Do American’s Need Edited Editions of Foreign Films? I Think Not

Asian film imports first hit American shores decades ago, driven by the rise of the International Film Festivals in Europe. Erstwhile agoraphobic Hollywood executives would drag themselves from their gold castles and actually find something worthwhile in the amazing epics being produced on the far side of the Pacific. The market never quite found the foothold it would need to be commercially successful though, at least not until the martial arts genre came flying in on the golden wings of Bruce Lee.

Since then, company’s like Sony and Miramax have gone out of their way to import film after film to US shores, featuring some of the most amazing directors, actors, and martial artists in Asia. Unfortunately, with their eagerness to share those findings with the American public, comes the dreaded cut. It’s what any foreign film fan hates to hear most―”American edit”.

It’s not new to the industry. Since the ’60s, foreign films have been going under the knife time and time again. It’s basically the American studio executives deciding for the American people what they will and will not understand. They take a perfectly amazing film and cut out vast quantities of the story, and remake the film in a manner more suitable to the short attention spans and fickle nature of a nation that doesn’t like to read at the movies. Unfortunately, those that most appreciate and wait eagerly for theatrical releases of these films, are also largely displeased with these methods.

The results are appalling sometimes, as not only do they take out vital scenes just because they contain cultural references that Americans may not understand, they dub over the original voices with English voices so as the American public won’t have to read subtitles.

It’s not new, and if you go back and watch any Kung Fu film released in America in the ’70s or ’80s, it’s there. It’s a shame that the results are so horrible, because some of these films are truly amazing. And it’s Miramax that’s the biggest culprit in these film cutting crimes.

Take Shaolin Soccer for instance, one of my favorite films from Hong Kong in the last 20 years. The original Stephen Chow cut of the film in Hong Kong was 113 minutes long, a respectable normally cut film. The American cut released two years later, and was only 87 minutes long. Somewhere in the film, they’d seen fit to cut almost a half hour of the comedy and/or action out. They’d essentially rewritten how the film would be shown, by taking out an entire subplot.

The same can be said of any imported film. The Protector, a Thai import released with 27 minutes cut from the film. The critics panned it for being nonsensical and baseless in its plot. I’ve seen the Thai cut, and I can say it wasn’t astoundingly well-written, but it was decent, and of course it’s baseless when you’ve cut 25% of the film out for a domestic audience. The results are unfair to the filmmakers as well, whose chances at success in the massive American market are skewered by the trigger happy finger of an American censor and cultural editor.

Other genres and markets feel the same backhanded scorn of the American studio system as well. In turns, Anime, Bollywood, and scores of amazing Latin American films are torn apart piece by piece for the good of our culturally ignorant masses. Anime, which dominates our children’s programming anymore, is essentially redirected during localization to clean up the slightly more liberal approach to just about everything Japanese audiences have. Even the violent, battle-filled anime such as Dragonball Z or Naruto is whitewashed at times, blue statements redubbed with goofier phrases.

When I go to see a film, I hope to see what the director wanted me to see, not what a board of stuffy American executives and censors decided would be acceptable for my less than worldly American brain.

The Ugly Face of Video Gaming Crossovers in Film

The pop culture machine, that great big mechanism that pumps out so much mushy claylike substances every year is a very peculiar beast. It grows. It changes. It reforms itself to best match the audience it is trying to reach. And it seems like every year there are a half dozen new mediums entering the fray, vying for our attention, and hence our very important dollar.

Then there are the veterans, the long time entries in the pop culture wars like film and television. Those mediums that have been around as long as the concept of a mass marketed cultural fad. Like cockroaches, these classics withstand any and all changes, adapting and changing when needed to meet the needs of the masses and stay around.

It’s the new ones you really have to watch out for. When something so new and so entertaining grows so quickly, sometimes it’s hard to realize that it is slowly taking over various aspects of our daily lives, infiltrating into our routines and becoming a part of the “the norm”.

The Internet has done that surprisingly well in the last 10 years or so, at first a fad, then a tool, and now a lifestyle. But, it’s the smaller things that we really don’t notice―mediums like video gaming.

Video games have been around since the 1970s, but at the time, they were nothing more than a fad, a hobby for computer programmers, and a very expensive proposition for anyone interested in playing them. And when the programmers tried to turn it into a business, and pumped out failed, broken software, the video game ‘fad’ almost died completely.

But, something odd happened. Instead of dying off like other pop culture one-hit wonders, video gaming found new life in a little gray box from Nintendo. Nintendo made it fun again, with new technology, easy-to-use interface, and affordable equipment. And the world responded with its eternal love and gratitude.

Actually, despite our overwhelming nostalgia for the days of the NES and Super Mario Bros., not everyone owned one right away, or at all really. The console was an expensive proposition for an unknown product, and the market had just slapped a lot of people in the face.

Regardless, it found success, and as the industry has grown, so too has the idea that video gaming is here to stay, and that when you purchase a shiny new console, you’ll be rewarded with shiny new games.

Unfortunately, like any pop culture product, the video game market has grown to the point of crossover. It wants more than anything now to find success in other markets. Video games themselves are not tremendously profitable, unless a game is a massive success. Development time and costs are outrageous, so why not try and fling a movie or two out? How about a shoddy sequel for a handheld system with a third of the development cost? What about a novelization? Cartoon?

These are not unfamiliar. If you remember back to the days when Mario and Sonic were the only two mascots around (and darn popular), they were everywhere. You could find Mario cartoons on Saturday mornings, Mario books in every book store, and I fondly remember my Mario lunchbox and thermos on my first day of school, just days before the release of Super Mario Bros. 3. The market was huge, but the shoddy quality and failed attempts at films made it a bad idea, and eventually Hollywood stopped trying so hard.

Unfortunately, now that Video gaming is so common that nearly 1 in 2 households have one (and nearly 2 in 3 adult males have one) the trend is back. Video gaming, like any other cultural trend that becomes a lifestyle, is still trying to find its place in the world. It is adapting, slowly shifting and turning in its skin until the fit is just right. But, that means we are stuck waiting until it gets it right.

Anyone who has seen an Uwe Boll film, or wondered why Angelina Jolie decided Tomb Raider was a good idea, knows what I’m talking about. Video games are born from outlandish ideas. They’re over the top and outrageous, that’s what makes them good video games. But, when you try and reinterpret that to the screen, you will fail. It is a given. The only remotely successful attempt I’ve seen (and it was by no means a good movie) was Doom.

Doom had it right because no one pretended it was a film instead of a video game. The director took a game script and put real people in it. It was humorously campy, and that is the only way a game script can work as a film. Unfortunately, other directors have not yet figured that out.

But, as the comic book industry can attest too, it’s a matter of growing pains. It took nearly 40 years for Hollywood to make a good superhero movie with Richard Donner’s Superman , and the only other good one between Donner’s film and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was Tim Burton’s borderline interpretation of Batman . But, now we get great comic book adaptations nearly every year.

The key is to garner enough respect for these franchises, and for those that own the rights to them to demand the proper treatment of them, that they are not treated like pulp fiction fluff, the kind of slop that gets churned out on a $20 million budget and released in late January every year.

And with the growth, energy, and money that the industry is seeing, it’s not unforeseeable that major franchises like Halo might become halfway decent motion pictures. If we’re lucky, it will at least be as good as the game.