A shortcut to Hollywood

Jan 26 – Obviously I’m not a Hollywood director nor am I someone who’s “made it” in Hollywood, so you can take everything I’m about to write here with a pinch of salt.

But, being a movie geek as big as I am, I’d like to think that I’m observant and alert enough to notice a few patterns or two on how things work over there.

And since I’m one of those people who are completely enamored with the “auteur theory” (in short, we put the highest value in the director, for he is the one whose vision we finally see on screen), I’ve always paid attention to directors more than actors or producers.

With the regrettable exception of quite a majority of the film directors in Malaysia, most directors in other parts of the world will usually turn out to be people who care for the craft and art of making films, even successful Hollywood directors.

Most of them will have watched (and loved) more than just Hollywood movies, and know quite a bit about film history. So even if their films turn out to be no different from the works of Hollywood hacks, it’s more as a result of having not quite enough talent rather than a lack of passion for cinema.

There are many paths to take if you’re a film director (aside from raking in the big bucks making dumbed-down films for the local market, that is), from consistently churning out B-movies to establishing yourself in the arthouse filmmaking scene (especially in Europe) and making a living out of it from the countless funds and co-production opportunities available there right to the very top of big time Hollywood filmmaking.

As much as any film snob would turn their noses at the supposed corruption of the art of film in Hollywood, I don’t think many would resist the town’s charms should money be made available by the Hollywood money men for them to make a film. Deep down, everyone would love to make a film in Hollywood, I’m pretty sure of that. The only important question is whether the film will be any good and whether their artistic vision will not be corrupted.

Going to movie screenings at the local cinemas, as per my usual routine, I began to notice an interesting pattern emerging with the release or upcoming release of 3 films this and next month – of non-American directors (two of them from Korea) making their Hollywood debuts, and having already seen two of these and very much sure of the unmistakable talent of the third director whose film is yet to be released, and making films that stay true to their artistic vision and are not crap.

Their names – Kim Jee-Woon (“I Saw The Devil”, “The Good The Bad The Weird”, and recently released “The Last Stand” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), Tommy Wirkola (who made the Nazi zombie movie “Dead Snow”, and who just released “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”) and Park Chan-Wook ( “Old Boy” and the whole “Vengeance” trilogy, and who’s coming out with “Stoker” starring Nicole Kidman in February).

Critically acclaimed Asian directors have tried making their Hollywood debuts before, but I think it’s safe to say that most of them failed miserably, both in terms of quality and box-office. Palme D’Or winner Chen Kaige (“Farewell My Concubine”) ended up making the terrible erotic thriller “Killing Me Softly” as his Hollywood debut. Even a respected action director like John Woo only got it right on his second try with Broken Arrow, having made the hilariously bad “Hard Target”, starring Jean Claude Van Damme.

Andrew Lau, having gained fame with “Infernal Affairs”, ended up making the so-so “The Flock”. And the list goes on.

There’s something about the committee filmmaking approach in Hollywood that often doesn’t sit well with directors with strong vision, especially when English is not that director’s first language. But as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in one of my columns, there are many way for you to get yourself noticed internationally. Winning awards at international film festivals will of course get you noticed, but even festival favourites like Theo Angelopoulos and Raul Ruiz didn’t manage to do so well with their American debuts.

Another way to get noticed is to make genre films, just like Kim, Wirkola and Park did. Of these 3, only Park could be considered a festival favourite, and even then Old Boy, the film that made his name was an astonishingly well made revenge movie and not your typical festival film. The reason why genre films can get you noticed by the Hollywood money men is simply because there’s a proven market for genre films. 

Horror, spaghetti westerns, revenge movies and the lot, all of them have a proven cult audience. And when there’s a proven market, the financial risks will seem lower, and more people will be brave enough to take a chance on you.

Kim was handpicked by Schwarzenegger to direct the movie because of the films he’s directed and Wirkola surely got Will Ferrell and Adam McKay excited to executive produce his movie because of his zombie comedy “Dead Snow” (as one-note as it was, it still got tongues wagging in fanboy circles).

And I’m sure Timo Vuorensola, director of the quite lame (but cool in concept) “Iron Sky” is fielding offers from Hollywood now.

I’ve been harping on the lack of Malaysian genre movies before so again, I implore all you Malaysian filmmakers out there – please make a cool Malaysian genre movie, send it to Fantastic Fest or Toronto International Film Festival’s “Midnight Madness” section, and see interest in it build up.

Who knows, you might even get to make the next Schwarzenegger movie because of it!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.




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