Busan, South Korea: Asian film-makers who have watched in envy as US superheroes won billions at the global box office are determined not to let Hollywood have everything its own way.
At this week’s 13th Pusan International Film Festival, or PIFF, a buzz has been building about a South Korean production that looks set to take on Batman, Iron Man and SpiderMan at their own game.
On the sidelines of the festival, industry insiders have been rallying support for Asia’s own brand of superhero. The $12 million (Rs58.4 crore) Jeon Woo Chi has been the talk of the festival with its producer Lee Eugune calling it the “most anticipated project in Korea.”
Starring Korean superstars Gang Don-won, Lim Soo-jung and Kim Yun-seok, it follows a time-travelling Taoist magician and his fight again a band of nasty goblins.
Lee hopes the film will take on Hollywood’s blockbusters when it is released next summer and its anticipated four-month shooting schedule is one of the longest in Korean film history. “It’s going to be very different from a Hollywood clear-cut ‘good’ superhero,” Lee told reporters. “Jeon Woo Chi is a rascal and quite mischievous.”
The film is certainly up against the odds when it comes to box office figures as Hollywood’s current trend of plundering America’s comic book back catalogue is reaping huge rewards.
The latest edition of the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, earned more than $460 million in foreign ticket sales alone, while Iron Man with $253 million, and SpiderMan 3 with $554 million also enjoyed massive pay days from the international market.
To Asia’s embattled local film industries, hit hard by poor box office returns and dwindling production numbers, these are figures out of reach. But that doesn’t mean Asian film-makers are not going to put up a fight.
PIFF has this year included a Superheroes in Asia section featuring 11 regional films from the past half-century, which have been enthusiastically received.
“In Japan we have had our own heroes such as Ultraman since the 1960s,” said Japanese film producer Ichiyama Shozo. “The important factor is you have to make your heroes different from the United States’ ones.”
In recent times, local box office heroes such as India’s time-travelling Krrish and Malaysia’s Cicakman, part man, part lizard, part legend—both featured in Busan—have managed to stand up to Hollywood’s challenge.
Perhaps the only film region in the world to keep Hollywood’s heroes at bay has been India, where SpiderMan 3 failed to make the box office Top 20, pulling in just $380,000.
“The reasons for this are simple,” said critic Meenakshi Shedde. “Indian cinema already has a sense of the fantastic so the audience is not impressed with Hollywood heroes... Just take a look at what your average Bollywood hero does during the course of a film—he can fight, sing, dance and basically do anything he wants. So nothing American cinema does really surprises or impresses us.”