Monthly Archives: November 2013
Thanksgiving is done and gone, and I’m back with some reviews. First up will be the anime Requiem from the Darkness. Next will be the cult film Barbarella. Thirdly will be a review of Prophets of Science. Finally, I’ll have a double review of The Sci Fi Boys and Ray Harryhausen.
Requiem from the Darkness
Requiem from the Darkness is a 2003 anime based upon the novel of the same name by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. It is about a young writer, Momosuke, who encounters a traveling group of spiritual con artists who use their powers to punish criminals (in a usually horrific way). Momosuke finds himself repeatedly drawn to and repelled by the trio.
I first encountered the series during the waning days of Sci Fi’s AniMonday bloc. But I haven’t been able to watch the entire series until just recently on Netflix.
To put it simply, I love this series.
Momosuke is an engaging and interesting protagonist. His humanity is never lost even as he plums the depths of human darkness. The supporting cast is equally interesting. Mataichi is an engaging, if sometimes annoying, trickster who leads the trio of spiritual avengers. Ogin is amazing and the most fleshed out character of the trio (it helps that she is Momosuke’s love interest). Nagamimi is perhaps the least well fleshed out of the trio, but he is interesting non the less.
Until the concluding two part episodes, the series is comprised much like a monster of the week series (or a traditional detective/ crime drama). Each mystery is related in some way to a ghost story, which attracts Momosuke to the area. While there are some supernatural elements, those are almost always supplied by the Ongyu (the spiritual avenging trio) to flush out the true culprit (who is often pulling a far more deadly Scooby Doo style scam).
The only problem with the series is twofold. For one thing, the series is too short. And secondly, the concluding two episodes do not have enough buildup for the concluding showdown (although the preceding two episodes do interweave with the conclusion). It just seems too sudden.
But over all, I really like this series.
I finally watched Barbarella (1968 dir. Roger Vadim) last night on Netflix. To be honest, I’m quite torn about the film.
I liked it. It is an exuberant and fun product of the 1960s. But it also annoys the shit out of me.
Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is completely useless as a heroine. She’s supposed to be one of the best astronauts, but she reveals herself to be supremely naïve and, honestly, stupid. Her innocence is both endearing and frustrating. If only the protagonist was written as being more competent. . .
On a mission to rescue a missing scientist, Barbarella finds herself repeatedly in situations where she must be rescued by a man. Who then has sex with her. This happens three times. Ugh.
The only bright spots in the film are:
John Phillip Law’s Pygar, a walking shirtless scene if ever there was one. And a very nice looking walking shirtless scene at that.
Anita Pallenberg’s Black Queen/ Great Tyrant. Why the fuck could she not have been the main protagonist? She is far more interesting than Barbarella. And does far more interesting things.
The visuals. Damn, the Labyrinth is awesome. And so is the city of Sogo. Amazing work on the settings.
I was expecting more. But it was fun. Even if the writing sucked. And the main protagonist really frustrates me.
The Prophets of Science Fiction
This short series from the Science Channel is interesting, informative, and engrossing. It takes the work of the great science fiction writers (all but George Lucas being dead) and looks at how their work has predicted or inspired subsequent science.
I like the series even though I think that a little too much time is spent on looking at the science predictions and not enough time on the wider themes of the works. This is most telling during the George Lucas episode where David Brin, who had been featured in most of the previous episodes, is notably absent. I would love to have seen him give a more critical take on Star Wars rather than what we get.
Regardless of my criticism, I still think this is an interesting documentary that any fan of science fiction should take the time to watch. And hopefully there will, eventually, be a sophomore series.
The Sci Fi Boys and Ray Harryhausen
Let me say from the beginning that I fucking love both of these documentaries. I mean it. I love them.
The Sci Fi Boys explores the influences that got many of the great visual effects artists into science fiction film making.
From Movie Monsters to Ray Harryhausen, the influences on many of the interviewees is explored with a depth and compassion that is truly fun.
It almost makes me wish I had gotten into film making. It appeals to the artist in me. And it bears a second viewing.
Ray Harryhausen is much like The Sci Fi Boys except that it focuses exclusively on the work of Ray Harryhausen. This documentary looks at the entirety of his career. Each film is explored in a fair amount of depth.
The film reveals Harryhausen to be a true genius in his field. What he was able to accomplish, alone, is now the work of dozens. That is just amazing.
If one is a fan of his films, it is highly recommended that you check this documentary out.
I know these are very short reviews, but I wanted to get them out as soon as possible. I’ve given my Netflix account quite the work out over the past few days. And I expect it to get more of one in the coming days.
World Building is one of the key components of writing science fiction and/ or fantasy. It does not matter if it is the world of the future, the past, a constructed world, or even our present world. In a recent post on the Skiffy and Fanty Show blog, Stina Leicht argues that world building is far harder than the average fan of science fiction and fantasy can imagine. I agree with her general idea. World building can be hard. But reading her post, I could not help the feeling that, perhaps, world building is made more difficult than it needs to be. That while the intention is to make a world as nearly real as our own, the result is that no story will be written. The point should be that a balance is needed.
Every writer is different. Some writers can create worlds with seemingly little effort. Or at least that is what it looks like. Other writers spend their entire working lives on a single construction to such an extent that the end result is a fully realized constructed world. One writer may be able to easily recall all of their background knowledge to create worlds while another writer may have to research and refresh their memories.
The genre that the constructed world inhabits is also a key point to be raised. What type of story is it? And what kind of world is consequently preferred? A historicist or hard fantasy epic may require extremely strict, or realistic, world building. (I really need to explore what hard fantasy is exactly). But an intentionally more mythic or literary type fantasy may be able to create a more impressionistic constructed world.
Now, what do I mean by realistic and impressionistic? Think painting. Realistic world building tries to create fictional worlds as real as possible. When you look at a realistic painting, sometimes it is impossible to tell the difference between it and a photograph. Impressionistic world building provides just enough text for the reader to create the world with their own reading experience. Though maybe a little more complicated than that. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses. Realistic world building can result in fully realized worlds, or it can result in glaringly artificial worlds. Impressionistic world building can result in an equally fully realized world, but it can also result in total collapse if looked at too closely.
What style of world building is ultimately taken depends on the writer. But in recent years a clear preference seems to be for realistic world building (as reflected in the bulk of Stina Leicht’s post, though the film stills could be argued to be impressionistic examples). The reason for this is because of the prevalence of gaming for this generation of science fiction and fantasy writers. From my, admittedly limited, understanding, gaming world building conventions are generally similar from one game to another. And those conventions inform world building conventions in non gaming science fiction and fantasy. I may be mistaken, but gaming world building seems to be very “stat” heavy and that seems to have translated over to other forms of science fiction and fantasy. I’m just pointing this out, not condemning it. It’s just not my preferred method.
Research, no matter what, is essential to world building. But research takes many forms. There is active research where the writer intentionally looks for information on specific topics. There is passive research where everything a writer reads can be used as research. In fact, the writer is always doing research whether he or she knows it or not.
A writer, no matter what genre he or she writes in, is best served by being a jack of all trades. Having multiple areas of interest is key to creating worlds that have, at least, the semblance of existence.
Is using our own world a better option? I’m not so sure. There is less research. But there is less creativity. And the standards should be higher for contemporary or Earth based science fiction or fantasy.
Today, I want to discuss two subjects that I want to write: gay characters and science fantasy. Including gay characters in science fiction and fantasy is a relatively new phenomenon (with increasing numbers of representation). Science fantasy, on the other hand, is an older form of science fiction and fantasy (obviously) which seems to be on the outs (I think). I want gay characters in my writing. I want gay characters to be the main protagonist, the hero. And I want to create worlds where magic and fantasy science compete and intermingle openly.
Now, it is time to discuss this in more depth.
Gay Characters My Way
With the proliferation of LGBT characters in mainstream science fiction, fantasy, and comic books, there are certain conditions to be mindful of. For one thing, LGBT characters cannot be “too gay.” What the hell does this mean, really? Does it mean the character comes out but does not engage in stereotype/ cliched gay behavior? Does it mean the character does not reference his or her sexuality after coming out? Does it mean that after coming out, said character becomes, more or less, a functional asexual?
This, understandably, pisses me off. I hate “but not too gay.” LGBT people run the gamut, much like everyone else. One lesbian may be passionate about feminism and gay rights. A gay man may be interested in a family. Another gay man may want to party, and party hard. I could go on and on.
But in popular culture, especially in recent years, there has been a temptation to create rather “toothless” LGBT characters. What do I mean by that?
“Toothless” LGBT characters are those characters who either remain cyphers after coming out, are presented in such a way as to be “safe,” or who are presented being either functionally asexual or in a rather passionless relationship compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Let’s look at the New 52 version of the Teen Titans. Wonder Girl may be in a romantic triangle with Red Robin and Superboy while Kid Flash and Solstice are (or were) in a relationship. But Bunker? Not so much. I’ve read that he has a “boyfriend still in Mexico,” but that just proves my point. Another example would be Anole from X-Men. It has been mentioned that he’s been on dates, but has it ever been shown? Or take Wiccan and Hulkling’s relationship.
I’m currently working on a protagonist who happens to be a young gay man. He’s going to be “starring” in a portal quest epic fantasy of some kind (probably the science fantasy). And he’s going to have a rather active sex life. I’m thinking on the level of a gay Casanova or James Bond (more the sluttier cinematic Bond). While this has been a largely negative trope for gay men to deal with for a long time, I think it appropriate to reclaim it with a more positive interpretation. Just because a gay man likes to have a lot of sex with different men does not make him a villain. The same goes for women and men of color.
Now, before I get accused of only wanting to write promiscuous gay men as my protagonists, I have other gay characters I’m working on, too. One of those gay men will be in a committed relationship. I’m interested in writing a full gamut of characters. I don’t want to write just a single type of character, whether gay or straight.
Science Fantasy All the Way
I love science fantasy. It puts me, I think, in a very interesting position in regards to the science fiction community. I’m politically aligned with the progressive voices rising up in science fiction. I want to see more women, people of color, and LGBT in science fiction and fantasy. But my favorite science fiction and fantasy comes out of the earliest periods of the genre. I love Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Leigh Brackett, etc. And I am equally passionate for their successors like Tanith Lee and Michael Moorcock.
After a lot of thinking, a lot of creating, I am convinced that science fantasy is one of the genres I want to write. I want to explore the boundaries of fantasy and science. I want to challenge the voices that say knights cannot go to battle on motorcycles or fighters. I want to play with history and myth and make it work.
Currently, historicist epic fantasy and urban fantasy are the two dominant genres within the larger fantasy market. I don’t want to write that. I’m uninterested in Medieval European history (or in their fantastic literary descendants). And I’ve yet to read an urban fantasy that I’ve liked (not that I’ve read a bunch). I just don’t care for that genre’s conventions.
I want to write what I want to read. And I’m sure there is a market out there.
Writing to the market is always a temptation in genre. If medieval fantasy is popular, write that. Urban fantasy is at the top of the market? Write some of that. LGBT characters must be “safe”? Write them that way. To that, I say hell no. By the time writers begin to write to cash in on popular markets, the steam is more than likely already beginning to run out. But there may be a few bucks left.
Writing is hard. Writing what doesn’t inspire you is torture. Why put yourself through that?
During my Young Avengers rant yesterday, an idea struck me. I don’t write comics. I really don’t know if I’d want to work for Marvel or DC if I ever got the chance (writing my favorite characters vs. editorial headaches). But I do want to write the type of kitchen sink fantasy that typifies superhero comics (or in this case superhero fiction or fantasy). So how does one write superhero fantasy (I prefer this term to superhero fiction) without having an expy parade?
The problem is that the most successful superheroes are all archetypes that have captured the popular imagination. When other writers, wishing to dip from the same creative well, create their own superheroes, it becomes easy to figure out that this new superhero is based on or inspired by that superhero from Marvel or DC. The first superhero is almost always an expy of Batman or Superman. Any patriotic or military related hero will be a “son” of Captain America. So on and so forth. There are so many iconic superheroes that one could legitimately ask if there is no way to escape having one’s own heroes be easily identified expies of more iconic heroes.
It does seem that way. If one pays any attention to superheroes non Marvel or DC, it can, perhaps, become a fun game of guess who which hero or villain is inspired by this Marvel or that DC hero or villain. Apollo and Midnighter? Superman and Batman. (I really need to rant about the fuck up job done to Stormwatch over the course of the New 52). The villain cast of The Boys? The Justice League, the X-Men, all of them.
The well is so explored and exploited it raises the question if anything new can be said. Can a creative new direction be taken? Where are all of the undiscovered stories never imagined?
Honestly, I think this makes for an interesting challenge.
But this raises the question, is it inherently problematic to use expies? It would be if DC stepped in for every Superman influenced character or Marvel for every Spider-Man influenced character. But they don’t. And it is not like writers of superheroes are the only ones using expies.
Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy uses two expies. Brakebills is Hogwarts reimagined to American educational contexts. And Filory is based on Narnia. Does borrowing from Rowling and Lewis strip away what originally comes from Grossman’s own creativity? No. Grossman’s work is his own, even if the influences are rather obvious.
And let us not discuss all of the Middle Earth expies running around. . .
So, what is so attractive about writing superheroes? They are modern myths. Their history melds with that of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. And that is key, I think. The thrill to get to play with the twentieth century is undeniable.
I’m excited. I can’t wait to get to the planning. But I must return to my original question. How do I avoid a parade of expies? Simple, by making my world of superheroes and supervillains my own. Whether it be a full history or more metafictional, I must make it my own.
And here I was all for abandoning comics. Fool! As if!
What is wrong with Young Avengers? The latest series is ending in January after fifteen issues and a full year in publication. Apparently, the current creative team had a set story they wished to tell, and now that it is told, they have nothing else to add. Seriously? That was all?
Prepare for a rant in three, two, one . . .
Don’t get me wrong. I like Kieron Gillen’s writing. I love Jamie McKelvie’s art. But a fifteen issue single arc dealing with a transdimensional parasite with a kyoiku mama complex is all they had? Cue eye roll.
I’ve bitched about Young Avengers before. I despised Children’s Crusade and disliked Young Avengers: Dark Reign quite strongly. And I cannot say I’ve been too fond of this present, soon to be ended series. After reading the first two issues, I cannot say that kyoiku mama parasite interested me. Even if the whole point is to try and find new ways of engaging with and writing about younger superheroes.
Perhaps I have the same relationship with Young Avengers that I have with Naruto: a strongly love/ hate relationship. I want to love the series, but the foibles the series commits makes that impossible.
In a way nothing about the plot of this series has really pleased me.
My favorite character is Wiccan (not a shock, I know), but I detest how his character has been written lately. It is great that he is, arguably, the main protagonist of the series (and of Children’s Crusade). But seriously, is writing him as a Shinji Ikari expy the best direction?
Let’s be clear, the plots of the last two Young Avengers arcs have featured Wiccan initiating the story by fantastically fucking up. The first time, in his pursuit to find and redeem his mother, a teammate died at Doom’s hands and saw the birth of Kang. This time? I haven’t been keeping up, but it seems to be a clusterfuck, all because he wanted to do something nice for his boyfriend.
After all of this, Wiccan had the right idea when he gave up superheroics. In universe, at least, why the fuck is he not at Avengers Academy or Jean Grey? The boy needs freaking training, regardless of whether or not he going to remain a hero or not.
Personally, an arc that drives Wiccan back into superheroics rather than reinforcing his choice to quit would have been better. One that Wiccan himself did not generate. What that could have been, I do not know. I’m not writing it.
The only good point about this whole thing is, perhaps, the relationship troubles it is giving Wiccan and Hulkling. Not that it will go anywhere in the end. . .
Part of the problem with Young Avengers as a series is that it has to deferentiate itself from other teen superhero books. Especially Teen Titans. I’ve been thinking of the two series together for a while. Now, Marvel itself is not limited to Young Avengers when it comes to teen superhero books. It has/ had Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena, Wolverine and the X-Men, etc. And each takes a different track in how it approaches being a teen superhero.
For the Young Avengers, that track is reminiscent of a bunch of fanboys (and girls) cosplaying their favorite Avenger. The only problems are that these kids have super powers and face life and death situations without any sort of training. (Not that Spider-man was ever actually trained, either. . . ).
In addition to the elements of cosplay, the direction of idea separation, of difference, is to make Young Avengers feel more like a teen drama like 90210 or Glee (it has explicitly been compared to Skins). Whether the attempt is successful or not depends on the eye of the reader.
Compare Young Avengers (vol. 2) to Teen Titans (New 52). Teen Titans is a far more traditional superhero comic book. And it is very successful, despite the lambasting of the writing from many fans. While Young Avengers started strong with the first few issues, it dropped precipitously. Currently, it hovers in the early hundreds. Compare to Teen Titans that routinely beats it by at least twenty points on the sale charts and for a good portion of its existence, rested in the thirties (it was in the seventies for last month’s issue).
What is an observer to make of this? Gillen is by far the better writer, but Lobdell is beating him on the numbers. Is this just habit buying or is there something else going on?
I want to root for Young Avengers. I want to love it. I was so psyched for the possibilities teased by Gillen, but now I’m wallowing in the bitterness of lost opportunities. Maybe whoever is going to write Young Avengers volume 3 will avoid these pitfalls. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. After all, this seems to be endemic to Young Avengers. But how can the series be successful if this continues?
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that. When I was growing up, the Carmen Sandiego franchise was one of my favorite things. It meant a lot to me. And now, it’s making a comeback.
I first encountered Carmen Sandiego during the early years of my elementary school career. Every weekday afternoon at four, I’d sit in front of the television and watch KERA (the then local PBS station for the Waco area- now it’s KNCT). The show, obviously, was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
I loved that show. The music. The Chief. The challenging questions. Damn, I was sad when it ended. The successor program was never quite the same.
Later, I found the animated series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego to be equally as fun, though not as challenging.
When I hit junior high, I finally got the chance to play the computer games that started it all. I remember at the end of the school day, in the computer lab, my class would occasionally be allowed to play on the computers. And I remember even having the chance to play more updated versions on the Speech teacher’s computer. I kicked ass. Good times.
But like all things, Carmen Sandiego gradually faded from my consciousness. And from the minds of a lot of fans as the franchise seems to have gone into a period of hibernation over the past decade or so. (I maybe wrong, I haven’t been paying too much attention to it.)
However, fueled by nostalgia, Carmen Sandiego is back.
Recently, PBS has started up a social media game whereby clues are given and fans figure out and take pictures of the locations Carmen is currently at. Sounds like fun if one is into social media or games derived from social media.
Personally, I’d prefer a return to a dedicated television series. Even with so many children’s programs and channels devoted to educational children’s programming, there is a dearth of edutainment materials for kids from about the middle elementary years through high school. I think Carmen Sandiego could be at the forefront of a movement to get more educational television aimed at older kids.
“Write what you know” is one of the core pieces of advice for writers. That means to either write from experience either lived or gleaned through research. Furthermore, “write what you want to read” is also a core piece of writing advice. Even if what you want to write doesn’t have a large audience, there will be an audience. And hell, a new trend may start.
I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve been stymied on a few fronts. Even though researching medieval history hasn’t been as boring as I feared it would be, I still experience a distinct lack of enthusiasm for it. How can I write a medieval influenced historicist fantasy if I can’t muster the necessary passion for the world building, let alone writing the damn thing?
Perhaps I’m being unduly influenced by the simple fact that so much of fantasy is inspired by Europe’s medieval period. Maybe I should take a deep breath, take a step back, maybe sketch some, and think about what really interests me. What is my, for lack of a better phrase, passion? (or I could call it obsession).
Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and related historic languages. Outside of Middle Earth, he wrote one of the best essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and (I think) he was instrumental in reintroducing Beowulf. Though Middle Earth is his single greatest creation, Tolkien was no scholarly slouch. Hell, would Middle Earth even exist if it were not for Tolkien’s occupation?
George RR Martin isn’t a medieval scholar, but his passion for the medieval is undeniable. If you peruse his blog, it is possible to find him writing about his passion for toy knights and castle replicas. Clearly, the passion for the influence infuses A Song of Ice and Fire, even if he is equally famous for other works as well.
I’d be interested as well to see what interests and expertise other fantasy and science fiction writers have. Added to that, obviously, is how those interests affect the worlds created and stories dreamed up.
Bringing this around to me, it still doesn’t answer my initial problem. If I’m not as passionate about medieval history, what am I passionate about? What period of history influences me the most?
When I’ve touched on this subject before, I’ve stated that my areas of interest lay in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as in the ancient world. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my area of passion is, really, located in one area.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While my historical interests may be rather broad at times, if I were a historian, if I had to make that choice, I would choose the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the time when I really wanted to be professor of literature, my primary area of interest was in modern and post modern literature.
So, really, my expertise, my passion is in the modern/ contemporary world. And the times I’ve toyed with going outside the modern world, I’ve always tried to update them. Think of it as similar to how Kishimoto combined modern elements with medieval Japanese influences to create the world of Naruto.
Imagine Babylon connected to Nineveh by high speed rail. Or the Trojan War fought with tanks rather than chariots. Which might not be a bad idea…
So, my passion lies in the modern with other periods adding bits of inspiration. Now the challenge: how to incorporate that into an active world?
Do I create a hidden world out of contemporary Earth or do I create a constructed world that is, in itself modern? Is that even possible? And how do I make it unique?
Every year,the Friends of the Waco-McLennan County Library hold a booksale. My attendance at the sale has been sporadic, but I’ve loved going when I’ve managed to make it. This is what I’ve picked up.
Four books for my nieces. Don’t know if they’ll like them, but I’m hopeful.
Of the books I had on my list here is what I managed to find.
The Book of Skaith by Leigh Brackett. Yes! I was hoping for a Brackett. Of course that also means the library no longer has their copy.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Yes. I fucking love this book.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. I was hoping for some Amber, but I’ve been dying to read this, as well.
I am bummed that I couldn’t find any Tanith Lee or find copies of The Neverending Story and The Phantom Toll Booth. Maybe next time.
In addition to what was on my list, I also picked up these interesting books.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I guess this means I can take back the book I checked out of the library!
The Beast Master by Andre Norton. Damn, I forgot about her.
Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds. I loved his Chasm City. And I need more science fiction.
The Black Company by Glen Cook. I love this book.
The Door into Fire by Diane Duane. I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. I had to jump on it.
And finally, Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber. I am rather fond of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
No manga, unfortunately. And not a good selection of art instructional books. But I did wait till the third day, so who knows what I missed.
All in all, a very good haul.
For those of you who regularly read this blog, especially my posts on writing (and the arts), you will notice that my opinions and artistic direction are often subject to change.
I’m fickle by nature. I flip flop between ideas and projects with a frustrating frequency. One day I may be working on a standalone contemporary fantasy novel and the next obsessing over a planetary gay porno (frustratingly hilarious, too).
Be aware that when I do write about my own writing (and art) that I may not stick to what I say. No matter what though, I’ll try to make it entertaining and (hopefully) informative.
The New York Times had in interesting article today detailing the hopes and efforts of the Chinese film industry to break into the American (and global) cultural market. It is without question that the American film industry is, by far, the most influential national film industry. And, despite the rise of global consumption, whether a film is a hit in the States or not still matters. Even if the majority of the money comes from outside the U.S. For several years, many American films have been co-produced or partially financed by Chinese companies with Sino centric subplots or Chinese actors. Now the dream is to reverse that. The goal: to have a Chinese global blockbuster.
I’m sympathetic with the dream. I would love to see a global Chinese blockbuster. Or any non American global blockbuster. And I’d love to see it hit big here in America.
I’m no expert on Chinese cinema. I’ve watched a few films, and I’ve loved all of them. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern, and Shanghai Triad are all some of my favorite movies.
But I’m a niche audience on two fronts. I love foreign film. And I love wuxia.
Unfortunately, American film consumption is extremely provincial. Barring the odd British film, practically all film consumed in America is domestic. Foreign film is a niche. Wuxia film is a niche. Is it possible for a foreign language film to break out of that niche?
Well, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon managed $128 million. So that would count. But, to my knowledge, no other Chinese film has been so successful. (Not that I really pay all that much attention to the film industry, to be honest).
So, how can a Chinese film reach blockbuster status in America (and the world)? I think there are two options.
Option one is the mixed approach. As American productions are set in and use supporting Chinese actors to appeal to Chinese audiences, so Chinese productions will do the same to appeal to Americans. In the NYT article, such a production is in the early planning stages (though set on the train from Moscow to Beijing). Could this thriller be the breakthrough hoped for?
Option two is the traditional approach. As pointed out in the article, China has 5,000 years worth of history to mine for stories. So far, it is these films which have had the most crossover success. And there are a lot of stories. I would love to see Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, etc. adapted. I’m sure the right story will provide the dreamed for breakthrough.
But why this dream? There are two reasons. The Chinese film industry wants to expand. And by expanding their markets, they make more money. Secondly, the Chinese government wishes to extend its soft power through cultural influence.
The Chinese government is, however, the 500lbs. gorilla in the room. Censorship has been a problem in cross cultural exchanges (in both film and literature). So how will a reversal affect things? How will politics both inside and outside China affect the dream of blockbusters and influence? That remains to be seen. But that hurdle must be jumped for any success to happen.
I’m hopping for success. And I look forward to seeing what films will be coming our way.
Now, I’ve got a disclaimer to write, and a niece to fight.off.