Sunday, March 27, 2005

Weekend review

Some thoughts on the holiday weekend...

I was not the most enthusiastic supporter of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, but curiosity and the Easter weekend got the better of me when it came to the THE PASSION RECUT. Rather, curiosity would have got the better of me if I could have seen it. The film wasn't playing anywhere in Columbus come Good Friday, which is a surprise considering that the area isn't exactly short on screens and that this was the one weekend where resurrecting the year-old film made sense.

For THE PASSION RECUT Mel Gibson trimmed six minutes of violence in order to make the film more palatable for those folks put off by the gore. (Doesn't this editorial decision undermine last year's arguments supporting the depiction of graphic violence as the key to understanding Christ's sacrifice?) I'm skeptical that removing six minutes would have softened THE PASSION sufficiently for those with gentler constitutions. The scourging sequence aside--which is where I understand the majority of the cuts were made--this is still a very violent film, but not having seen the recut version, I can't say if the edits made any difference.

Outlasting THE PASSION RECUT locally is ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR. I make mention of it because it's remarkable that this martial arts film is now playing for a fourth week here despite less than ideal conditions. ONG-BAK opened with little advance warning--no press screenings or local reviews the first week--and has not warranted much in the way of local promotion or advertising. It's playing on one screen at a 30-screen multiplex, which is not exactly the place where you'd expect to find a Thai import. I don't have access to the box office numbers, but apparently it has done well enough to merit a longer run than some aggressively promoted arthouse films. If ONG-BAK isn't performing up to snuff, why would the AMC brass keep it when they could cast it aside to play the latest blockbuster on four screens instead of three? ONG-BAK is a real hoot that demands to be seen with an audience reacting to the crazy stunts Tony Jaa performs, so I'm glad that this underdog film has found some success.

Strange musical synchronicity: "Black Betty", a folk song popularized by 70s rockers Ram Jam, popped up in two of this weekend's releases. MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS uses Spiderbait's cover of the song during a fight in a casino. GUESS WHO employs "Black Betty"--also Spiderbait's version?--when Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher race go-karts. Since GUESS WHO touches upon discomfort regarding interracial relationships, the song may be ill-placed in this film, especially considering the one-time controversy over it.


  1. When I saw ONG-BAK at Easton its first weekend, the theatre was packed, which (in my experience) isn't especially typical for a 10 PM Sunday night screening. Much of the audience was of Asian descent, which may explain the film's staying power at its current venue- a cultural mobilization effort compounded by the fact it's only playing on one screen. Compare to Sony's relative market saturation with HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, which turned in disappointing box office (at least in comparison to CROUCHING TIGER and HERO). Per-screen average is a statistic smaller distributors have exploited for years, driving up demand for specialty titles by opening them on a limited number of screens, and allowing word of mouth to spread as a result. Witness Miramax's Oscar-season strategies beginning in the early 90s, and more recently the successes of SIDEWAYS, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and even WHAT THE BLEEP, etc. These are films that would get lost in the shuffle if they opened on 3000 screens opposite the likes of, say, MEET THE FOCKERS, but with time for critical and popular momentum to grow, they find their audience. And this is what's going on with ONG-BAK- I didn't particularly enjoy the film myself, but there was certainly a charge in the theatre when I saw it.

  2. What surprises me is that ONG-BAK has been able to find an audience even though, in my observation, it hasn't received much local promotion. Word of mouth has to be sustaining its run at Easton, which is pretty incredible for a movie that slipped into town under the radar. The fact that it can probably be purchased as an import DVD or VCD without much trouble yet is still pulling in crowds indicates to me that here's an audience not being served.

    In hindsight it looks like Sony Classics might have been better off giving HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS an exclusive run in each city at one theater for a week or two before expanding it like they did. I also wonder if it might have done better in the summer, a time that might have been more conducive to building word of mouth than the highly competitive awards season.