‘Monster Hunt’ Dethrones ‘Furious 7’ in China

Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Locally produced live-action-cum-animation spectacle Monster Hunt has effectively dethroned Hollywood action flick Furious 7 (also released this year) as China’s highest-grossing film ever. At press time, the movie had earned CNY2.428 billion (approx. $380 mil.) since its release on July 16, compared to the CNY2.426 billion the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise had netted during its entire screen run, which ended in May. The homegrown production about a “baby monster” that needs to be saved from a slew of villains that want to destroy it at all costs has thus outstripped Furious 7 by the slimmest of margins. However, Monster Quest is reportedly still going strong at the Chinese box office, which means the final gross is likely to increase further.

China only reopened its market to Hollywood films in 1994 after the country had banned public screenings of all U.S. productions after the communist takeover in 1949. Especially in recent years, some popular Hollywood blockbusters have frequently succeeded in setting new box-office records in China, while local films often came close but not quite close enough to break them. Others initially earned more but were soon again outstripped by a subsequent Hollywood release.    

Thailand Indicts Former Tourism Agency Chief

After years of legal wrangling, Thailand has finally indicted former Tourism Authority of Thailand chief Juthamas Siriwan on malfeasance charges for allegedly taking bribes from an American film producer couple in exchange for the right to manage the now-defunct Bangkok International Film Festival between 2003 and 2005. The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) on August 25 submitted the indictment against Juthamas and her daughter Chitsopha Siriwan, who faces similar charges, to the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

According to an affidavit received by the OAG from the FBI, the former tourism agency chief had accepted more than THB50 million ($1.4 mil.) in bribes from Los Angeles-based producer couple Gerald and Patricia Green in exchange for awarding them lucrative contracts to run the film festival and related events. The bribes were allegedly paid into various bank accounts owned by Chitsopha Siriwan. According to an OAG spokesman, both Juthamas and her daughter have denied all charges. A date for the first court hearing has not yet been announced.

Korea Submits The Throne to Academy Awards

South Korea’s Film Council (Kofic) has announced the submission of director Lee Joon-ik’s historical action drama The Throne (a.k.a. Sado) as the country’s competition entry in the Best Foreign-Language Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards. It’s the second time one of Lee’s films has been chosen by the council to represent South Korea at the Oscars. In 2006, Kofic entered another Lee-directed historical drama, The King and the Clown (2005), but the movie didn’t make the shortlist. The Throne, which was released on Sept. 16, is allegedly based on a true story, revolving around the king of an ancient Korean dynasty who locked his son, Crown Prince Sado (hence the alternative title), in a wooden chest to let him slowly suffocate.

China and Taiwan Make Their Oscar Picks

In a related development, both China and Taiwan also announced their Oscar picks. China is going to submit the beautifully shot adventure drama Wolf Totem, directed by Frenchman Jean-Jacques Annaud. The movie is set in 1967 at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. Chen Zhen, a young student from Beijing, ventures to Inner Mongolia in northern China to live among nomadic herdsmen. He becomes fascinated by the wild wolves roaming the region, but is also caught between civilization (and communist ideology) encroaching from the south and the nomads’ traditional lifestyle. In the process he, his hosts, the southern invaders and animals alike must try find their place in this topsy-turvy world.

Wolf Totem is the second movie in consecutive years that was directed by a Frenchman and submitted as China’s contribution to the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign-Language Film category. Last year, the Philippe Muyl-directed The Nightingale joined the race, but was denied a place in the shortlist.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Motion Picture and Drama Association selected Hou Hisao-hsien’s The Assassin to represent the country at the Oscars. The historical action drama–set during the era of the ancient Tang dynasty–prevailed over 12 other contenders that were submitted for consideration to the Association. Director Hou is no stranger to the Academy Awards, as two of his previous films, A City of Sadness (1989) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998), were selected as Taiwan’s entries for the Oscars in their respective years of release.

In an announcement, the Association justified this year’s choice for its “outstanding production values and innovative cinematographic style.” The Assassin is adapted from a short story written during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) and revolves around a girl, Nie, who is kidnapped as a child and trained by her captors in martial arts to become practically invincible. Grown into a young woman, she is tasked by a corrupt general to assassinate a political rival, Liu. However, impressed by her target’s charisma, she eventually abandons her plan, falls in love with Liu and joins him to fight the general, who in turn dispatches several of his top assassins to kill Nie. They are all unsuccessful, of course, unable to prevail over Nie’s superior skills.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.