Even if she had never done anything else with her career, Barbara Robinson would forever be linked with the mold-breaking success of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The 2000 dramatic actioner was the first to be put together through the newly established Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia shingle that she runs from Hong Kong. The picture, which grossed $128 million in North America, blasted Chinese movies to the forefront of public awareness and spawned a stream of mostly inferior imitators.
Robinson suggests she got lucky, but her fans say she earned her luck through good people skills and the patience necessary to make films in China.
Her entree into the movie biz was largely happenstance. After teaching English in Beijing, she befriended several helmers and other creatives. Jobs came with video distrib Era in Taiwan and Encore, before she got the call from the studio in 1998: Columbia was farsightedly setting up a local-language division in Asia.
Under Robinson, Colpix FPA has produced films including Feng Xiaogang’s social comedy “Big Shot’s Funeral,” Chen Kuo-fu’s Taiwan-U.S.-produced mystery thriller “Double Vision,” Sylvia Chang’s drama “20:30:40,” Lu Chuan’s underrated drama “Missing Gun” and his “Kekexili: Mountain Patrol.” Latter, a Tibetan thriller, became a sleeper hit with festival auds around the world.
Most recent commercial success came with Stephen Chow’s hyperkinetic comedy “Kung Fu Hustle.” Pic’s lengthy production schedule called on all of Robinson’s talent-friendly smarts. But Chow has since decided against a sequel set up at the studio in favor of an indie project.
The studio also seems to be reconsidering its Asia strategy and is favoring tentpoles over diversity. Another “Crouching Tiger” would suit it nicely.