Wears the Pants -
What Disney does with HK Cinema is simply awful and sadly
week we learned that Buena Vista Home Entertainment would
be releasing John Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled
on brand-spanking new DVDs. These new versions will replace
the current Fox Lorber versions, which replaced the earlier
Criterion versions, as all the companies battle in a game
of musical chairs over the right to make money off of John
Woo's most famous films. Disney is the current winner, and
their DVDs will likely feature new anamorphic transfers that
will put all existing versions to shame.
However, these new versions
will be cut for R-rated consumption, and English dubbing is
almost certainly in the offing. This will most likely cause
the usual swell of online outrage, starting with those who
decry Disney and their "discriminatory practices"
and ending with those who defend Disney and say "they're
just doing what they think is best."
My take on this:
both groups are right. Now I'll retire to my DVD player, throw
in my Universe version of Shaolin Soccer, and try to
forget that all of this is going on.
Here's the deal: I am totally
for Hong Kong Cinema in its original form, i.e. original language,
music, aspect ratio, the works. I love Hong Kong Cinema (hence
the site name), so I want to see it the way it should be seen,
which is the way it was originally shown.
However, to Hong Kong film companies
and their chosen partner Miramax/Disney/Buena Vista, Hong
Kong Cinema isn't about love. It's about that which feeds
people, clothes them, and breaks up families and friendships.
It's about greenbacks, moola, Benjamins, whatever. It's
about money. And that's totally, absolutely, irretrievably
Look at it this way: do the
Hong Kong film companies care what happens to their films?
No. Disney could leave them with their original language and
subtitles and the HK film companies still get the requisite
cash. Disney could add extra footage, or make them available
only in Spanish. Hell, they could get all their licensed Jet
Li movies together and call it one movie, for all Hong Kong
cares. That's because the fine people at Media Asia or Chinastar
or whoever have already got what they wanted: cash.
Here's an example for you: Princess
Mononoke. When Hayao Miyazaki sold all the rights to his
films to Buena Vista, he stipulated absolutely that the films
would not be cut - not one inch. He did allow them to be dubbed,
but that was his perogative. Disney could have said "Screw
you, Hayao," and dumped the deal. Miyazaki probably would
have been fine with that. But, Disney agreed to the deal and
both sides got what they wanted - sort of. Sure, Disney might
have wanted to trim some of Miyazaki's work ("What American
wants a 2-hour cartoon?") and Miyazaki might have wanted
subtitles only ("Like I want Billy Bob Thornton voicing
my characters!"), but both sides compromised to get the
deal done. The leverage was there for both Disney and Miyazaki,
so the deal was made.
And therein lies the problem:
Hong Kong Cinema has no leverage whatsoever.
The films being sold are commercial
films, not art films. They were made for audience consumption
and not the pursuit of higher art (despite what many John
Woo fans might say). As such, subtitling them and releasing
them uncut to the US market indicates to the "highbrow"
filmgoer that this is a movie that is unequivocably art. However,
said filmgoer doesn't consider a two-gun bullet ballet art,
nor do they consider the exploits of a martial arts soccer
team art either.
Then there's the other end of
the spectrum: Joe Q. Public, the guy who goes to the movies
every weekend to see either Bad Company or Minority
Report. He sees a Hong Kong flick and it's got subtitles.
"Aw man, I don't want to read!" So he doesn't and
sees Bad Company, produced by that master of cinema
Jerry Bruckheimer. Or maybe Scooby-Doo. Or in an extremely
ironic world Kung-Pow. Regardless, subtitled cinema
= too much work for Joe Q. Public.
Hong Kong film companies could
demand that the films be uncut and feature only subtitles.
Jackie Chan could have demanded that Rumble in the Bronx
be given the Babette's Feast treatment, i.e. yellow
English subtitles and an uncut release. Art is preservered,
or something like that.
And then what would have happened?
Simple: the deal would have fallen through, Disney would have
saved money, and Hong Kong film companies would never have
made any. Hong Kong Cinema is no position to be choosy about
where and how their movies get sold to the US. They're just
happy to see some foreign dough, and if they can get it by
allowing Fong Sai-Yuk to be cut, dubbed and retitled
Jet Li's The Legend, then they'll gladly do it. It's
not like they're amputating a limb or castrating themselves.
Which leads us back to square
one. Disney buys the movies to make money. To make money,
they have to sell the stuff. To sell the stuff, they have
to find the right audience. To make the right audience watch
the movie, they have to dub and cut and dumb down the film.
Now Joe Q. Public watches the film, Disney makes money, and
everybody goes home happy.
Except the Hong Kong Cinema
fan, who's dismayed that their favorite form of cinema has
been desecrated by those who would try to make money from
But that's just the way it is.
It'd be crazy to assume Disney would change their stance on
dubbing these films, or cutting them to suit "American"
tastes. Just recently, Shaolin Soccer got re-titled
Kung-Fu Soccer again (the first retitling was retracted
back in April*), and will be foisted upon
us next year sometime. Why? Because market research shows
that Joe Q. Public would rather see a movie called Kung-Fu
Soccer than Shaolin Soccer.
And why should Disney care about
our opinions, when there are likely very few of us? Think
of all the bucks that could be made shoving those Disneyized
versions into Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores. Should
they give that up for the HK Cinema masses, who probably couldn't
even fill up your standard convention center ala AnimeExpo?
The fact is, Hong Kong Cinema
purists are few and far between. Calling us the bastard cousins
of Anime fandom would be an insult to Anime fandom's actual
bastard cousins, because there are so few of us. On the roadmap
of niche cinema, HK Cinema gets good cred, but its artistic
cred is lacking. It gets less respect than much of its PanAsian
brothers and sisters. Indian, Korean and Japanese Cinema are
much more respected than Hong Kong Cinema, and yet their films
rarely get distributed here. The ones that do are firmly "art"
films. Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love was firmly
an "art" film. And, by no small happenstance it
was the rare Hong Kong movie released in the US uncut in its
So, the fight seems hopeless.
That is, except for one small factor which is deserving of
every ounce of scorn that we fans can muster. It's the one
thing that Disney has done that they shouldn't have - because
it doesn't really take away from what they're trying to do.
And that's preventing US retailers and importers from carrying
the original subtitled region-all DVDs from Hong Kong.
Disney's argument for this has to
do with parallel imports. They don't want these other versions
of their property taking potential money from their pockets.
Why should they allow these DVDs to be sold when customers
in the US should be buying Disney-produced DVDs?
Well, how about because we wouldn't
want to buy dubbed/cut versions anyway. And those who Disney's
butchered versions cater to wouldn't stand for subtitles -
or probably even the funky Asian characters on the packaging.
Nope, the situation seems to be mutually-exclusive.
So, what I say is this: Let Disney
do whatever it wants with the movies. They're going to ruin
them, but the alternative is for no one to buy the rights,
and that just isn't going to happen. If money is involved,
someone will be there. The Western bastardization of HK Cinema
is practically a forgone conclusion.
But if Disney isn't going to
put out those original versions themselves, then they shouldn't
try to stop those of us who care from getting them, either.
Since we're so few, the money "lost" to Disney would
amount to nothing. They wouldn't even have to publicly change
their stance. All they would have to do is quietly allow it
to happen. That's the fight that should - and could - be won.
And if that doesn't work, I'll
still buy the Hong Kong versions. I just won't tell Disney.
- Kozo 7/15/2002
film has since been re-re-renamed Shaolin Soccer again.