The commercial success of Ang Lee's masterful "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has precipitated a publicity overdrive on behalf of the film, throwing figures at us with wanton abandonment, all designed to lead us to believe that the film signals a new era in foreign language cinema in the UK. Much as the success of the film is to be celebrated, to pinpoint it as somehow a turning of the corner where subtitled cinema is concerned is misleading and disingenuous.
Firstly a little perspective. "Crouching Tiger" is financed by a multi-national corporation and made by a director with an estimable track record. Lee's last two pictures were American ("The Ice Storm" and "Ride With The Devil") and were studio financed and distributed, featuring several Hollywood stars among their cast. "Crouching Tiger" was made on a budget on a par with contemporary US productions (hence the sumptuous effects) and with a studio-backed advertising campaign virtually unheard of in connection with a foreign language film. The chances of its success were therefore heavily stacked in its favour.
It is unlikely, despite the success of "Crouching Tiger", that punters not already receptive to foreign films will be flocking to art house cinemas from now on. Ang Lee's film has little in common with most other subtitled fare, save for, aficionados may blithely argue, its intelligence. Its true appeal is in its extraordinary action sequences.
The need to speculate to accumulate, or at least the need to be seen attempting to do so, has rarely been truer in UK cinema distribution right now. Few of the foreign titles, if any, which await us in 2001 will be able to compete with the promotional spend afforded to "Crouching Tiger" and as a result multiplex exhibitors will not play them.
None of this, of course, is the fault of Ang Lee who has made a commendable film but sadly there are infinitely more rewarding, challenging, nay better foreign films which will be released this year. "Under The Sand", "Faithless", "Yi Yi", "101 Reykjavik" to name but four will not benefit from the stretching of corporate muscles and will be lost because their audience will have little awareness of their existence.
The success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", is a corporate anomaly and little more.
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