Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Blood: The Last Vampire" (2009)

Edmund here:-

Vampire fans alert!

Just back from a preview screening of the live-action adaption of Hiroyuki Kitakubo's intriguing but over-brief animation from 2000. (The original was intriguing not only because the signature costume of its heroine stems from a joke, but also from its dubious racial, political and religious undertone.) While Gianna does look exceptionally hot here as Saya the non-smiling demon slayer (who also happens to be a vampire - don't ask), I'm sad to report that this film makes even less sense than the original despite doubling its runtime.

Let me put it this way: the parts based on the anime are mostly pretty awesome, but the back story that the filmmakers supplied to Saya is embarrassingly cliched AND non-sensical. Casting Allison Miller as Saya's sidekick is a misstep into teenage drama territory (although I can see the reasons they replace the ordinary-looking schoolteacher character in the original), while Koyuki's involvement as Saya's nemesis - without elaborating further, because of how incredibly ridiculous the final twist is - is nothing short of a joke.

So if you like the original and wish that it was longer... well, stop wishing and just stick with it.

(This is meant more as the ranting of a disappointed fanboy, rather than a proper review...)

Finally, a fact that's probably funnier than the film itself: in Hong Kong, Blood: The Last Vampire is scheduled for a June 4 theatrical release, i.e. on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, under the Chinese title of "血戰新世紀". Talk about irony.

From Behind a Great Wall of Fire

Hey Guys, Hi Edmund!

Sorry to have been MIA for a while but blogger is still very much blocked here in Beijing (ehem.. oh hey June 4th). I will not go into detail about how I am getting around it because I don't want THAT to get blocked. But needless to say, I have found a way and will begin to post again very very soon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Linkage: The big picture, and the bigger picture

Edmund here:-

I'm not a fan of IMAX. I don't get the fixation that people have on this 'immersive experience' thingy. And, hell, I even regret it sometimes that I've only seen part of Kung Fu Panda, part of The Dark Knight, and part of Watchmen, all in an 'original' IMAX theatre. It's like having a dinner date with your dream girl and spending the whole evening staring at her chin. Or something.

But nevermind about me. Roger Ebert has made some interesting points about the various film projecting formats in his latest blog entry. An interesting read if size matters to you. Meanwhile I'll gladly stick to my small screen...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

He might have watched some Melville...

Edmund here:-

Sorry dear readers, I'm not Lixian, and you don't know me. In all likelihood, you should be scratching your head by now wondering who's this non-Lixian blogger doing here on Lix's wonderful little blog.

Don't worry. I'm wondering too.

If memory serves you well, you'd remember that Lix mentioned a while ago that she's inviting filmy people to contribute to her blog. And I, despite never much of a writer, happen to be on her invitation list.

So first of all, thanks to Lix.

Since I haven't been watching much of anything lately, I figure it may be better to start my first post with a poster and a link. They'll hopefully occupy Lix's mind for a little while:

A new interview with Johnnie... [<- now expired. Oops.]

Now seriously, I'm just biding my time before beginning to think about my first double featurette idea. But don't let Lix know...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Linkage: What is the Ultimate Prize- Web or TV?

Ashton Kutcher's online show Blah Girls is going to TV. So was the web merely a way to get it onto network TV? Does this move show that the web format was not lucrative enough? Or is having it on TV just a way to get more people to watch it online. In essence is TV now advertising for the web?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Linkage: Why Chinese Pirates will Save Cinema

I read in this New York Times article, that Hollywood studios are turning their backs on China. The dream of one billion viewers having been crushed by censorship and rampant piracy. Well all I can say to Hollywood is, if you want to leave, that’s fine: its your funeral. Chinese film piracy is going to save cinema. Censorship is a nuisance but it is not the end of the world. And those who are turning their back on China in favor of other “easier” markets are shooting themselves in the foot. One billion people are ready and waiting.

Kurosawa on the Corner:

Before I explain what I mean when I say that Chinese piracy will save the film industry, I need to first describe the Chinese DVD store. Because it is these stores which are the key to understanding how to crack the Chinese market:

Firstly, these are not hidden speakeasy style stores. Yes, these shops are selling “illegal” goods. But these are not stalls with scouts on the corners, ready to pack up at a moments notice. These are stores with neon signs. Their wares are not shoved into back rooms and hidden by curtains; step right in the door and browse freely.

Inside, you can of course get your copy of Watchmen the day of its release. Sometimes the quality is excellent, sometimes, the shop girls will openly tell you, the quality is not so great. With new releases, it’s sometimes hard to find HD quality fakes (I recently watched a certain Renee Zelleweger romcom which switched into Russian midway). But what is truly amazing is the non-new releases. Want the beautifully designed Jean Renoir box set? Want to watch every movie ever made by Kurosawa for 200 RMB (around 25 US)? How about Gomorrah, or Man on Wire over dinner tonight? Or my personal favorite, a box set that includes every single film ever to win a best picture Oscar. These small Beijing DVD stores are better stocked full of international and indie fare than any typical US DVD store. Imagine, all you Kim’s videos and Facets fans, if there was a Kim’s and Facets on every other street corner. Now imagine if every DVD was a dollar. Think how many more movies you would pick up on a whim. Think of how great a film education that would be.

The Smartest Pirates in the World (and why we should heart them):

The effect of this piracy is ironically that the Chinese consumer is being exposed to a vast array of films. Even more ironically, this piracy stems in part from the strict censorship laws. Censorship has inadvertently led to more exposure.

Instead of a country of brainwashed drones, only allowed to watch the twenty government approved foreign films a year in addition to local fare, the Chinese movie watching public is taking in French films, indie films, anything they can get ahold of. Since everything is subtitled, the original language is actually irrelevant. Foreign filmmakers of the world take note, forget the US market, where subtitles are seen as a dealbreaker, focus your efforts on China.

Consider this: In China, only 20 foreign films are let in a year (these films are vetted and censored by the government). Television is strictly controlled, as are the local films that are allowed to show in movie theaters.

Now Consider this: In the US, a movie ticket costs an average of $10. That’s about the price of lunch. In Beijing, my lunch costs on average RMB10. To go to a movie is at least RMB50 (that’s almost a weeks worth of lunch!). Imagine if a movie in the states cost $50, would you go? The prices of movies are prohibitively expensive (not to mention foreign imported DVDs, if you can find them).

It is no wonder, given these factors that the pirated DVD store is the chosen vehicle for film access in China. What is a wonder is that instead of turning its back on foreign films completely, the Chinese appetite for film has flourished. These homegrown DVD stores are nurturing an entire generation of film buffs. A few weeks ago, a DVD seller came to our office (I work in an all Chinese office) to sell DVDs. The entire office stopped working for an hour, sifting through hundreds of DVDs. I suggested to a co-worker who had already grabbed the Kiera Knightly film The Duchess, that he should also try one of my favorites Let the Right One In. Each DVD was 6RMB. Everyone bought around ten.

Hollywood should rejoice that in a country with such strict censorship, the awareness of their products is so high. They should think of piracy as free advertising.

Stop Blaming Piracy and Censorship, Just Get Smarter:

So one billion people have been watching your films. They like your films. Now how do you make money off of it? How does one crack China?

For now I would say, forget about movie theaters, they are still much too expensive for the majority of Chinese to afford. Also, censorship is still a problem and movie theaters are the area in which the government has the most control.

As for DVDs, unless you are planning on lowering the cost of your DVDs to at most 5 dollars, then you are probably not going to make any money. Also, so far, other than the Internet there is no way to get “real” DVDs in China. There is no Virgin Mega Store. Yet.

All I can say is get smart. Earlier this month, I wrote on the rise of web to TV movie streaming options. How about creating a web to TV (or web based) service for China (the NYT article says that Warner was planning on it but has yet to do it!). Yes there is the great fire wall, but people get around it. If it were merely the content of the films that was questionable then the little DVD shops would be shut down. Clearly there are ways to avoid film/ web censorship (oh hello Chinese government, pls don’t shut down my blog…). I spoke to someone closely involved with Web entrepreneurship in China, and he said that web content within China is not as regulated as you would think. He told me that the government is smart enough not to prematurely stifle the growth of new web industries. This lack of regulation especially applies to local media companies. Well Hollywood, time to get yourself a local partner!

And for goodness sakes make your web content free! Many Chinese still don’t have credit cards or means by which to pay for online content. Focus on getting one billion eyes on your site. Give them HD quality!

If you create a free, user friendly platform, in Chinese, full of movies, tv shows etc. I guarantee that you will have an audience. Thanks to the pirated DVD trade, the Chinese audience is prepped and ready. And hey, one billion eyes makes for some pretty juicy advertising prospects. Cha- ching.

Star Trek as movie conector

If only this article on Star Trek had been written for Double Featurette (mad jeals). It discusses the way in which the original Star Trek was actually a melting pot of the movies and shows of that time. And that the galaxy Kirk and his crew were mapping was in fact a map of US pop culture. Great read.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Linkage: "Rip! A Remix Manifesto"

Thanks to Ken for sending me this article/ interview with Rip! a Remix Manifesto director Brett Gaynor, founder of Gaynor, in addition to a standard theatrical release, has released his film online in a Radiohead style pay what you want scheme. So if you are having a slow day at work and want to mess around, remix some open source footage, head on over to his site. Lawrence Lessig fans: get excited.

Here's a taste: What are your thoughts on the future of open video?

Gaylor: I’m generally optimistic about it. There are a lot of challenges, for sure: Lack of universal standards, third-party rights, bandwidth, access for the developing world, and a lack of basic media literacy among users. On the flip side, I think the internet will very quickly overtake TV as the content-delivery medium of choice, and with that comes the opportunity for a genuine participatory experience. I think the time is now for developing the tools, standards and practices to make sure we don’t just see TV 2.0.

For the full article go here.

Linkage: New Web to TV figures

Maybe I was wrong about film studios having time....

From the IMDB studio Briefing: "More TV being caught on the web"

Yet another study has indicated that television will rapidly converge with the Internet. The latest, from In-Stat, indicates that within five years 24 million households will be watching broadband video over their television sets and that revenue from Web-to-tv streaming will reach $2.9 billion. "Once Web-to-tv video becomes simple and convenient, mass consumer adoption will follow quite rapidly," In-Stat analyst Keith Nissen said in a statement. The report comes just one week after the Consumer Electronics Association predicted that about 3.5 million U.S. consumers will likely buy a television set that can be connected directly to the Internet within the next year,

Monday, May 4, 2009

Linkage: Me & A.O. Scott

We appear to be on the same page:

To: The Internet

Cc: Hollywood

From: A. O. Scott

People really like movies. In theaters. On TV. On DVD. Whatever. We don’t mind paying for them, but we like to see them without too much trouble or inconvenience or confusion. It would be nice to be able to see some on our iPods or our computers. It might even be the best way for specialized, uncommercial movies to reach us. Can you come up with a business model to make this possible, while also ensuring that the artists and producers can make a living? When you figure something out, kindly forward it to the music, newspaper and publishing industries. Thanks!

For all the memos to hollywood go here.