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December 23, 2006


Bangkok Film Festival Nobody loves the Bangkok Film Festival, it seems, not even Thai exhibitors. After firing the Americans who'd managed to turn the festival into an international freebie bag it looked like things could turn around as actual Thai people were put in positions where they could program the fest and they decided to do things like have Thai subtitles on prints so actual Thai audiences could attend. But then "because of financial considerations" the Paragon Cineplex, which was to play host to the festival, apparently balked at putting in the fest in late January 2007 (about a month away!) when parts one and two of KING NARESUAN would be released.

The festival has now been moved to July 2007.

(Of course, the Americans aren't all to blame. Wisekwai wisely links to a great article on the whole mess courtesy of Kong Rithdee.)

December 23, 2006 at 06:10 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 22, 2006


THE DOOR poster

Li Shaohong, the only female director in China's Fifth Generation, caught the attention of international audiences with BAOBER IN LOVE, which was like a more psychotic, less cutesy AMELIE. Now she's back with her first feature film since then, THE DOOR, a psychological thriller shot in vibrant colors. The logline reads:

"Against the backdrop of contemporary China, the story centers on a young intellectual who feels “marginalized” and is losing out in the ever changing society, and whose dignity and pride rest solely on the relationship with his beautiful girlfriend. When the girlfriend suddenly walks out from him, he becomes so distraught that he embarks on an ominous journey to find her and the truth behind the breakup…"

Here's the trailer for the movie, hosted by Variety, and I've been told that it's a little non-representative. It puts the focus firmly on the action and the horror elements in an attempt to get a younger audience into the theater, but I'm assured that it's really much more of a psychological thriller. A psychological thriller with the SWAT team? I'm intrigued.

Right click here to download (select save as) THE DOOR trailer as a .wmv file.

December 22, 2006 at 05:23 PM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (3)


FRIDAY IS FUN-DAY Chiyoko Tanisaki really loved that block of concrete in front of her house, because when the road was changed from dirt to asphalt the construction crew had to remove it and she, playing shoot the messenger, began a two-year campaign of peeing in a cup and throwing it into her neighbor's yard. Their crime? They were the ones elected to tell her the block would have to be removed.

Park Chan-Wook knows what it's like to have urine thrown on him. Korea's most over-praised director just announced that I'M A CYBORG (BUT THAT'S OKAY) will be yanked from theaters this week, two weeks after its release and right before the super-lucrative holiday season. It's had only 780,000 admissions (compared to around 3 million for OLDBOY) and will be replaced by THE RESTLESS, a martial arts flick also repped by CJ Entertainment (as is CYBORG). I guess that'll teach Park to never deviate from movies about horror and abuse again.

There's a trailer up on YouTube for CONFESSION OF PAIN, the Takeshi Kaneshiro/Tony Leung movie from the directors of the INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy and before you even start to say it looks good, check out all these people throwing the urine of Chiyoko on it. This Malaysian website says the movie "never finds its pulse", a user on Yahoo Movies Malaysia gave it one star and wrote "What I loved most: nothing; What I really hated: everything", and The Hindu (in an AP piece) calls the movie "an artistic failure". I love the internet - ruining movies for us before they're barely released.

You thought there would be good cheer? Ha! The urine of Chiyoko is just getting warmed up. The work ethic of everyone on RUSH HOUR 3 gets the next dose. Except for Jackie. Jackie Chan is like Woody Allen: he can't slow down, he has to make movies, and he'll never stop even if it's a good idea to take a break. Not so the other folks on the film. End of November: Chris Tucker is "sick" for two days. Beginning of December: Brett Ratner is "sick" for four days (no one tells Jackie, so he shows up on set and gets in costume). Is this the kind of "sick" that Lindsay Lohan gets?

And, finally, a little flick of the urine of Chiyoko at Zhang Ziyi who will now voice the evil villain in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. Sigh. Doesn't she know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a sign of the end of the world? Four turtles = four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

December 22, 2006 at 02:16 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


MEMORIES OF MATSUKO I was threatening to do a "Best of" list yesterday and I promise that I gave it a fair shot. But, to be honest, it's too early for someone in the US to have seen enough Asian movies from 2006 to give them a ranking or to pick favorites. But there is one thing that I'm sure of, the way I'm sure that the earth spins around the sun. It's an opinion that is not going to change unless I see a movie where halfway through god crawls out of the celluloid and gives me a big wet kiss.

MEMORIES OF MATSUKO is the best movie of 2006. From any country.

I saw it in a crummy tape viewing room at Pusan and I cried like a baby. From Nakajima Tetsuya, whose first film was KAMIKAZE GIRLS, it's been alternately described as "MOULIN ROUGE meets CITIZEN KANE" or "THE LIFE OF OHARU meets MOULIN ROUGE" but this kaleidoscopic explosion of pathos, bathos, musical numbers, cartoon characters, prostitution, murder, daddy love, sexual humiliation and porn defies any description.

It had me at its opening voice-over which says, "All our lives we follow our dreams. But very few people ever achieve them." And then the movie dedicates its mouth-meltingly beautiful production to the life of a normal person, like most of us, whose dreams are bigger than their abilities. It was human, it was surprising, and it was like no movie I'd ever seen before. Sometimes it all comes together, and when it does it's called MEMORIES OF MATSUKO.

December 22, 2006 at 01:35 PM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (7)


A sharp-eyed reader just informed me that according to Apple Daily one of the directors of Johnie To's PTU TV series is...wait for it...wait for it...Lawrence Lau. Did you not feel your heart just skip a beat? No? Then you may not be familiar with Lawrence who is, in my oh-so-humble, Variety-sanctioned, well-paid and tremendously well-considered opinion, one of the best directors in Hong Kong. If I had to organize a retro of great, realtively unsung Hong Kong directors he'd top the list (Po Chi-leung would run a close second).

He's made three movies - GANGS, QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET and SPACKED OUT - that are classics in Hong Kong cinema. He gets amazing performances from amateurs and veterans alike, he's uniquely sensitive to actresses and he's got a fabulous eye for seemingly casual compositions. He's like Fruit Chan without the aspirations to high art. This is the best Christmas present I could receive.

December 22, 2006 at 01:21 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


This is news to me. Studio 4C's upcoming feature animation, TEKKONKINKREET (aka TEKKON KINKURITO) based on the manga known in the States as "Black & White" is directed by a white guy. Huh??!?? Is this the first Japanese theatrical anime to be directed by a whitey? You can read all about Michael Arias in an interview with Patrick Macias. And here's Patrick breaking down the tale of how this came to be.

(See a trailer for the film)

December 22, 2006 at 12:32 PM in Interviews, News, Trailers | Permalink | Comments (2)


THE MYTH has been picked up by a US distributor Over on his obsessive compulsive diary, Jackie Chan reveals that THE MYTH has been picked up by a US distributor who plan a theatrical release in 2007. He's been recording the English dub track (which he hates doing) and he had a really bad dinner. Then comes one of the most insightful posts of his career, which might explain why he hasn't given a lot of support to DVDs of his movies:

"I worked so fast yesterday that I was able to finish early.  I was really happy that I was done. Since there was still time, they asked me to do a commentary on the entire film for the DVD. Ugggh!! I didn’t really want to do it because I’ve already seen the film over a thousand times. Now I had to sit there, watch it and talk about it."

But then he tries the commentary and lo and behold!

"As soon as I started doing it, believe it or not, I had a lot of fun. Talking about the film brought back so many good memories of making the film. I felt really comfortable, as if I was sharing stories with my friends."

Too bad he didn't learn this until the end of 2006.

By the way: English dub track? "Let's just record an audio commentary real quick, k?" Does this smell like a straight-to-video release to anyone else?

December 22, 2006 at 12:15 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 21, 2006


Best of lists are busting out all over It's that time of year when Best of lists are busting out all over and the same movies show up again and again and again, awards go to the movies you thought awards would go to and so on and so forth. Here's the rundown:

- the list of Hong Kong's top-grossing artists have been released with Aaron Kwok heading the pack (HK$105,380,000), Andy Lau coming in second with about half that (HK$68,380,000) and in a surprising upset, Joey Yung (#3) outgrosses the Twins (#4) by HK$4 million.

- THE HOST has cleaned up at Korea's Blue Dragon awards, including "Best Picture", "Best Supporting Actor" (Byun Hee-Bong), "Best New Actress" (Ko Ah-Sung), "Best Technical Achievement" and "Best Lighting". RADIO STAR stars Ahn Sung-Ki and Park Joong-Hoon shared "Best Actor" and Kim Hyee-Soo won "Best Actress" for TAZZA: THE HIGH ROLLERS. "Best Director" went to FAMILY TIES director, Kim Tae-Yong. KING AND THE CLOWN got one award: "Best Music".

- the Rotterdam Film Festival is honoring Johnnie To in a sidebar next year. The Berlin Film Festival will honor 50's and 60's director Kihachi Okamoto.

-the Japanese Academy Awards were announced with Yoji Yamada's LOVE AND HONOR hitting 12, SUITE DREAMS in at 11 and HULA GIRLS at 10. But the star of LOVE AND HONOR, Takuya Kimura, turned down his "Best Actor" nomination. His manager, the agency Johnny & Associates, gave the weird explanation that it didn't "want to put him in a position of competing with other actors for the prize." Uh, okay.

-Film Comment's critics poll for 2006 is out, with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA coming in at #16 for best film of the year and then for unreleased movies we had SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY at #1, THE HOST at #2, Tsai Ming-liang's I DON'T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE at #4, STILL LIFE at #6, TRIAD ELECTION at #13, IN BETWEEN DAYS (#15), and THE GO MASTER (#19).

- Indiewire's poll is out, and it's basically the old Village Voice poll, run by Dennis Lim, but over at Indiewire instead of the Voice. THREE TIMES comes in at #6 and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA at #19. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT is the #10 undistributed film with 6 votes (one of them mine) and you can read the list I sent them.

These Best of lists are a pain because you have to know what exactly constitutes a release: can a 1996 movie released in NYC in 2006 count as a 2006 movie? What about something like PAPRIKA? I didn't put it, THE HOST or ELECTION 2 on my list of undistributed movies because they're all getting distributed next year. But this kind of thing can be frustrating - proving the point that it's still hard to see foreign movies the year they're released.

A real "Best of" list will show up here tomorrow - only Asian movies movies released in 2006.

December 21, 2006 at 10:02 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (9)


Wisekwai has the first look at DYNAMITE WARRIOR, the Panna Rittikrai flick coming from Magnolia next year, and he seems pretty blown away. Read his comments, including his thoughts on the trailers he saw, or read more about the movie.

Dynamite Warrior

December 21, 2006 at 09:59 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 19, 2006


NANA 2 premiere

Last night, New York-Tokyo held a screening of NANA 2 over at the IFC Center with stars Mika Nakashima and Yui Ichikawa present, as well as about 20 people from TBS covering the event, and an enormous crowd of Mika Nakashima suicide bomber-intensity level fans who were there with one mission: love Mika. There was a Q&A after the screening which was pretty uninteresting (Q: Which Ren did you like working with more? A: I liked working on both movies.), leavened only by a few Mika fans who would get so worked up that they couldn't ask their question and would have to sit back down again, with their friends furiously fanning their flushed faces.

And what about the movie? Well, have you ever had a really good friend who you enjoyed, and then you hear that something bad has happened to them? You figure, it can't be so bad. I mean, how bad could it be, right? Then you see the friend and they're dead. But they've come back to life as a reanimated corpse. They limp along slowly, moaning underneath their breath, a shambling, lifeless, bloodless, stiff zombie.

That's NANA 2.

At 130 minutes this was one of the most painful viewing experiences of my adult life. The original NANA started slowly and took a while to warm up, but once it wove its wooly spell I was hooked. It ambled along at the lurching, uneven rhythm of a friendship and with truly charismatic acting jobs by its two Nanas: Aoi Miyazaki as frilly, friendly Nana and Mika Nakashima as the rock n'roll rebel Nana. This time out the director is still Kentaro Otani but several cast members have been replaced: Yui Ichikawa has replaced Aoi Miyazaki, Nobuo Kyou has replaced Ryuhei Matsuda as Ren (the object of Nana Dark's affections) and Hongo Kanata has become Shinichi Okazaki (the youngest member of Nana Dark's band, the Black Stones) kicking Ken'ichi Matsuyama to the curb.

The casting changes weren't a good idea. The only actors who come out of this mess alive are Mika Nakashima, and Takumi and Nobuo (the character not the actor playing Ren) and they were all veterans from the original film. Yui Ichikawa does the best she can with her role as Nana Light, and she looks the part, but her acting is largely over-acting and she boils her performance down to two gestures she repeats incessantly: lowering her head in shame and beatifically clutching her womb and glowing. Next to the new Ren, however, she looks like Brando. Looking like Ryuhei Matsuda if he'd taken to the bottle and was now living on the street, Nobuo Kyou has a bloated, dissolute face, little to do in the movie, and in the one scene where he takes his shirt off you wish he'd put it back on again ASAP.

Sucked of all life, moving at the pace of a glacier, edited poorly and overall just completely stillborn in every way, NANA 2 actually has the most interesting psychology of the series, with the two Nanas falling out and moving on as Nana Light embraces her own hollowness, and Nana Dark actually starts to perk up and become successful. The movie ends at the same point that the current manga series ends, which is an unsatisfying point to reach since the manga series isn't even over yet. It's as if the STAR WARS movies ended with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. You got the feeling lots of subplots had been sliced out of the movie, but at 130 minutes you have to wonder how painfully long the rough cut was. For a flick about "the kids" and Tokyo and rock and roll this movie was DOA.

NANA 2 premiere

December 19, 2006 at 08:24 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (8)

December 18, 2006


Pen-ek Ratanaruang (LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, INVISIBLE WAVES) is best known for taking Christopher Doyle and Tadanobu Asano, retreating to a hidden location, and producing a very strange movie some time later. But now he's teamed up with Nike and made a 40-minute DV film called TOTAL BANGKOK that sings the praises of soccer (football to most of the civilized world).

A documentary shot on a makeshift soccer pitch beneath an overpass, the flick is already getting high marks for its relentless energy and its cast of real world oddballs, and that's perfectly understandable when you see who Pen-ek teamed up with to make the movie: Santi Taepanich, director of the amazing documentary CRYING TIGERS. If you haven't seen CRYING TIGERS then please complain loudly. There's not an English-subtitled version out there but it's an amazing Asian movie that's fallen between the cracks in the West. I saw a bad VHS transfer over a year ago and it movie blew me away.

But, as if to spit in the eye of directors who make short movies like this, it's just been revealed that Thai period epic, KING NARESUAN, isn't going to be a two-part movie, but a three-part movie. According to Wisekwai, major battle scenes are still being shot, the January 18 release date still seems to be set in stone, the movie doesn't have a script, and the final running time looks to be 7 hours. Folly, or art? On the plus side of the ledger, it's a big budget historical epic and it's directed by an actual prince. We can only wait until January when parts one and two come out, followed by part three at the end of 2007 to know for sure. (I can't tell if the trailer looks really good or pretty bad - but you can find it on the official website)


December 18, 2006 at 12:28 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


THE PAINTED VEIL CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER opened in China over the weekend and it made so much money that the entire country has run out of cash and people are having to buy their groceries with barter. Every citizen has seen CURSE twelve times, driving its box office sky high. If you stacked up all the money it made in just five seconds, that stack would reach Mars! The People's Liberation Army were brought in to tear tickets so there wasn't a riot! OHMIGOD! The world has never witnessed anything like this before! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! China rules the waves!
(note: all box office figures, in every country, are self-reported)

The China-shot Anthony Wong/Edward Norton movie, THE PAINTED VEIL, is getting its first reviews and they're mixed. Variety praises the "intelligent script" and "solid thesping" which is exactly what my wife said to me after the last time we got romantic. But they say it's too "old school" and "remote" to be very good. In a blatant act of heresy, Anthony Wong is not mentioned once, even though Diana Rigg gets a shout-out for her role as a Mother Superior. When grading my romantic technique my wife usually mentions Anthony Wong at least twice, so she's twice as good as Variety.

Over in ScreenDaily, THE PAINTED VEIL is "palpably alive" and "heart-rending". But they don't mention Anthony Wong either, besides a sideways reference to the fact that the movie "features several Chinese name cast." Which is either ungrammatical, or an example of ScreenDaily trying to do Variety industry-speak.

Shamed by this slight against Anthony Wong, China reasserts its supremacy by announcing that the title song in THE PAINTED VEIL is sung by 2006 Super Girls winner, Shang Wenjie. The song is "A La Claire Fontaine" which is French, but that's no problem for the new Chinese singing idol who's one of the top-rated French translators in Shanghai.

The triumphant article in CriEnglish describes the movie as featuring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. But Anthony Wong isn't mentioned.

December 18, 2006 at 12:17 PM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 15, 2006


Jackie Chan Title number two from the Weinstein Company's Dragon Dynasty line was the one I really was excited about: POLICE STORY. Jackie Chan's classic action flick is a great movie and one that I've never thought got the DVD treatment it deserved. What it deserves is a two-disc set with tons and tons of extras, but that largely depends on the co-operation of Jackie Chan and Co. and from what I understand he doesn't give much assistance to people trying to preserve his legacy.

That said, the new POLICE STORY disc isn't the triumph I had hoped it would be, and I don't think it's the definitive disc of this movie. It is, however, the best treatment of the film that may be possible right now. Running Man, who posts on this blog quite a bit, has a full, complete, insanely comprehensive look at the disc posted and it's the best comparison of this disc to the other versions of the movie out there. He compares the video quality, the subtitle translation, the extras, everything. So if that's what you want then go read his review. There's side-by-side shot comparisons...everything that I'm too lazy to do.

The most controversial aspect of the disc is the participation of Brett Ratner, the highly successful and widely disliked director of RUSH HOUR and X-MEN 3. Ratner was obviously included as an attempt to help the movie find some mainstream traction, and what I find odd about it is that his name isn't plastered all over the box in the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" manner. It doesn't bother me, but it would seem to make a lot of sense to trumpet his participation if the goal is to use his name as a mark of quality.

There's two places where Ratner participates: he and Bey Logan do an audio commentary and he and Bey Logan present a "Tribute to Jackie Chan". The "Tribute" is pretty worthless. A quick snippet of Bey introducing Ratner and then Ratner talks for a few minutes about how awesome Jackie Chan is. Next. The audio commentary isn't the disaster I expected, either. Bey is his typical self, dropping the factoids, speculating on how things were done, doing his best to put the movie in context. Ratner says a lot, but he's mostly wrong (Brigitte Lin is not Maggie Cheung no matter how hard you wish it was so) but he comes across as a harmless enthusiast rather than as some kind of monster. He obviously loves the movie but he doesn't have a whole lot to add beyond his love.

There are outtakes and deleted scenes that are very nice to have. Two big thumbs up for those.

There's also "Stunts Unlimited: A Retrospective with Members of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team" that is basically interviews with Benny Lai, Mars and Fung Hak-on broken up with clips from the film. It's a great extra and while the editing is a little repetitive (guy speaks, cut to clips, guy speaks, cut to clips, guy speaks, cut to clips) the information is great.

The best extra is a brief conversation with Jackie, himself. 20 years later he has a vivid memory of the production and he's a great storyteller. He's willing to look bad in his stories and to not always be the hero, and even though his English gets downright impenetrable at times he's riveting to watch and listen to.

The overall design of the disc is okay, a little anonymous, but not bad. The video transfer didn't look perfect to me, but I'm not good at this kind of thing. There seemed to be a black mist over a lot of the brighter shots, and while it was very, very faint and is probably just something natural like grain, I did notice it.

Overall, this disc is good, but not great. The Dragon Dynasty line have done a terrific job with the SPL DVD, a good (but not definitive) job with POLICE STORY, so let's see what's next. This disc is far better than it could have been, but we're still not at the Criterion level yet where great design, penetrating extras, and pristine transfers are combined into one awe-inspiring package. So far you get the impression that they're doing the best they have with what they got.

December 15, 2006 at 12:09 PM in DVD Reviews | Permalink | Comments (11)



As the release date for TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER approaches, Magnolia has posted their official page for TEARS, complete with trailer. I'm so excited to see this movie that I have a hard time staying in my pants, but this trailer has completely robbed me of my excitement. Little more than a bunch of clips strung together, and waaay too long, it's hard to believe someone could take such a visually exciting movie with such an amazing back story and turn it into this pile of blah.

On the other hand, check out the Japanese trailer for ELECTION. A sharp-eyed reader sent it in and I've already watched it twice. This is what a trailer should look like.

But the Japanese have lots of experience with things like this. Check out MANDOM, a 70's TV ad Charles Bronson did in Japan and prepare to feel the top of your skull lift off and your brain hover out and zoom around the room.

(Thanks to the KineJapan mailing list for the Mandom trailer)

December 15, 2006 at 11:45 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (7)


A sharp-eyed reader reports that Ringo Lam has started shooting his segment of the three part Johnnie To/Tsui Hark/Ringo Lam movie, TRIANGLE.

That is all.

December 15, 2006 at 11:25 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 14, 2006


Kieu Chinh ImaginAsian, the Asian film company that I'm consulting for, is releasing its first movie in March, 2007: JOURNEY FROM THE FALL. It's the story of what happened in Vietnam after the war was over in '75 and while it's occasionally over-the-top and has some awkward moments (it's the director's first feature, after all), it's also a really powerful movie through virtue of the fact that the story is insane (and true) and the actors are terrific. I've been putting together the press notes for the film and I recently had to write a new bio for Kieu Chinh.

You've probably seen Kieu Chinh before: she was the older mother in THE JOY LUCK CLUB and she's been on more TV shows than I've had hot dinners. I had to interview her over the phone to get some bio details and she started telling me the story of her life and I was, frankly, blown away. Below is the bio for the press kit, and while it's a little dry and bio-ish it's also...well, read it for yourself. Vietnam. Don Johnson. And a major actor whose career just went missing one day.

Born in North Vietnam, Kieu Chinh has had two separate careers. In America, she has appeared in dozens of movies, from GLEAMING THE CUBE to THE JOY LUCK CLUB. She’s also played roles on almost every American TV show, from her first job on  “M*A*S*H” to a recurring role on “Dynasty”, with appearances on “Chicago Hope”, “Fantasy Island” and “ER” in between. But before that she was one of Asia’s most famous actresses and a producer who shot a movie on the front lines during the Vietnam War and was arrested in Singapore as she escaped from Vietnam just two weeks after she had been in town doing press for one of her movies. Her filmography reaches almost a hundred films.

Chin2 Kieu Chinh’s mother died during World War II, when Chinh was very young. She emigrated for the first time in 1954 during the IndoChina War when France split Vietnam into two parts, Northern and Southern, and the Geneva Agreement gave everyone 300 days to decide where to live. Chinh’s family split into three parts: her sister moved to France, her father and only brother decided to stay in the North, and Chinh moved to South Vietnam. She never saw her brother or father again.

In 1957 she starred in her first film, THE BELLS OF THIEN MU TEMPLE and she soon became one of Vietnam’s most popular personalities. Speaking fluent Vietnamese, French and English she worked all over Southeast Asia, making movies in Japan, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore. She also appeared in several American co-productions in Asia, including THE DEVIL WITHIN shot in India by Twentieth Century Fox, A YANK IN VIETNAM shot by Allied Artists, OPERATION: CIA with Burt Reynolds and DESTINATION: VIETNAM shot by Paramount.

Then, at the height of the Vietnam War, in 1972, she produced and starred in WARRIOR, WHO ARE YOU? her most popular movie, shot on the front lines and cast almost entirely with soldiers. The male lead was played by a Lieutenant Colonel in the Special Forces and Chinh toured with the movie around the world, including the then-massive Asian Film Festival where she won “Best Actress” and the movie won “Best Movie Against the War”.

As the Northern Vietnamese army approached Saigon in April, 1975, Chinh realized her life was in danger and she fled Vietnam on the last Pan Am flight to leave the country. Arriving in Singapore, where she had been two weeks earlier promoting her latest movie, she was immediately arrested at the airport because her passport was issued by a country, Vietnam, that no longer existed. From jail she managed to get in touch with some crew members she knew from a previous shoot and they bailed her out, but the Singapore government gave her 24 hours to leave the country. At the time, under international law, if an individual was in a country when his or her country fell to a communist government they would become a resident of the country through which they were traveling. Chinh’s friends bought her a round-the-world ticket so that she could go from country to country, airport to airport, waiting for Saigon to fall. She flew from Singapore to Bangkok, then Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo. Confined to the airports, she was in each country for only a few hours. She continued to Paris, London and finally she landed in Canada on April 30, 1975. That same day, Saigon fell and she officially became a refugee. 

Chinh had fled Vietnam in a t-shirt and a pair of jeans with nothing but her pocketbook containing now-useless Vietnamese currency and her address book. Making her way to a social services agency called Welcome House, Chinh was given some donated clothing, $75 for food, and a series of interviews with job placement agencies. She went from interview to interview and when they asked her what she could do and she responded “I’m an actress,” they would laugh and tell her that they weren’t running a casting agency. Finally she landed work hosing out the pens on a massive chicken farm. For several days she spent 10 hours a day cleaning the excrement from thousands of chickens for $2.15 an hour. At night she burnt up the phone lines, calling everyone she knew in Hollywood: Burt Reynolds, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Danny Kaye, but she could never get through to them. Finally, as a last resort she called Tippi Hedren whom she had met just once when Hedren was a guest on Chinh’s talk show.

“Right away she remembered me and I was crying and crying. She said ‘I will help you’ and she sent me a ticket and signed all kinds of paperwork to sponsor me to come to the US. She opened her arms and her heart to me,” Chinh remembers.

Once she arrived in Los Angeles, Chinh faced other problems. She didn’t have a Screen Actors Guild card, nor did she have an agent. So it was back to minimum wage. For six months she would take three buses every day to get to her job with a Catholic Charity working with refugees, for $500/month. In the meantime, Tippi Hedren, her then son-in-law Don Johnson, William Holden and director Robert Wise began writing letters to the Screen Actors Guild and the William Morris Agency on behalf of Chinh. Finally, as the year drew to a close, Chinh received her SAG card and the William Morris Agency agreed to represent her. Her first job was on Episode 607 of “M*A*S*H*”, an episode written by Alan Alda and loosely based on her own life story.

Kieu Chinh Since then she has received an Emmy in 1996 for her television documentary “Kieu Chinh: A Journey Home,” a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 Vietnamese Film Festival and a Special Acting Award at the Women’s Film Festival in Turin, Italy.

Now living in Southern California, Kieu Chinh actively supports cultural and social causes. In 1992, together with journalist Terry Anderson, Kieu Chinh co-founded the Vietnam Children’s Fund, and helped raise millions of dollars to build 61 schools for Vietnamese children.

And that's one to grow on.

December 14, 2006 at 07:21 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 13, 2006


China China continues to be the land where reality does not affect what comes out of the mouths of government officials. As foreign investment in the Chinese movie and television industry gets beaten like a red-headed stepchild, Zhu Hong, general office director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, says "China will stick to the opening and reform policy in the broadcasting, film and TV industry."

He then went on to say that the view that China was making foreign investment harder was actually wrong and that just the opposite was true: foreign investment was getting easier.

"China's broadcasting, film and TV industry is experiencing a deep reform which involves unprecedented areas and far-reaching effects."

It's a deep reform which recently eliminated the ability of foreign companies to hold minority shares in Chinese production companies. So now, foreign investors have to work on a movie-by-movie basis and set up a new financial structure for each project rather than being able to set up a co-production company in China that allows them to co-produce several movies or TV programs through one venture.

At the earlier press conference announcing those changes, Zhu was present to say, "Our policy is to temporarily not approve the creation of new joint companies. People can jointly invest in filming individual movies and individual television dramas, but we are not going to approve the creation of program production companies."

At the same conference, Zhu said that foreign TV channels, like Star TV, would not have their broadcast rights expanded. Currently, Star TV can only broadcast to luxury hotels, some apartment buildings for foreigners, and a little wee bit of Southern Guangdong.

Sounds like that market is busting open!

December 13, 2006 at 09:15 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Over in Japan, Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima pic, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, has been doing quite well at the box office. Total weekend attendance was 393,000 (493 million yen) with the box office being only 86% of THE LAST SAMURAI but 263% of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, Clint Eastwood's companion film told from the American perspective.

NANA 2, on the other hand, was a movie that a lot of folks (myself included) thought would turn out to be the year's final feather in the "Japan rules the Japanese box office" cap. Unfortunately, it's tanking hard and fast. It opened over the weekend and made 170 million yen, a mere 31% of the original NANA's opening. Bloggers in Japan suspect that it has less to do with Yui Ichikawa replacing Aoi Miyazaki and more to do with the near-constant reports of strife and tension on the set as well as the lack of TV advertising.

(Thanks to HogaCentral for the news)

December 13, 2006 at 08:44 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


Anticipating the round of "Host" inspired headlines that are bound to break out like a rash once this flick comes to America in March, 2007 the title of this post is my own lame attempt at same. Forgive me.

But a sharp-eyed reader writes in to point out that THE HOST is not doing that well overseas. The numbers, please:

THE HOST sold to Japan for US$4.7 million. So far it has only made about half that money at the box office since its release back in September.

Over in the land of the baguette, THE HOST opened on 223 screens, more than even JET LI'S FEARLESS or 2046. After two weeks it has sold  134, 368 tickets which isn't bad, but it also isn't that great for a movie which is on so many screens.

United Kingdom
Opening on 45 screens (more than either INFERNAL AFFAIRS or BATTLE ROYALE), THE HOST has made US$247,466 after four weeks. Not bad, frankly, but INFERNAL AFFAIRS made $526,983 and BATTLE ROYALE made $369,613. On less screens.

The upshot is that THE HOST isn't living up to expectations outside of Korea. It's still a good, heck it's a great, movie. But for some reason it can't seem to get that blockbuster traction at the box office. I wonder if this kind of damp reception around the world is going to temper Magnolia's fever for the film?

December 13, 2006 at 08:06 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (10)

December 12, 2006


Park Chan-Wook's I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OKAY opened in Korea over the weekend and...donk. The movie has pulled in only 472,000 admissions over the weekend and while that's not enough to sink it, it means that it's going to be a DUELIST-sized hit and not some kind of massive blockbuster.

Granted, Park doesn't have to hit it out of the park every time up to bat, but with a major pop star like Rain on board I expected better numbers.

December 12, 2006 at 10:51 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)


VALLEY OF THE WOLVES: IRAQ Man, what's up with Jewish people? Can't they let anyone have a good time? My wife is Jewish and I thought it was just her, but it turns out that it's all of them who want to rain on my parade. Wear a Hitler outfit for Halloween? Can't do that. Make a movie about Jews killing Jesus? You can do it if you're Mel Gibson, but everyone else is screwed. Get arrested and blame your arrest on a global Jewish conspiracy? Can't even do that anymore. And now they won't let us watch VALLEY OF THE WOLVES: IRAQ.

A few weeks ago we said that VALLEY OF THE WOLVES: IRAQ was coming to American screens from the fine folks at Filmmates. They even issued a press release saying:

"We are pleased to be working with an exciting new filmmaker and to bring his vision and storytelling to U.S. audiences through the distribution of 'Valley of the Wolves: Iraq. This film has been a resounding international success, and we expect considerable additional attention with its U.S. release."

Later in the press release - further proof that they either didn't watch the film or that their heads are full of mashed potatoes:

"Given the attention that this film has already received internationally, the addition of 'Valley of the Wolves: Iraq' to FilmMates Entertainment distribution channels is an important milestone in the company's development. By acquiring theatrical and home video distribution of this film, FilmMates Entertainment has raised its profile in the movie industry as well as increasing its long-term revenue potential and value for ECC shareholders."

That would be John Bailey, chief executive officer for Entertainment Capital Corporation and Jay Malla Maldonado, senior vice president of development for FilmMates Entertainment, claiming that they think it's a great idea to bring a movie to America that's basically received a "shoot on sight" order from every media outlet in the country. Shareholders, do not let these men touch your money.

But still, I was excited that someone cared so little for financial success that they were bringing this film to America. I wanted to be there on opening night with my box of nachos and a Big Gulp, ready to be appalled in a way that I haven't been appalled in a cinema since I watched LITTLE MAN. And then...

The film was dropped from release schedules without an explanation. The only thing we can find is a letter from the ADL Chairwoman and the National Director to the Turkish Ambassador in Washington, DC stating that they are concerned about the anti-Semitism in the movie. It's the only smoking gun out there so I'm going to follow a time honored principle and "when in doubt, blame the jews."

On the one hand I'm annoyed that people are protesting a movie they haven't seen (if they have seen it then I'm annoyed they're buying bootlegs), on the other hand...duh.

(Thanks to Jennifer Young for sending this in)

(PS - you know, no one's really sure that the letter from the ADL caused the film to be dropped, but I'm blogging here so if someone else says it then I get to say it, too.)

December 12, 2006 at 10:31 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (9)



"Where's Maggie Q?" Americans have been breathlessly asking since her emaciated frame jangled like a scarecrow marionette in M:I:3. "Where is she? Ever since Angelina Jolie disappeared we need an actress who can fit into tight spaces like pipes and tubes and drains." Relax, America. I have found Maggie Q and she is in a most excellent place. She is in the side-splitting new comedy BALLS OF FURY. You do not think a movie starring Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q and Dan Fogler (of course! Dan Fogler) is side-splitting? Then check out this trailer. If that doesn't make your whole body hurt like your sides have been split open by hairy trolls with bloody axes then I don't know what will. Even the title is funny. BALLS OF FURY and the movie is about ping pong, but it's also like ENTER THE DRAGON which was by Bruce Lee who also made a movie called FISTS OF FURY and balls are another word for testicles. "From the creators of 'Reno 911'" - ah, that explains it.

If that doesn't hurt you enough, then Wisekwai has ruined a movie I was looking forward to: the Thai time-traveling pop flick, THE POSSIBLE. A can't go wrong concept (Thai pop band from the 60's travels to 2006 via a magic microphone)! And can't go wrong costumes (giant afro wigs are always funny)! And yet Wisekwai says it's not that good. I didn't believe him until I watched the trailer. And it blistered my face with bad movie pain. (24FramesperSecond provided the trailer link - blame them)

Then I wanted to relax by watching a ginormous, corporate shadow puppet show that Jason Gray taped on his cell phone one night in Shibuya. A promo for Xbox 360, it's kind of abstract and weird, but not enough giant monsters. Come on - if the Xbox people were giving you a million dollars to do a shadow puppet show couldn't you come up with something better? Say, something that involved more than one giant monster?

Overall I am disappointed in the human race.

Thai time-traveling pop flick, THE POSSIBLE

December 12, 2006 at 08:27 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (5)

December 11, 2006


Ayako Wakao in RED ANGEL

War is hell. Dur. But it's even more hellish for women because at least until recently they didn't get guns and in World War II a lot of them were nurses. And soldiers aren't exactly nice people. And WW II wasn't exactly a shining moment for anyone involved until afterwards when everyone started getting on the same page with the stories they were going to tell. But during the War it was mostly a lot of shooting, a lot of screaming, a lot of Really Bad Things in general. Welcome to Yasuzo Masumura's RED ANGEL, a 1966 movie that pulls an exquisitely cruel bait and switch in the first reel.

A perky young woman talks about being transferred to a field hospital. Battalions of nurses in starched uniforms swoop through the wards like angels of mercy. Surgeons bend over their operating tables intent on snatching back one more life from the jaws of death. RED ANGEL opens with these images told in stiff, formal, black and white photography and, lulled into a bit of a stupor, you settle in for a standard issue hospital movie, albeit one set during the start of World War II. Then the lovely Nurse Nishi (Ayako Wakao) does her night time rounds and the patients hold her down and gang rape her and that's when you know that you're not in happy hospital land anymore, you're in a version of MASH with the blood and guts amplified beyond the point of human endurance and the kink factor turned up to "11."

Red Angel 1939 (I'm pretty sure it's 1939), RED ANGEL starts off like a kick in the head and once you go down it just keeps kicking. Nurse Nishi is screwed both literally and figuratively after her rape: she gets revenge, but she also gets sent to a hospital on the front lines in Manchuria because getting raped isn't in her job description. This is the equivalent to getting transfered to hell. The surgical theater is awash in blood, buckets of amputated legs are tossed out the door to make room for buckets of amputated arms, and some of the most horrendous images of surgery you'll ever be unfortunate enough to see are burned into your brain. You'll be very glad that this movie is in black and white.

Nurse Nishi tries to wring some meaning from the war, whether it's through her work as a nurse or through her love of a junkie surgeon who reminds her of her father. And her love of an amputee. And she runs into that original rapist again and tries to love him, too. As psychologically interior as a novel, RED ANGEL is roped to Nurse Nishi's desperate attempts to have a meaningful life and make a difference in the middle of an insane super-slaughter that reduces human life to having little more value than a log of wood. Shot in stark b&w on sets that barely have enough room for actors to squeeze around each other and where all the blasted brick and concrete is oozing with blood and oil, this flick feels as claustrophobic, as kinky, and as intense as ERASERHEAD or Guy Maddin's TALES FROM THE GIMLI HOSPITAL.

This new disc from Fantoma is a perfectly fine version of the film, with a text bio of Masumura and the movie's theatrical trailer. Masumura, director of BLIND BEAST and GIANTS AND TOYS (he was considered one of Japan's greatest directors in the 60's and 70's and Antonioni even left his death bed to attend a Masumura retrospective) keeps his story moving and no scene is complete without the revelation of some hidden psychological perversion or some new twist of the narrative knife. The Western press paints a picture of Japan as a country that has never come to terms with what it did in World War II, but RED ANGEL is one of the most honest movies to be made about the war. The wages of military expansionism aren't just examined, but slopped around in. While you wait for Clint Eastwood's LETTER FROM IWO JIMA (which is reportedly amazing) to arrive, you should check out the Japanese point of view in RED ANGEL, as well. It'll haunt you for days to come.

(you can buy RED ANGEL here)

December 11, 2006 at 10:00 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 08, 2006


Four Star theater in San Francisco

What a way to end the week. After years of legal battles and a lengthy court process in which, frankly, the owners of the Four Star didn't really have a leg to stand on, Frank Lee and his wife have stared down the Canaan Lutheran Church and saved the Four Star Theater. The church feels victimized and they say that it's not worth the bad blood to keep fighting and they've sold the theater to Frank for $1.45 million.

The Canaanites' lawyer says:

"With all the adverse publicity and politics, it would have been an uphill battle to build their church. So they bit the bullet and sold it, at an overall loss, to the Lees. Now the church is back to square one. These are good citizens who have tried to do the right thing. But they didn't want to throw good money after bad  --  it's not a wealthy church."

Frank's first plan? To renovate.

This is good news for San Franciscans and for everyone who wants diversity in movie-going. It's not a solution but it's a step in the right direction. And for that we all get a very special appearance by Darth Kitty. Have a great weekend, everyone. And, Frank? Start painting.

(Thanks to Jennifer Young and Adam Douglas for sending this in the second her delicate nostrils scented the whiff of news)

Hello Darth Kitty

December 8, 2006 at 11:26 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


Japanrules Japan can't stop dominating things. Now it's the domestic box office. Jason Gray sums it up:

- 400 new movies this year...more than at any time since 1977!
- 5 of the box office top ten are Japanese movies, and it may go up with NANA 2 out this weekend.
- 6 Japanese films have broken $5 billion yen...the Big Hit Gold Standard! An all-time record!
- Japanese movies are at a 47% box office share - highest since 1988!

Yoji Yamada's LOVE AND HONOR, about a blind swordsman, also opened last weekend (this weekend is NANA 2 - don't forget to set your watches to NANA time) and Marc Schilling gives it a rave in the Japanese Times while Aaron Gerow in the Daily Yomiuri basically pans it. Either way, it kicked CASINO ROYALE out of the number one spot on its opening weekend and CASINO was on more screens. Ha!

You know what? Hollywood cinema is like a cockroach, and Japanese cinema is like a wily samurai. Look! A visual!

Or maybe Japanese cinema is a virile mugger and American cinema is a helpless victim that can only do step aerobics while robotically intoning "Spare Me My Life" and "Take anything you want" . A visual!

(Thanks to the KineJapan mailing list for the video)

December 8, 2006 at 10:29 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


SEVEN SWORDS is straight to video The Weinstein Company extends its tentacles all over the place this week. One tentacle bought all English-language rights to Shinya Tsukamoto's NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE: UK, US, Australia, Canada. This was the best movie I saw at Pusan and I had the hots for it something bad. I'm guessing they wound up paying in the $100,000 - $150,000 range for it. Although they might have paid $200,000 since they did pick up everything. The best thing about NIGHTMARE is that it's extremely remake and franchise friendly. Tsukamoto's already working on NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE 2 and 3 and he should be. This is TETSUO meets THE X-FILES.

A sharp-eyed reader, and a few others, send in the info that Tsui Hark's SEVEN SWORDS will be going straight-to-DVD in January, which is hardly a surprise. Some people liked this movie but I wasn't one of them. It's a two-disc set and it's streeting January 2, 2007.

I also just received my POLICE STORY disc so expect a review early next week. The cover is sort of anonymous and I don't understand why they aren't able to find higher-profile publications to blurb on the front of the boxes, but I'm expecting a bang-up disc when I finally pop it into my player.

December 8, 2006 at 10:06 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (13)

December 07, 2006


Jet Li has just finished his mansion in Shanghai and is getting ready to move his entire family from the US to Shanghai which is the hometown of his current wife. The mansion is three separate three-storey buildings, coming in at about 15,000 square feet. The buildings are connected underground tunnels. And that is the coolest thing I've heard all day.

The press is calling it the biggest Chinese celebrity mansion in the world. Which means that Jackie Chan will be building an even bigger one next year.

December 7, 2006 at 09:30 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (9)


Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau You know what's wrong with Peter Chan? After making some great movies like COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY (is there a more perfect romantic film?) he got caught up in business and stopped shooting films for all intents and purposes. Sure, he did PERHAPS LOVE, and the "Going Home" segment of THREE. And he produced DUMPLINGS. But that's not enough.

So now Peter Chan wants to make me happy. He's put together Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau and announced that he's got US$40 million in the bank to shoot CI MA ("This Violent Land") his massive, martial arts period piece. Set to be released at the end of 2007, the flick is based on a Qing Dynasty story, "The Assasination of Ma" which Chang Cheh filmed as BLOOD BROTHERS back in 1973.

Jet Li, having to live down his "I'm retiring from kung fu movies" statement used to promote FEARLESS says that this isn't a martial arts movie, it's a movie about friendship. Well if it's not a martial arts movie then what's he doing in it?

December 7, 2006 at 09:05 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (5)


Derek Yee's heroin saga, PROTEGE Thanks to the reader who sent this in and to the Little Film Company for hosting this. What is "this"? "This" is an extremely long trailer/promo reel for Derek Yee's heroin saga, PROTEGE. There are some major spoilers about halfway through, so check out after the first 45 seconds or so if you don't want anything ruined. And there's some anti-drug hysteria that feels very old fashioned in the "junkie" parts of the promo, but for those of us who feared that this would be a long educational film this trailer pretty much erases that concern. Lots of action. Production values that look sky high. And some unexpected acting moments from Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. I'm now officially excited by this movie - which is coming in Spring 2007.

To view, go here and enter
username: protege
password: gethigh

And prepare to be dazzled at least by the money onscreen if by nothing else. Also, you can see the official website here.

December 7, 2006 at 08:45 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 05, 2006


THE TASTE OF TEA Viz has picked up modern day Japanese classic, THE TASTE OF TEA, and is releasing it on Feb. 9, 2007. It's playing in NYC at the ImaginAsian and god only knows where else.

You can read all about the movie elsewhere, but I just wanted to say that one of the great movie-going experiences of my life was watching TASTE in the New York Asian Film Festival last year. I was dreading it: the last film of the run at the Anthology Film Archives, the air conditioner was hardly working, the screening was over-sold, and this 2 and a half hour movie started at around 9:30. We were running late, as usual, so by the time the projectors sparked to life it was closer to 10pm. And Sunday's a schoolnight!

I have never seen an audience so into a movie. There were two moments of spontaneous applause that ripped across that auditorium (if you've seen the movie you can probably guess where) and people stayed through the credits. It was hot, it was stuffy, it smelt like BO but for almost three hours a movie did what it was supposed to do: it moved me, it showed me something I'd never seen before (well, I had but you know what I mean) and it took my mind to another planet. And the best thing was that it did it for all 230 of us simultaneously. We were all there, all together, all waiting for what came next and all hoping that it would never end.

I'm bringing a lot of emotions to the table on this one that probably weren't there, but this is how I remember it, and I had the same experience a year later when we screened the director's next film FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT. Forget reviews. Forget thinking. Forget analysis. Movies like this just Are. And sometimes that's more than enough.

December 5, 2006 at 11:20 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


Satoshi Kon's amazing new movie, PAPRIKA, is up for an Oscar thanks to a qualifying run earlier this year. It won't win "Best Animated Feature" but it should. I wish Sony'd held off till next year to run it, but I guess it gets more attention for the Winter release if they do it this year.

And check out the very pretty "For Your Consideration" poster it's got (courtesy of a sharp-eyed reader).

For Your Consideration: Paprika

December 5, 2006 at 10:44 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)


STRANGE CIRCUS Sion Sono is famous in film circles for his compulsively cultish movie, SUICIDE CLUB. It's sold an astonishing 17,000 copies on video and made Sono a bit of a brand name. His movie STRANGE CIRCUS was picked up for US distribution by TLA Video but it looks like it's going straight to video on March 6, 2007.

(Thanks to the sharp-eyed reader who sent this in)

December 5, 2006 at 10:18 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


Last week the clever clockwork people who write this blog covered the yanking of SUMMER PALACE from the Author Film Festival for political reasons. Now, a sharp-eyed reader sends in a twist: the movie is back in the festival. Serbian officials have now put SUMMER PALACE back into the festival for two screenings, free of charge.

Festival organizers say, ""The festival does not conduct state policy."

An aide to the Prime Minister, Vladeta Jankovic, says, "It is quite certain that screening the movie in spite of a courteous appeal via diplomatic channels would not aid our attempts to resolve the Kosovo problem in the way we want."

Yeah, yeah. But now everyone gets a free movie.

December 5, 2006 at 08:38 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 04, 2006


Cyborg The first English language review I can find for Park Chan-Wook's romantic comedy set in a mental institution, I'M A CYBORG (AND THAT'S OKAY), is up courtesy of Mark Russell.

He holds Park to a high standard and gives him medium marks for the movie, saying it's very well made but the story is nothing special. And he, rightfully so, takes Park to task for making lint-headed comments about how romance and schizophrenia go hand in hand.

Tell that to my schizophrenic Aunt Iris who was last seen eating her own feces out of a peanut butter jar. Mmmm...romantic!

December 4, 2006 at 12:00 PM in Film Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)


Bruce Lee is dead

Bruce Lee is dead. Seriously. But some people just don't understand that simple fact and, like the 8 year old tyke who tearfully begs daddy to dig up Mr. Whiskers one more time, they can't let the dead stay in the ground. Or in the air. Or wherever. Not only is Rob Cohen of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS scrabbling at the hard-packed cemetary dirt to dig up Bruce's corpse for his movie, but now there's a Bruce Lee theme park opening in China and Chan Kwok-kwan, who played a Bruce-Lee-a-like in Stephen Chow's SHAOLIN SOCCER, is starring as Bruce in a 40 episdoe Mainland Chinese television series about the life of Bruce Lee.

The trouble is that eventually daddy has to start saying "no" when asked to dig up Mr. Whiskers for "one last goodbye" the ninth or tenth time because, frankly, Mr. Whiskers isn't smelling so good and no one seems to know where half his head went. Chan Kwok-kwan says, "I'm really very happy that I got the lead role. This isn't about the money. I'm really excited to play Bruce Lee."

No, Chan. This is pretty much all about the money.

December 4, 2006 at 11:38 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (4)


Twins Mission

It's here! The best Twins movie since THE TWINS EFFECT...TWINS MISSION! Buckle up your brain! It's a super-thief movie, the kind that were big in the 60's and then got big again around the time MISSION IMPOSSIBLE came out. And it's starring the Twins, Hong Kong's stickiest bubblegum pop duo. And Sammo Hung! And Yuen Wah! And Wu Jing! And it's directed by an action choreographer! Don't believe that this will jack up your system like 10,000 cc's of pure junk food marinated for months in Jolt cola? Then watch this trailer and start counting how many other movies you see in it! Count how many times you see the Sundream logo! Now that's tacky!

(The trailer is a downloadable Windows Media File. Click on it and watch it on a loop until your eyes run down your face in a puddle of vitreous humor begging for mercy)

December 4, 2006 at 11:18 AM in Trailers | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 01, 2006


The Music Palace was the last Chinese movie theater in New York City

I wrote this article a few years ago for AsianAvenue.com and thought it might be fitting to post it here for those of you with an interest in the Chinese cinema circuit in America. The info is a little out of date (eg the ImaginAsian has since screened some Chinese movies) but the historical information is as relevant as ever.

The Music Palace was the last Chinese movie theater in New York City, and it sat on the Bowery like a great, rotting shipwreck for almost forty years. Pleasantly dank in the summer, painfully cold in the winter, its interior was a dark cavern lit only by the flickering light of the projector. Double features cost $6, and what you did inside the theater was your own business. The air was full of the sound of people fishing out their box lunches and beers, lighting cigarettes and reading newspapers.

In 2000, the Music Palace showed its last double feature and closed its doors for good, and it’s only one name in a litany of the dead Chinese movie theaters: Great Star, Pagoda, Kuo Hwa, Garfield, Sun Sing, Jade, Essex, Wah Dor, Rosemary. The Chinese movie circuit used to stretch across the United States with between 50 and 100 Chinese movie theaters in the US and Canada playing first run flicks from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mainland. Now there’s only half of one left: the Four Star theater in San Francisco. One screen of the Four Star shows second run Hollywood movies, the other shows first run Hong Kong movies and revivals. And if their landlord has his way, in a few months the Four Star will be no more.

Four Star theater in San Francisco

Frank Lee Jr. owns and operates the Four Star which he opened in 1992. He’s the son of Frank Lee Sr. who ran fifty movie theaters in Chinatowns across the country during the go-go days of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

“My father opened his first theater, the Bella Union, in 1964 in San Francisco,” says Lee. “Then he opened theaters in New York, LA, Vancouver and Toronto. At that time, any major city with a Chinatown had a theater. Business started picking up in the late 60’s because of the Taiwanese films, the Jimmy Wang Yu stuff, then the Brigitte Lin movies.

“In the early 70’s, after the Vietnam War ended, there was a wave of Vietnamese immigrants who came over to this country and they loved Shaw Brothers stuff -- Ti Lung, Chang Cheh -- and they started opening Chinese cinemas.  Every weekend our theaters did great business. There wasn’t much for Chinese to do, back then. There was no Chinese TV, no videos, no karaoke. The only form of entertainment for Chinese were movies. It was so lucrative; we had midnight shows, double features. It was just madness. But those times are gone.”

Lee opened the Four Star with the intention of only running Hong Kong movies, but that wasn’t making financial sense. He tried several configurations before settling on a mix of Mainland Chinese arthouse films, mainstream and indie American fare, and first run Hong Kong movies, which seemed to work. “But I really did want to stick to Asian films 100% in the beginning,” he says.

Lee signed a 13—year lease with the owner of the theater in 1992, and made extensive renovations. In 2001, the Canaan Lutheran Church paid $1.5 million for the building, and although Lee matched the bid, the owner sold to the Church. With Lee’s lease expiring in May of 2005 he tried to negotiate a renewal of his lease with the Canaan church, which refused.

Unable to come to an agreement, Lee went to the media and the resultant outcry has given the Four Star a brief respite. Five days after an article about the theater ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, concerned city supervisors contacted Lee, and a 45-day moratorium on theaters being demolished in San Francisco was recently passed. One city supervisor has also drafted a permanent piece of legislation that would prohibit the demolition of neighborhood theaters unless the owner has a pressing reason, and the plan must pass through strict city and neighborhood planning channels. Lee says he feels relief, but that it’s not over yet. “I feel better, but this is only round one of a much longer battle.”

Among Lee’s supporters is Jon Soo, head of theatrical distribution for Tai Seng, the last Chinese film distributor in North America. “We’re behind Frank all the way, because he’s the last one left.” Soo says. “The Four Star is a landmark. It’s the last place to watch Chinese movies in America.”

Grand View Chinese movie theater

From dozens of theaters in the 1970’s and 80’s, to one screen in one theater in 2004, it’s taken thirty years for a vital part of the Chinese American experience to be completely eradicated. It’s a typical immigrant assimilation story, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

“These days, the younger folks’ interests have shifted. These kids are interested in what’s cool right now, and that’s Korea, not Hong Kong,” says Soo.

“I was born and raised in Singapore. I remember I’d tag along with my mom and watch Chinese movies with her in the back stalls for fifty cents, and I’m still loyal to these movies. But Hong Kong had a very down period in the mid-90’s when you didn’t see a lot of good stuff coming out, and the younger generations didn’t grow up thinking of Hong Kong movies as quality films.”

It’s bleakly ironic that the destruction of the Chinese movie circuit in America is happening at the same time that Chinese movies are having a huge impact on Hollywood. Modern American action movies routinely ape Hong Kong action conventions, and actors like Jackie Chan and Jet Li are marquee names. Zhang Yimou’s HERO made over $50 million at the box office, and no film festival is considered complete without a full complement of Asian films.

There’s even an all-Asian cable channel, ImaginAsian TV, that’s getting ready to launch next year. ImaginAsian currently owns and operates the ImaginAsian Theater in New York City. The theater shows only Asian movies, but ironically while they’ve shown Japanese, Korean and Philippino films since they opened six months ago, they haven’t screened a single Chinese movie.

And so, the burden seems to rest on Frank Lee.

“A lot of these films don’t make much money,” Lee says. “I show them for the sake of showing them, and there’s never come a moment when I wanted to pack it up. Never. Especially now that there’s only us. It definitely makes my wife and I feel like we have to fight harder for the Four Star, since we’re the last one in North America. But we can’t stop. It’s in our blood.”

Sun Sing Chinese movie theater

December 1, 2006 at 07:16 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (7)


A sharp-eyed reader sends in stills from the PTU TV series like this one right here. Head on over to the link to feast your eyes on a few others.


December 1, 2006 at 06:52 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (3)


Those heathen Chinese! After ticking off everyone in the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television by submitting his new movie, SUMMER PALACE, to Cannes before it was officially approved, Chinese director Lou Ye found himself banned from filmmaking for five years. Now it looks like China is requesting that film festivals not screen Lou's SUMMER PALACE at all.

The Author Film Festival had booked SUMMER PALACE and were all set to screen it when the local Chinese embassy registered a protest, asking them not to show it "in the interests of keeping good bilateral relations." After some debate the festival pulled the film and the festival chairman, Dinko Tucakovic, resigned over the decision.

The Cultural Chairman of the Serbian capital, Darijan Mihajlovic, said "We were in a position to make a choice between a smart and brave decision, so Serbia made a wise one...Following a clear message from the higher level, a consensus was reached that we are not in a position to insult a big and friendly country like China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council."

Apparently, Serbia is relying on China to block Kosovo's bid for independence and doesn't want to do anything that might put a kink in the deal.

December 1, 2006 at 05:42 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (2)


Hong Kong is opening a new movie theater and it's...a drive-in? Opening on December 7 with Takashi Shimizu's THE GRUDGE 2 the theater will be a single-screen, followed by a second around Christmas and a third and a fourth screen tentatively scheduled for Chinese New Year. Golden Scene (who produced Stanley Kwan's EVERLASTING REGRET) are programming the screen and say each one has 80 fixed seats and room for 100 cars. This is just too weird for words.

December 1, 2006 at 01:21 AM in News | Permalink | Comments (1)