic productions, therefore no longer subject to 
restrictions limiting entry of foreign films to 20 per year... of all its 
industries, china's film industry has been the most resistant to 'market 
reforms.'  those restrictions were lifted jan. 2004 and it's estimated that 
close to 150 hk movies will be screened on the mainland this year 
(including some that are several years old).

meanwhile, us companies still hope to use their economic clout in 
co-ventures with hk partners who have working relations on the 
mainland.  but something more than increased us investment in asian films 
is going on.  hong kongers, both directors and actors ('stars') have gained 
international popularity and crossed over into western mainstream 
markets.  enter the conglomerates.

here's one possible future:
crouching tiger, hidden dragon-- with its taiwanese director (that has a us 
track record), a well-known hk cast and action director, american and asian 
screenwriters, mainland locations, and western and asian financing.  throw 
in 'oriental exotica'-- zhang ziyi, the current babe...
the scenario, western (esp us) audiences flock to see hollywood-hong 
kong-chinese productions, what you call 'hollylong blockbuster' that have 
guaranteed access to prc theatres (of course, cthd's reception in asia 
generally was mediocre)...

we think hk/asian cinema's crossover potential remains an open question... 
the absence of names like chan, chow, li, and/or yeoh that western 
audiences now recognize largely explains why even recent 
co-productions  don't get widespread releases... as you point out, miramax 
and others hold on to hk films for which they've bought distribution 
rights...furthermore, studios are buying the rights to asian successes (the 
ring, infernal affairs, etc.) to remake as hollywood movies with nonasian 
casts and in english... consider masayuki suo's 1996 hit shall we dance? 
with koji yakusho remade with richard gere and jennifer lopez 
and  currently playing in theatres here...

director peter chan once told us that he thought that co-productions would 
be the hk film future, and maybe the only way it could counterbalance 
hollywood... at the same time, chan is a part of applause pictures, which 
has brought together thai, hk chinese, and south korean filmmakers for the 
purpose of marketing to pan-asian audiences.  to what extent will hollywood 
want a piece of this action (do they really care where the profits come from)?

for the last few years hollywood movies have dominated hk screens, and 
local productions remain down from the heyday of the late '80s early 
'90s.  it's worth recalling that the production drop began by the mid-90s 
in the countdown to the handover (for a number of reasons discussed in our 
book); the economic meltdown of the late '90s really sank local filmmaking 
and that's when hollywood got in.

but also for the last several years production has been increasing... part 
of that has to do with the co-productions and it has been projected there 
will be about 100 of them this year, double the total of all hk productions 
only a few years ago...(during the boom years, total hk production was 
about 200 films a year). so hk seems on the road to recovery of some 
kind... another source being the phenomenal output of old films on dvd, 
through asian companies like celestial and media asia, including classics 
of shaw brothers and cathay...

long ago, hong kong filmmakers copied hollywood.  now hollywood copies hong 
kong, so hollywood copies itself without the stuff that hk filmmakers 
invented, excel at, and are still doing, on occasion and 
innovatively.  hollywood still can't shoot action!

michael hoover

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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