Blockbusters and International Taste

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Alidar Jarok, Aug 30, 2014.

  1. Alidar Jarok

    Alidar Jarok Everything in moderation but moderation Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2003
    Location:
    Norfolk, VA
    It should be clear to everyone by now that Hollywood is increasingly international in its movie goals. Movies that are disappointing or outright bombs in the domestic ticket sales are actually successes when you consider the entire global movie-viewing public. The less than great side-effect is the need to rely on spectacle films. The kind of film Michael Bay makes is readily understandable anywhere without depending on the quirks of language and culture. That's not a knock on other cultures, which probably enjoy more sophisticated movies as well. It's just that, when needing to find a movie that appeals to all regardless of language or culture, cool explosions works pretty well.

    But one thing I noticed that is odd is that foreign language films haven't done the same in reverse. For foreign films to find success (used in relative terms as well) the film is almost always a highly artistic film. I wonder why that is. Is it just a product of the kinds of movies made elsewhere (Hollywood just has more resources for the mega-blockbuster). Is it a reflection on American tastes (we can accept our own mega-blockbuster, but add a foreign language and it'll be all weird)? Or is it a reflection of foreign tastes (they're fine with American mega-blockbusters but, if they're making their own movie, it better not be such mindless drivel)?
     
  2. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Location:
    JirinPanthosa
    People in other countries have just as horrible taste in films as Mur'cans do. Ever seen a Bollywood film?

    In some bigger government countries theaters are required to play X% of local films.

    I think the reason most of the foreign films we get are art films is that the only people tolerant of subtitles are the art film crowd.
     
  3. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    astral plane
    For one of the exceptions, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did very well in the US, but I don't have a breakdown of the dubbed versus subtitled versions. I know I saw it with subtitles. As for why it did so well, American audiences love spectacle, and CTHD has that in spades.

    Foreign language films tend to have different rhythms than American films. They speak not just in a different language in dialog, but they can speak in a different language of editing and story structure, which I'd think is especially so when the makers didn't go to school in America. Sometimes cultural context is missing. Foreign films tend to require more attention for being off our beaten path, which handicaps them at the box office and makes wide distribution a problem. Most foreign-language films I've seen on the big screen were at the local art theater. I suspect many people would have liked a lot of films that simply weren't available, if they had gone to see them. But at the same time many people would never go, because they're too blinded by, "America, fuck yeah!"
     
  4. mos6507

    mos6507 Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2010
    Jackie Chan imports from China did really well when they were popular in the 90s.

    I think we're at a weird period where Hollywood is starting to act as the "outsourced studio" for China. I think the public over there have developed a taste for an entertainment experience that their domestic films can't currently match. That might change eventually.
     
  5. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Location:
    JirinPanthosa
    I saw a big budget Chinese film a year or two ago called Detective Dee. The story was really similar to an American blockbuster, only at the end the protagonist decides that the tyrannical dictator is a necessary evil because she maintains order.

    That's another thing, cultural differences in terms of gender roles and respect for authority.

    Anime that is popular in the US tends to have those characteristics of modern gender roles and Western distrust of authority.
     
  6. intrinsical

    intrinsical Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Location:
    Singapore
    Actually, foreign film markets are not much different. Films that dominate the box office where I live, Singapore, are typically comedys, romance movies and movies with lots of special effects or explosions.

    It is just that your view of foreign films is skewed by the American media. You only hear about foreign films that win major international awards but not the foreign films that sold well in their version of the box office.

    For example you may have heard of Ilo Ilo, a story about the life of a Singaporean family during the Asian financial crisis. It won Cannes Camera d'Or and a heap of other awards at various film festivals last year. But I'm pretty sure would have never heard about the highest grossing Singaporean film released in the same year, Ah Boys to Men 2, a slapstick comedy about a bunch of misfit recruits in our version of military boot camp.
     
  7. Sto-Vo-Kory

    Sto-Vo-Kory Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    Location:
    Battle Creek
    But I think that was the OP's ultimate question: If our (United States) low brow films can make massive revenue in foreign markets, why can't (or haven't) foreign low brow films make a comparable profit in the United States?

    In other words, why isn't Ah Boys to Men 2 (or 1) a big money-maker here?
     
  8. intrinsical

    intrinsical Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Location:
    Singapore
    Ah Boys to Men was made specifically for the Singapore audience. Meaning if you have never experienced Singaporean culture and our local slang "Singlish", the film is pretty much incomprehensible to non-Singaporeans.

    Having said that, I can think of several low brow films written for the international market that make good (or decent) profit in the US. Especially UK comedy and romance films such as Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/World's End, Bridget Jones Diaries, Notting Hill, Love Actually.. extending as far back as Monty Python. There's also quite a few Hong Kong movies that have been received well in the US, specifically Jackie Chan's movies, Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer and Kungfu Hustle.
     
  9. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    A lot of those "UK" films you list were actually produced by American studios, though. Also, it helps that they're in English and have stars that are recognizable to American audiences.

    And although Kung Fu Hustle (#123 at the 2005 domestic box office) and Shaolin Soccer (#255 at the 2004 domestic box office) made a small splash in the US, they didn't cross over the way American blockbusters do in other countries.

    The comments about "Ah Boys to Men" being made specifically for a Singaporean audience are instructive. It's been mentioned in many interviews lately that American studios aren't interested in financing movies with a specifically American cultural context, but are rather interested in ones that have broader appeal. I don't know if that's really true or not, but it's interesting nonetheless.
     
  10. intrinsical

    intrinsical Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Location:
    Singapore
    Part of the reason also lies with Hollywood's preference of making americanized versions of successful foreign films... The few I can think of are Godzilla, The Ring and La Femme Nikita.
     
  11. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    It's interesting to see the reverse also becoming true. There's an Indian version of 24, a Chinese version of What Women Want, and Japanese versions of Unforgiven and Sideways.
     
  12. Melakon

    Melakon Admiral In Memoriam

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2012
    Location:
    Melakon's grave
    Detective Dee is a fictionalized version of an actual person, who appeared in an 18th century Chinese detective novel. The character was adapted for Western audiences as Judge Dee by author Robert van Gulik, who wrote several novels. Dee has appeared in a few films, including an American TV-movie starring Khigh Diegh in 1974.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judge_Dee
     
  13. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Location:
    JirinPanthosa
    The theme of the hero realizing that the horrible dictator is necessary to maintain order seems to be a constant in a lot of the Chinese films I've seen, though. Pretty much the same thing happens in Hero.

    The only subversive Chinese films I've ever seen are the ones Zhang made in the early 90s (Ju Dou, Raise The Red Lantern, To Live). Subversive messages don't make it past the Chinese censors, whereas you kind of need an anti-authoritarian message to sell in the US.

    Hell, Spring in a Small Town was considered subversive and heavily censored because it showed a woman being interested in a man other than her husband.
     
  14. Owain Taggart

    Owain Taggart Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2009
    Location:
    Northern Ontario, Canada

    I'd have to say that the French Canadian market is much the same way, as their movies are more or less made for that market, and very rarely will one of their movies become an international hit or even be noticed internationally. I think the most recent example though is The Barbarian Invasions from 2003, which was an international hit.

    And then just to show how exclusive that market is, there's a French Canadian comedy from 2003 that is now being remade in English.

    The French and English speaking people in Canada kind of like to give each other jabs from time to time, and there's a movie called 'Bon Cop, Bad Cop' that played along with that, even going so far as to make two different versions of the movie for both French and English audiences with in-jokes in the subtitles, often different than what you'd actually be hearing.
     
  15. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2001
    Location:
    Great Britain
    Well it is certainly true, that non English language films don't do well in English Language areas. A UK film can do well in the US and that would technically be a foreign film. But there are other factors to consider a Hollywood studio might consider the expense of dubbing/subtitling a film say into Mandarian to be worth the expense, whislt the reverse might not always be true. There is also the fact that from a global perspective English is widely spoken around the world so the expense of dubbing or subtitling into another language might not even be needed.

    Then you have to look at the cinemas side as well can they sell more seats for the latest Hollywood blockbuster than a non-english language film even if they are offered a bigger slice of the pie for the later?
     
  16. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    astral plane
    I'm not an expert on the Chan filmography, but this description of events of the imports collectively having done "really well" doesn't match my recollection.

    IIRC, Rumble in the Bronx was Chan's most successful import. None of the others, including Supercop and Operation Condor, did what could be called really well. Not even Drunken Master II did really well at the US box office, despite (well-deserved) critical acclaim. (I saw Rumble and Operation Condor in the theater.) These four films are just a tiny fraction of his Hong Kong movies.

    Chan's early major successes in the US were all American-made: Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, etc.
     
  17. mos6507

    mos6507 Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2010
    I don't know of many foreign movies that made blockbuster type numbers in the US. So 'really well' is a highly-relative term. The fact that dubbed movies from China could get released into theaters at all, let alone pull a profit, is my definition of "really well". I mean, we're not talking about the Shaw Brothers era. We're talking about the Blockbuster rentals and cable era. They were bucking a system that under normal circumstances would not even let films like these get released theatrically. These films educated the public about what this guy was all about and opened the door for him to get cast in your Rush Hours and Shanghai Noons.
     
  18. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    astral plane
    Yeah, the last point I agree with, and it's the most important point.

    Whether they did "really well" on an individual basis or not*, several of Chan's Chinese films did well by getting released in the US at all, and—most importantly—Chan made a name for himself as a lead to US audiences on the basis of those films, which, as you say, opened the door for even greater success in the US.

    * - in terms of US domestic ticket sales at the box office, as per the OP.
     
  19. scotpens

    scotpens Professional Geek Premium Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2009
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    There's a shitload of 'em.
     
  20. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    Another interesting wrinkle to this conversation is that the playing field isn't at all fair when it comes to international distribution and exhibition. Although the Supreme Court forced the Big Five major Hollywood studios to divest their U.S. owned theatres in 1948, this didn't affect their international presence, where they have continued to be vertically integrated for decades (give or take some notable changes, including the collapse of R.K.O. in the '50s).

    Beyond all the other contributing factors (star power, giant marketing budgets, strong production values, etc.), which shouldn't be discounted, this means that it's easier for U.S. made films to get into theatres overseas than it is for overseas films to get into theatres in the U.S.