The Triumph of Chow (Con’t.)

Kung Fu Hustle - Image courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsThe reason KUNG FU HUSTLE’s per-screen total of more than $38,000 was so good is that only seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles were booked. The film will go wide on April 22; the positive word-of-mouth will only help, but the thing that will make it soar on that first wide weekend will be if the target movie-going demographic (the teens and twentysomethings who make or break first weekends) gets the word.

From the distributor side (Sony Pictures Classics), it’s been gratifying to see the advance promotional effort and money they’ve spent. According to an Indiewire article last Friday, the distrib has invested a staggering $12 million dollars for the P&A (prints and advertising) budget, in the hopes of reaping a CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON-sized windfall return.

The down side is that CROUCHING TIGER proved itself to be an anamoly among Asian films. Sure, HERO made a surprising $50 million when Miramax finally dumped it in the American marketplace last August, but all the post-CROUCHING TIGER wanna be hits crashed and burned, in the sense that very few were touched by any distributor and others were simply poorly made and deserving of their burial.

KUNG FU HUSTLE treads newer ground because it’s a comedic turn with martial arts and CGI, and, in Stephen Chow, a star new to the general American audience. It’s for this reason that I applaud Sony Classics and their Asian production entity that backed its making.

If HUSTLE is a sizable hit, it may pave another avenue of release for certain types of Asian films. The problem will inevitably come when HUSTLE knock-offs are made and a few distributors may be tempted to overspend on P&A in the hopes of duplicating the (assumed) success of HUSTLE.

On the other hand, since HUSTLE is a different type of movie than CROUCHING TIGER, it may be that another adventurous distributor will open their eyes to the broad commercial appeal of certain types of Asian films — like Korean comedies.

Kung Fu Hustle - Image courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWhat I’d love to see is a wider variety of Asian films getting exposure in the US. It’s been several years now that horror and violent action films have been the only genres that distribs are willing to chance, beyond the traditional arthouse fare of dramatic character studies. (Or, to be fair to the distribs, the only ones they’ve seen that they really love and are willing to risk their money on.) It would be lovely to see a few Korean romantic comedies, or Hong Kong melodramas, or … name your favorite movie that you’ve seen on import DVD that you would have loved to have seen (and dragged your friends to) on the big screen.

I’m not holding my breath — I know distribution is a cutthroat business and that profits are often elusive. But while there’s at least a tiny buzz of excitement about the possible success of KUNG FU HUSTLE, why not dream a little?

Meanwhile, EROS managed a disappointing per-screen average of $4,472 at 12 locations for a total of $53,666.

More brightly, OLDBOY had an uptick of 36.4% as it added five screens (for a total of 13) and has accumulated $194,479 in its three weeks of release. That total is less, of course, than what HUSTLE made in fewer theaters in one weekend, but OLDBOY is not very funny.

ONG BAK is still playing in 28 theaters in its 9th week of release, though the extremely low $892 per-screen average would indicate its on its last legs before the expected DVD release (finally with English subtitles). Magnolia Pictures spent nowhere near $12 million on the release, but they did have a number of prints in distribution and reportedly did some television advertising. I would expect the DVD release would push it firmly into the profit zone, but it wasn’t able to break out to a wider audience. How much of that was due to Magnolia and how much because of the darker violent edge of the movie? Both HUSTLE and ONG BAK were rated R in the US (for “Restricted”), but HUSTLE’s lighter side may be what ultimately grants it access to a broader market.

STEAMBOY is still puffing along, but its per-screen and theater totals have both dropped precipitiously as its gross totals $392,659.

The IFC Films release of NOBODY KNOWS has now extended into its 10th week with a very nice total of $609,137. It’s still playing at 9 theaters nationwide.

(Source: Box Office Mojo.)

* Site News *

Currently I’m on a visit to Texas USA, where the weather is lovely and spring-like. This after an extended 43-hour odyssey across half of America involving multiple buses, a flat tire, a faked medical emergency, a prostitute, a sleepless night, an immigration checkpoint, a man carrying a sidearm, 8,371 obscenities, three ex-convicts, a shotgun in a 12-year-old girl’s face, a five-hour delay in a town where the stop lights begin flashing at 21:00, a redneck bar, and more cigarette smoke than my lungs care to remember.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before . . . but I swear it’s all true.

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