The first “10 Years” film, released in 2015, was a grungy, guttural response to the Umbrella Movement civic protest, when for 79 days in late 2014, pro-democracy campaigners blocked the streets of downtown Hong Kong.
The uprising failed to achieve its ends, and was ultimately erased by government.
But as reality overtook fiction, it sharpened the ultra-low-budget anthology in which five filmmakers had set themselves the challenge of imagining how their home territory would evolve in 10 years. The result was both dystopian and quirky. Major prizes and box office far in excess of the $90,000 original budget suggested that the concept had legs.
Felix Tsang, of Golden Scene — which had handled international sales — along with former Fox executive Lorraine Ma, and Japan’s Miyuki Takamatsu, saw the opportunity to implant the concept in other parts of Asia. Working with lawyers and sounding out like-minded producers, they set up Ten Years Studio, and took two years before unleashing one of Asia’s few arthouse franchises.
The angry Hong Kong “Ten Years” might have limitations as a template — differing degrees of political frustration and censorship might skew subsequent films in other directions — but as a format it works well for Asia, where multi-director anthology films can be popular. The franchise is low-budget, deeply collaborative and allows for a wide array of interpretations.
In Thailand, producer-director Aditya Assarat (“Hi-So”) made it his business to find the directors, and directed one of the four Thai segments. The Japan version has five segments and recruited Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda as executive producer. The business model keeps the budget under $400,000, leaves the local producers holding rights in their home territories, and sets Golden Scene as the sales agent in the rest of the world.
The first from the collaborators, “Ten Years Thailand” had its premiere out of competition in Cannes in May. “Ten Years Taiwan” had its debut the following month at the Taipei festival. The Busan International Film Festival will be the venue for the world premiere of “Ten Years Japan” and the first time that all three movies have screened at a single event.
“The three films are completely separate, but common themes emerged within each,” says Tsang. “In ‘Thailand,’ each segment is a very different reflection on insecurity. ‘Japan’ is very people-oriented, but touching on the universal themes of old age, technology and surveillance, and nuclear power. ‘Taiwan’ is very socially aware, covering topics such as the status of foreign workers, falling birthrates, and virtual reality.”
Ten Years Studio previously held talks with producers about versions in Malaysia, Korea and the Philippines. These may yet be revived. And Tsang has his eyes on another, highly topical, outcome. “I’d love a North Korean director to be part of it.”