Sat, May 23, 2009 - Page 16 News List

Asian cinema gains traction as Hollywood takes a tumble

Amid the economic gloom, Asian flicks are lighting up the Cannes Film Festival and sweeping through the world’s movie industry

By Andrew McCathie  /  DPA , CANNES, FRANCE


As any good entrepreneur will tell you, there is always an opportunity in any business downturn.

This is how the Asian motion picture business appears to be sizing up its prospects, a result of the economic storm that has swept through the world film industry over the last 18 months, hitting Hollywood particularly hard.

With signs of a strong domestic movie market driven by a homegrown product, the Asian movie business continues to grow in international stature spurred on by the digital revolution and Hollywood remakes of Asian film hits.

“Now we have the confidence to compete with Hollywood,” said Jennifer Jao (饒紫娟), director of the Taipei Film Commission.

“The popularity of US movies has declined,” said Kenta Fudesaka from Japan’s film industry group Unijapan. “Maybe we are waiting for a new

star like Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise

to emerge.”

The big batch of films from Asian directors that have been included in Cannes’ main lineup, including Taiwan-born Ang Lee’s (李安) homage to the 1969 US music festival Woodstock and Taiwan-based art house moviemaker Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) film about making a movie about Salome, helped to underpin that confidence.

Also in the 20-movie race for the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or award are Chinese director Lou Ye’s (婁燁) tale of desire in Spring Fever (春風沉醉的夜晚) and Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s gangland story in Kinatay.

In addition there is legendary Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s (杜琪峰) revenge thriller Vengeance (復仇), that also helped to mark 100 years of Hong Kong cinema.

Buoyant national film markets and international film festival recognition means that large parts of the Asian movie business have managed to escape the fall-out from the current economic downturn, unlike Hollywood, which emerged from a major industrial showdown with scriptwriters only to be engulfed by the global financial crisis.

“It is a good chance for us,” Jao said, as Taiwan’s movie business slowly gains ground and the nation’s film companies have so far avoided making big job cuts.

In 2005, Taiwan-made films accounted for less than 2 percent of the national box office. But by last year their hold on the market had grown to more than 12 percent.

The same is true of Japan. Despite the global recession having sent the Japanese economy spiraling downward, the nation’s movie business still appears in relatively good shape.

A strong domestic box office, film festival success and a big move by Japanese television companies into movie production helped to underpin the Japanese movie industry.

“They want to make commercial films,” Fudesaka said.

One exception to the upbeat mood in the Asian cinema industry appears to be the Korean film sector, which is still battling to emerge from a crisis, which came in the wake of too many films being produced, ballooning movie budgets, piracy and illegal downloads combined with concerns about the falling quality of the nation’s movies.

In the meantime, the percentage of Korean movies in the Korean market slipped to 42.1 percent last year.

“It is still not in good shape,” said Han Sang-hee from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

But progress is being made. About 113 movies were made last year compared to 124 in 2007.

Nevertheless, underscoring Korea’s emergence in recent years as a major new Asian movie powerhouse, the nation has a raft of films screening in this year’s Cannes.

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