It’s been a week since streaming media giant Netflix announced two big agreements which signal the company is aggressively moving into a space once occupied exclusively by motion picture distributors and exhibitors. One calls for a sequel to the martial arts classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to be released next August day-and-date on Netflix and in select IMAX theatres. The other sees Netflix enter into a deal with actor Adam Sandler to finance and distribute four feature films.
In their pieces on the announcements journalists used phrases such as “landmark”, “game changer” and “paradigm shift” so often the words lost all meaning. A week later, it turns out the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, North American movie theatres were just as crowded as ever over the weekend and cinema goers still gobbled up popcorn while watching the latest releases.
This is not to say Netflix’s moves weren’t noteworthy or significant, but rather that the pots of ink (both virtual and otherwise) spilled covering the news were, more often than not, used to write overblown treatises filled with hyperbolic predictions of the industry’s demise crafted primarily to play on the fears of those who depended on it for their livelihoods. Now that everyone’s initial excitement has died down we hope to bring some sanity back into the conversation by examining a few often overlooked concepts.
Crouching Content, Hidden Sequel
Before last week, how many of you actually knew that a sequel was being made to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? After last week’s Netflix news, you can more than triple the number of people who know about the movie, and that’s being extremely conservative. Mainstream media had hitherto paid little notice of the sequel being made to a fourteen-year-old Chinese-language film.
Sure, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a blockbuster when it was released in 2000; the first foreign language film in the United States to earn more than USD $100 million and for years was the country’s highest grossing foreign language movie of all-time. The movie was also nominated for ten Oscars, the most Academy Award nominations ever received for a foreign language film, a record the film still holds. “Crouching Tiger” went on to win four trophies including Best Foreign Language Film and it served to jump-start the career of director Ang Lee, who was already a well respected helmer.
When it comes to the sequel none of that matters however, in part because so many of the elements which made the original “Crouching Tiger” film a success are missing. Stars Yun-Fat Chow and Ziyi Zhang are missing, leaving Michelle Yeoh as one of the few returning cast members. The screenwriters, including James Schamus, are absent as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ang Lee will not be directing.
Instead, Woo-ping Yuen has been tapped to direct the sequel being penned by John Fusco. Arguably an incredibly influential figure of the Hong Kong action genre, Yuen has only made one film in the past 20 years; “True Legend” in 2010 which cost RMB ¥122.6 million (USD $20 million) to make and only made RMB ¥46.5 million (USD $6.82 million). He has been working predominantly as a fight choreographer for movie such as “Kill Bill: Vol. 2″.
To be sure Yuen may be a fine and capable director, though currently is a bit of an open question due to his limited creative output in recent years. So too then is the quality of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” itself. When Netflix first announced they would finance and open the film it raised speculation that the sequel may not actually be any good. Realizing this, the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, may have been trying to lay off some of their risk on the production, if not entirely recoup their expenditure, by selling Netflix the rights to distribute it.
Brooks Barnes of the New York Times echoed these sentiments as a guest on Showbiz Sandbox this week stating that The Weinstein Company “…got a huge big publicity pop for this sequel and that has to be viewed in that context. Yes it’s sequel to one of the best performing foreign films ever, but if you look closer at that film there are some questions about it…. you just kind of have to wonder what kind of sequel is this? Is this a route that gets them a big headline for something that may ultimately been a direct to home video title all along.”