The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Fans mobilize to save
Asian films from Disney


January 23, 2003
By Franklin Harris

It is just as well that I never tire of criticizing Disney, because Disney doesn't tire of giving me reasons to be critical.

Fans of Asian cinema are waging an online campaign to save their favorite films from Disney's scissors. You can read a list of grievances at www.hkfilm.net/disney, but to save you the trouble, I'll make the case here.

For several years, Disney and its subsidiaries, Miramax and Dimension Films, have tried to corner the market in Asian action movies.

Disney now holds the North American distribution rights to at least 55 films, including some starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. So far, Disney has released fewer than half of them. Of those that Disney has released, either in theaters or direct to video, almost all have been significantly altered.

Recent sins

Disney's sins include releasing films in English-dubbed versions only, rather than in the subtitled format fans prefer; replacing original scores with hip hop soundtracks, supposedly because Kung Fu movies are popular with "urban" audiences; and editing films to keep them from being "too long" or "too foreign" for American moviegoers.

All this has continued even after the success of Sony Pictures' subtitled "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which grossed $128 million in the United States.

Even when Disney tried to capitalize on "Crouching Tiger" by releasing a subtitled version of Yuen Wo Ping's "Iron Monkey," Disney's editors couldn't keep their hands off. They shortened several scenes and replaced the original score with one by James L. Venable ("The Powerpuff Girls").

Disney also has an annoying habit of releasing films out of sequence.

Dimension Films released Jackie Chan's "Armour of God II" before releasing "Armour of God."

'Operation Condor'

The sequel was released under the title, "Operation Condor," and when its predecessor finally appeared, it was as "Operation Condor II: The Armour of God." If you think this is confusing, you're right.

Then there are the films Disney seems content to keep locked in its vaults.

"Hero," which stars Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi and Donnie Yen, is a critical and box-office smash throughout Asia, leading some here to hope it will become the next "Crouching Tiger." But Miramax has delayed the film repeatedly, much to the frustration of American fans.

Currently, "Hero" is scheduled for release in May, when homegrown summer blockbusters will likely overshadow it.

Another film, "Shaolin Soccer," built a rabid cult following in the United States before Disney purchased the rights to it and threatened to sue retailers who imported DVDs directly from Hong Kong.

Maybe in April

Miramax's edited, English-dubbed version of "Shaolin Soccer" is scheduled for release in April. Maybe.

Like "Shaolin Soccer," most of the films Disney purchased already were available in America.

Virtually all Hong Kong films are subtitled in English, a practice held over from Hong Kong's days as a British colony. And imported DVDs and videos are readily available. But every time Disney buys the rights to a film, it forces retailers to stop carrying the import versions, leaving fans with only Disney's inferior, edited versions, if anything at all.

So, fans have organized online petitions asking Disney to treat Asian films with respect, or at least to offer unadulterated versions for the fans.

It seems a small thing to ask, especially since there is no reason to think Disney wouldn't benefit financially. And Disney has bowed to fan pressure before by including a Japanese-language track on its DVD release of "Princess Mononoke."

But Disney has had years to respond, and so far it hasn't.

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