Hope for East-West co-productions

'Kingdom' first film to hit No. 1 in China, US

UDINE, Italy — The planet’s two hemispheres seem to be headed toward greater cinematic fusion.

At least that was the hope at a timely East-West co-productions confab held at Udine’s Far East Fest, where a host of high-caliber industryites from Asia and Europe congregated, just as Jet Li-Jackie Chan-starrer “The Forbidden Kingdom” topped the box office both Stateside and in China.

“The Forbidden Kingdom” is significant because it’s the first film that is a Chinese co-production which opened in the U.S. and China the same weekend and was No. 1 in both markets,” underlined CAA China topper Peter Loehr.

Loehr, a Chinese co-production pioneer, says CAA — which now reps some 25 directors in China — has mounted 20 pictures in the past 12 months, while previously, he had been “doing 10 films in the last 10 years.”

“I think the timing is the best it’s been,” Loehr enthuses.

“For the first time in the years I’ve been producing films and working in China, the challenges to making co-productions have become more creative and interesting.”

Coming up are John Woo blockbuster “Red Cliff,” billed as an Asian “Lord of the Rings,” co-produced by China Film Group and Summit and expected to dominate the Asian box office this summer; Universal’s “The Mummy 3,” which was shot in China; and Summit’s thriller “Push,” shot in Hong Kong.

Global recognition of Asian helmers, stars and styles has grown hugely over the past decade, as international film festivals have undergone a tectonic shift in taste from strictly arthouse to more mainstream Asian pics, precisely the type of fare that has put the 10-year-old Far East Fest, located in this charming Northeastern Italian town, on the international festival map.

Venice fest topper Marco Mueller, an Asian specialist, pinpoints 2004 as the sea change year “away from arty (cinephile) programming,” when Cannes put Hong Kong action master Johnnie To’s “Breaking News” in its official selection — after To had been launched internationally by Udine.

Remakes of that punchy pic satirizing police incompetence are reportedly in the works both in Hollywood and Russia.

Producer Mase Yasuhiro, film topper at Japan’s TBS TV studio,  recounts how he came to Udine in 1999 with Yojiro Takita’s supernatural “Secret,” which took the fest’s aud nod and caught Luc Besson’s eye.

The result was a Gallic remake, “Si j’etais toi,” produced in 2007 by Besson’s Europa Corp. That pic was preceded by Europa’s Tokyo-set Jean Reno-starrer “Wasabi,” which Yasuhiro co-produced.

“The idea behind ‘Wasabi’ was to bring Japan and France together,” Yasuhiro says.

Co-productions within Asian territories are booming as well, and with them comes the potential pitfall of making “Asia pudding,” warns Wouter Barendrecht, topper of Hong Kong-based sales company Fortissimo Films. Barendrecht is referring to the Asian equivalent of Europudding, the tendency in Europe during the early 1990’s to churn out indigestible co-productions mixing elements from different European territories, just to tap into cross-border subsidies. 

But East-West production proliferation is a definite positive, especially for Asia. 

“We are going to see more co-financing and co-production structures, which I think is very healthy because, just like in Europe, a lot of Asian territories are not big enough to sustain their own industries, Barendrecht says. “The question now is whether Asia will become more of a market for non-Asian films that don’t come from Hollywood.”

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