The skin disease that is turning faces pale in Hollywood
By Nury Vittachi
This horrendous disease was first noticed in 1956, when my father watched a movie called The Conqueror, about Mongol warlord Genghis Khan. It revealed that on his way to the screen Mr Khan acquired white skin and an American accent. “Yah didn't suckle me ta be slain by Tarters, mah muth-err,” Genghis (played by John Wayne) said to his parent.
This scary ailment struck again in 1961, when Mr Yunioshi, a Japanese character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, turned completely Caucasian on set. The props department had to disguise the actor (Mickey Rooney) with thick glasses and fake buck teeth to help him revert to the Asianness the character demanded.
The most shocking case of trans-racial mutation occurred in The Mighty Gorga, a 1969 movie in which American explorers go to Africa where they discover a tribe of, er, Indians. (Apparently the producers of the film never realized that Indians live in India and Africans live in Africa.) But when the film was screened, every single one of the Indian/ Africans described in the trailer turned out to be Caucasians.
In the 1970s, I was interested to hear about the development of a TV series about a wandering Shaolin monk. But by the time Kung Fu screened, he had become Caucasian. The series was followed by Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which the monk (David Carradine) discovers he has a son, Peter. Peter (Chris Potter) is clearly Caucasian, so I supposed the mutation must be hereditary.
Further evidence for this comes from HBO’s Marco Polo movie featuring Kublai Khan. Like his grandfather Genghis Khan, young Kublai (Brian Dennehy) became completely white on his way to the screen.
On stage, I saw the Cameron Mackintosh production of Miss Saigon, in which the Eurasian character looked suspiciously like British actor Jonathan Pryce with tape over his eyelids.
Looking ahead, this racial morphing is escalating nightmarishly.
In the Hollywood pipeline for 2008 release is Dragonball Z. In the original story, the main character Goku has alien blood but in terms of looks, is unmistakably a Japanese anime boy. But sneak previews of the big screen version show Goku as a cute all-American mop-headed Caucasian (Justin Chatwin). In May this year, Hollywood launches Speed Racer, a movie adaption of the classic 1960s Japanese tale about boy driver Go Mifune. Lo and behold, fans will find that Go Mifune will be played by a pretty white boy (Emile Hirsch).
Opening on cinema screens worldwide over the next few weeks is 21, the true story of a group of Asian-Americans (some students and their teacher) who used their math-geek ability to legally win millions of US dollars at casinos. But when their story hits the screen, we find the main characters have mysteriously become white. Student leader Jeff Ma is played by Jim Sturgess and teacher John Chang by Kevin Spacey.
This one dismayed me. After all, we Asians spent decades honing our reputations as bookish math geeks!
Now I’m not saying that all Asian characters become Caucasians when they reach the big screen. Consider the 1990s remake of The Jungle Book. It started Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. Yes, finally, an actor of Chinese ethnicity gets a starring role—as Mowgli, an Indian.
Arthur and the Ego Chamber
SIR ARTHUR was lost in his own world, as usual. The last time I saw Arthur C. Clarke, the visionary author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, his hearing had gone.
This columnist was interviewing him on stage in Sri Lanka last year. I shrieked each question into his left ear until I was red-faced. But he misheard everything I said.
The result was that (a) the audience got a good laugh at the total disconnect between what I asked and what he replied, and (b) Arthur ended up ignoring me and talking about whatever came into his head, which was a darn sight more interesting for all concerned.
Sir Arthur, who died [on March 19th], had a wicked sense of humour. Talking about claims that UFOs regularly visit this planet, he said: “They tell us absolutely nothing about intelligence elsewhere in the universe, but they do prove how rare it is on Earth.”
He first approached my family in 1956, when he was diving addict hanging out on Unawatuna beach on the south coast of Ceylon. He wanted my father, a newspaperman, to print something he had written. The stuff was bizarre, mind-boggling and unrealistic, but kind of fun – so my Dad agreed.
Good call. To be brutally honest, Arthur wrote some of the most forgettable human characters in literary history, but his non-human ones (such as HAL 9000 the computer) were absolutely riveting.
Our families became friends. His house in Colombo was famous for three reasons. It had a satellite dish on top, long before anyone knew what a large metal dinner plate on one’s roof could do. It had its own elevator—an unheard-of luxury in a private home. And there was his souvenir-filled study, which he called The Ego Chamber. “This is a bit of a spaceship, and here’s a chunk of the moon,” he would say, holding up items from his shelf.
“Yeah, right,” we said, not knowing whether we dare believe him.
Clarke became totally Asian. He wore a sarong on his lower half and a Nehru jacket on his top half. His friends were all locals. He lived on curry.
But he never lost his sense of humour, which infected everyone. When US astronauts returned from the moon, one of them phoned him: “We want you to know that we were sorely tempted to call NASA and say, ‘Hey, Houston, we found this big black monolith thing on the dark side of the moon.’”
He took revenge on people who didn’t take him seriously. He revealed to everyone that the short story that became 2001: A Space Odyssey was written for the BBC, but was rejected.
And then there was his dig at a lawyer who gave him bad advice. Arthur famously came up with the concept of orbiting satellites. A lawyer friend thought the whole idea was too far-fetched and told him not to patent it. Arthur put this anecdote into an essay entitled How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time.
At his birth anniversary party in December, Arthur C. Clarke told folk that it wasn’t his birthday. “It’s my 90th orbit of the sun,” he explained.
Goodbye, Arthur. We’ll miss you, but your tales will orbit forever.
How Asians secretly fix Hollywood movies
By Nury Vittachi
DID YOU SEE THAT brilliant Julia Roberts comedy movie The Sparrow Becomes the Empress?
No? Never heard of it? Well, it may be a surprise to you, but you’ve probably seen it. Although it would likely have been under the dull title Pretty Woman.
Today’s the 85th anniversary of the invention of the “talkie” film camera, so let’s talk movies.
In Asia, we don’t just chuck Hollywood movies up there on our screens. No; we gloriously reinvent them with eye-catching new names.
Come on, admit it: which is the most intriguing title? The English Patient? Or, the same movie as it was renamed in Hong Kong: Don’t Ask Who I Am?
The Professional became This Hit Man Is Not As Cold As He Thought. And Bladerunner (which had nothing to do with blades or runners) became the intriguing Silver Wing Killer.
Few Asians have any idea what the phrase The Full Monty means. But the Chinese title of the film was the wonderfully clear and unsubtle Six Naked Pigs. (I’m sure the stars were thrilled.)
In India, Hollywood movies are re-made from scratch, usually with a completely different title. The Indian equivalent of When Harry Met Sally appeared in 2004 under the name Hum Tum. When films move from India to the west, they don’t bother translating the titles at all. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge sounds exotic, while the sentimental literal translation would have sent moviegoers fleeing: The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride.
Yet it’s the English-to-Chinese renamings which are most entertaining, because you can clearly smell the desperation of distributors taking huge liberties to make a fast buck.
The Cable Guy in Chinese became Trump Card Specialist and Liar Liar became Trump Card Big Liar. These make no sense until you realize that “Trump Card” is the East Asian moviegoers’ label for Jim Carrey, whose first successful movies in the region were the Ace Ventura series (“Ace” being translated as “Trump Card”).
The logic veered off track when the first Austin Powers movie was released in East Asia as Trump Card Big Spy. It starred Mike Myers rather than Jim Carrey, but distributors apparently thought that the fact that it was a completely different human being was too subtle a difference to worry about. Why be fussy? Deranged white guys are deranged white guys.
In Taiwan, The Blair Witch Project became Night in the Cramped Forest. An embarrassingly bad parody called The Bare Wench Project was released as Night in the Cramped Forest 2, as if it was the sequel. (The actual sequel had to settle for a different title: Spirits of the Dead Roar. I imagine it was spirits of the original writers who had a right to roar.)
Movie distributors in East Asia reckon Western movie titles are not literal enough for Asian audiences. Deep Impact became Earth and Comet Collide, and Eyes Wide Shut became Eyes Wide Open.
Anyway, next time you see Julia, tell her from me that I loved The Sparrow. And if you meet any Western film directors, I challenge them to market a romantic comedy movie under the name Hum Tum.
Tomorrow: From new movies to brand new words you need to know
THE ENTIRE JUNIOR population of Hong Kong seemed to be glued to their screens last night as High School Musical 2 was premiered on Disney Channel in Asia -- marketed as a piece of good, clean, entertainment for children.
But a scandal involving indecent photos erupted at exactly the same time, which critics say will be a disaster for the franchise.
Yet the critics are wrong.
IN THE MOVIE business in Asia, it has long been standard technique to set aside $10 million for special effects and $10 for a script.
That's all going to change now that a Hong Kong film story ("The Departed") has swept the Oscars in Hollywood. Several more HK movie scripts have been purchased by Hollywood, so this is a good time for writers here to produce their screenplays. I'm hoping to get a screenwriters "cell-group" going in Hong Kong next month. If anyone is interested, click here for details: I want to be a screenwriter.
China’s greatest classic story is not going to get the Hollywood treatment—at least not yet. Film buffs have been abuzz for months with the rumor that Steven Spielberg had joined forces with Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou to turn Journey to the West -- the story of the monkey king, originally published in China in 1590--into a blockbuster movie.
But spokesmen for the two recently denied the rumors, which apparently grew from a speculation made by a producer about what might be the ultimate east-west movie. He'd said that if someone big like Spielberg did a film in China with someone like him, it would have to be the ultimate Chinese story, such as Journey to West. Reporters interpreted this comment as an announcement that a deal had been made and shooting was about to start.
Still, with moviemakers’ habit of using fairytales and myths as material, it will only be a matter of time before cheeky monkey Sun Wukong journeys west—this time all the way west.
Critics will loathe Eragon. I guarantee that the vast majority will slam it.
But it is actually not the disaster they say it is. In the same way that they misunderstood The Da Vinci Code movie, they will misunderstand Eragon.
The first thing they will say is: "Hey, this is a Star Wars rip-off"! Ignore their bleating. It would make sense only if you do not realize that Star Wars itself was quite possibly the most derivative film in history, if you don't count deliberate spoofs and pastiches.
Secondly, they will say: "Hey, there are elves and things, so this is a Lord of the Rings rip-off". This comment would only make sense if you did not realize that the whole sword and sorcery scene pre-dated Tolkien by many decades.
Can someone solve a mystery for me? Why is The Da Vinci Code movie getting such terrible reviews? (About 30 per cent of the reviews are positive, while 60 per cent plus are very negative.) Against my will, someone bought a ticket for me, so I went with a group to see it. It was actually a really good mystery movie, following in a long line of classic mysteries from The 39 Steps onwards.