Video Home Invasion: Third Window Films' Korean Collection
Torel picked up a ton of great Korean films at first, running the gamut between the critically acclaimed work of Lee Chang Dong (Peppermint Candy, Oasis, and Green Fish) and the box office powerhouses of Friend and Guns & Talks. Starting in May of 2007 he started releasing the films with hopes of a long term success with Third Window. Says Torel:
[Third Window] Released 'Green Fish', 'No Blood No Tears' and 'Say Yes' at one time, then 'Wild Card' and 'Guns and Talks' about a month after. They all massively flopped (comically so). That was around May 2007, though I had acquired all those films about 2 years prior. Since then only 'No Blood No Tears' (of those initial 5) has done decent numbers, the rest have all flopped. Actually only 'Friend' and 'Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine' of all our Korean releases have done well, but I think that the reason why so many didn't was that they were all available with English subtitles in nice Korean box sets and at the time of release it was $2 to £1 so we didn't get any internet sales. Since then I learned to either release a film on or about the same time as its domestic release, or to only handle titles that haven't been released with English subtitles elsewhere.The one title from that list that sticks out to me is "Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine", I think for obvious reasons. In our introduction, Adam specifically mentioned how he left Tartan after his disappointment about their acquisitions of horror titles, which had been gaining velocity at the time. So I asked him why he chose to pick up "Teenage Hooker":
I knew Teenage Hooker would be a success. It was actually more of an experiment as a release. Wanted to see how well a title like that would do. Didn't cost much and one of my highest grossers, and if I really only wanted to focus on making money then I would have continued to release films like that and I'd be a much richer man now, but that would defeat the whole purpose behind my reasoning in deciding to become a distributor.Fair enough. Torel says that these films ultimately ended up costing him money, but we here in the West are better off for them being available. It is very easy for consumers to bypass these labels in a store without realizing what it takes to get them to the shelves. So I asked what kind of risks and/or investment a small label like Third Window incurs to try to bring these smaller less publicized, less exploitable titles to stores:
I actually picked up titles like 'Peppermint Candy', 'Oasis', 'No.3' and others a long time ago, but it took a long time to release them because I was still reeling from the poor effects of the first batch of Korean titles I had released. It's a pity as I love both 'Peppermint Candy' and 'Oasis', but they still did very poorly, which was quite hard considering I made a new PAL transfer for 'Oasis' which cost a mint! You hear people complaining a lot nowadays about NTSC-PAL transfers and all that, but the fact of the matter is that it cost me about $2,000 to make a PAL transfer of 'Oasis' from its original negative, plus added 5.1 sound which cost quite a bit too, and yet nobody bought it. People don't realise how much money it costs to do such things, and especially how hard it is for companies in the UK who deal with having to release in PAL despite the original materials being in NTSC. I actually released 'Peppermint Candy' in NTSC and I still got complaints about that, so I guess you can't win whatever you do, best to just try and keep costs down before you go bankrupt. People may mention companies like Eureka with their fantastic transfers, but remember that Eureka make all their money selling bargain-bin workout/exercise DVDs to afford the wonderful 'Masters of Cinema' branch of their company. If it was just 'Masters of Cinema' they would have gone under by now.There is one other really fun title in the Third Window Films collection that I didn't ask Adam about, but I really enjoyed as sort of a kindred spirit to the works of Tetsuya Nakashima, which we'll look at another day, and that is Dasepo Naughty Girls. Dasepo is a candy colored sex farce, really very funny and ludicrous. It is the kind of film that the "Not Another Teen Movie" guys wish they could make. I don't really have much to say about it other than that, but I really think it deserves some attention, and at the amazing prices Amazon UK has right now, it is definitely worth checking out!
Another film that deserves much more credit is Im Sang-Soo's, The President's Last Bang. Im made a brilliant black comedy about the last hours of South Korea's former president Park Chung-Hee, who was assassinated in 1976 by a close friend and confidant. The film was very controversial upon its release in Korea, and was even censored by the Korean Supreme Court when Im tried to include some documentary footage in the, when the Court told him to remove it, he left in almost 4 minutes of blank screen in protest. It was this censored version that was available in most of the world upon the film's initial DVD releases. In 2006, as reported here on ScreenAnarchy for you longtime readers, the court reversed that decision and stated that the uncensored version was right and good and that Im's right to free expression had been infringed upon. However, by that time, most DVD releases in the world, including the Korean KD Media release and Kino's US release had already come out. Third Window was actually the first company in the world to release the fully uncut version of the film, and theirs remains the only English friendly version. That is quite an achievement. The President's Last Bang is a wildly entertaining film in its cut version, but the uncut scenes definitely enhance the emotional impact of the film and really change the overall tone. When I asked about this title, Adam told me that is was one of Third Window's poorest performers, which makes me really sad, actually. ScreenAnarchy readers, this is your opportunity to see this amazing film as it was meant to be seen! Not only that, over at Amazon is it DIRT CHEAP! Do yourselves a favor and seek out this film, you won't regret it!
Third Window hasn't released a single Korean film in 2010, and their 2009 Korean output was mainly older titles that they'd licensed years before. The focus has turned almost entirely to Japanese films, so I asked Adam what happened:
Do you think that you are moving away from the Korean film scene, or would you say the Korean film scene is moving away from you? Could your changed focus have to do with the increased attention to Korean films making them more and more expensive to license? Are there any in the last 2 years or so you were interested in that you either got outbid for or that the distributors wanted obscene amounts for? It seems to me that there are several Korean films from the last few years that don't have proper western distribution, like Secret Sunshine and stuff like that. Secret Sunshine won a best actress award at Cannes if I'm not mistaken...
I moved away from the Korean film scene as I felt it was moving away from my own tastes. I got into Korean cinema around 1999/2000 and thought my favourite year was 2001 where many great genre-mix-up films were released. I loved Korean cinema as I felt they were making their films for the Korean market and the tastes of their audience, but as Korean cinema became more and more popular in the West and Japan they started to make too many films for other markets. As their popularity grew, their budgets grew and so did their asking prices, but it wasn't the high costs that put me off as much (though of course that was an issue), it was the fact they started making their films more for the international market instead of their own. Due to the popularity of films like b>Oldboy in the international market there then were about 100 ultra gritty, revenge films a year being made, each trying to be more 'realistic' and 'gritty' than the last. After a (short) while this became really really boring. What I prefer about the Japanese industry is that because they've been around a lot and make all their money back (for the most part) domestically, their films are more aimed towards their own people and their own market. You do get to see films with a lot more of a 'Japanese' feel to them nowadays, compared to Korean which is more them trying to do films that other people constantly expect from them.All of Third Window's DVDs include interviews, behind the scenes featurettes, making-of documentaries, and trailer reels. Most of the content is found on other releases, but most of it is also unsubtitled, so the Third Window releases are very helpful in that regard. All of Third Window's Korean releases are available on Amazon and most can be had for less than £5, which is pretty amazing considering the quality of the films we're talking about.
Obviously you do have similar things going on in Japan with the J-horror boom such as the official J-horror series of titles which were pretty much made for the overseas market to build off the successes of Ringu and Juon, and in these cases the films were pretty much all remade or setup for remake (Premonition, Infection, etc) by idiots who like milking such booms dry. The new, equally rubbish trend of low-budget splatter titles and Nikkatsu's current 'Sushi Typhoon' label (of which 'Cold Fish' is a part of, but at the same time I personally wouldn't really bulk it into the others) are also all aimed towards the West, but like the J-horror boom before, these will go bust even quicker as with the same small number of directors making up to 10 films a year (films which you can barely tell the difference from each other) it will all go stale very quickly (the J-horror boom at least had Hollywood keeping its popularity worldwide). The good thing is that apart from these small trends, Japan still makes hundreds of films a year which are mostly aimed towards their own audience, making them feel like they are still quite 'Japanese'.
I tried to continue in the last few years trying to pickup titles like (Lee Chang Dong's) 'Secret Sunshine' and (Im Sang-Soo's) 'The Housemaid', but their sales agents wanted comically high amounts for them, and while I could probably pick them up now for less (more so for 'Sunshine'), the demand is already gone (especially for 'Sunshine').
While, Third Window may be done with Korean films for the time being, we are nowhere near being finished with Third Window! Like our previous focus Severin Films, Third Window has its favorite artists, and in this case, Sion Sono and Tetsuya Nakashima certainly count among their favorites. In the next column we'll take a closer look at Third Window's work with these directors and how they are creating exclusive material for the world market with their films. See you then!