‘Warlords’ invades Korean territory

Chan's hit to be released on 250-300 screens

SEOUL — Peter Chan’s blockbuster hit “The Warlords” will get its first release in a non-Chinese speaking territory when it unspools in South Korea on Jan. 31.

The release on 250-300 screens, unusually large for a Chinese film, is being handled by specialty distributor Sponge and Bom Film Prods.

“Warlords” is as the first imported title for Oh Jungwan’s shingle Bom, which has collaborated with Chan’s Applause Pictures on the omnibus films “Three” and “Three … Extremes.”

“I consider Korean audiences to be one of the most discerning audiences anywhere, so its performance here is quite important to me,” Chan told Daily Variety. “I know that the downloaded version of this film is everywhere, and a lot of people have seen it, but hopefully, that’s an indication that there is broad interest in the film.”

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In a pre-release promotional tour, Chan urged Korean viewers to watch the theatrical version instead of the pirated one, which is identical to the edited version approved for general release in China.

“The pirated version is six to seven minutes shorter than the version that screened in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, with a lot of the violent scenes removed,” Chan said. “It’s not as good a film.”

Meanwhile, a third, international cut of the film is being prepared by the film’s producer, Andre Morgan, without any input from Chan. Although Chan struck a conciliatory tone this week, the issue has divided the two men and thrown their next planned project, “Waiting,” into jeopardy.

“I’ve always understood that there might be an international cut of the film, as with ‘Hero’ and many other Asian blockbusters. It’s a market reality,” Chan said. “I can’t say I’m comfortable with how things have turned out, but I’m open-minded. Buyers in each territory will be able to choose the cut they want or make a new one themselves.”

Chan says he will take a year off from directing, although he will continue to be active as a producer.

“I need some time to think about my next step given the shifting marketplace,” he explained.

He noted that Hong Kong-based HK-China co-productions are falling out of favor among Chinese audiences, while China-based stories aren’t working in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It’s becoming more difficult to make international pre-sales on Chinese-language films.

“Only huge blockbusters seem to please all these markets,” he said. “If you want to make medium-sized films, you almost have to concentrate on just one market. And in most cases, that market has to be China.”

He noted that China’s future as a market for medium-budget ($1 million-$4 million), commercially viable films is looking brighter and brighter.

“China is extremely unpredictable, but it’s changing. It feels almost like Korea in the late ’90s or Hong Kong in the ’80s, just before their commercial booms.”