Oct 01, 2014

    Crouching Tiger 2 to debut on Netflix, not major cinemas


    IN THE first deal of its kind, Netflix and the Weinstein Company on Monday said that they planned to release next year's sequel to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon simultaneously across the globe on Netflix and a select number of Imax theatres.

    A follow-up to Ang Lee's Academy Award-winning martial arts drama, the film will be the first major motion picture to make its debut on the streaming service and in cinemas at the same time.

    It will be available on Aug 28 at no additional fee to Netflix subscribers, and is the first of several films that Netflix is backing which will follow this new model for release. Only Imax is involved, and other theatre chains will not screen the film.

    Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said he hoped this deal would show Hollywood that the time has come to respond to what movie fans want, and to change the traditional method for releasing films: first in theatres, then typically several months later, for streaming.

    "What I am hoping is that it will prove that the sky doesn't fall," Mr Sarandos said. "These are two different experiences, like going to a football game and watching a football game on TV."

    The move underscores an eagerness at Netflix to shatter the traditional windowing system for movies in the same way that it has rattled the structure of the TV business, with TV shows now available for streaming soon after their broadcast on the networks.

    Netflix has introduced new models, releasing original series like House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black all at once.

    "We fundamentally believe that the only way to attack the windowing system - that is the centrepiece of the business model of the movie industry versus what consumers want - requires an outsider," said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst with BTIG Research.

    "Netflix has already changed the TV business in a very, very significant way. The movie business is teed up next."

    Yet the deal also reflects the challenges that persist in breaking the system, particularly in film. The film, called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Destiny, is a production of the independent Weinstein Company, not a major movie studio, and has a relatively modest budget. The partnership with Imax, meanwhile, avoids a big problem: The major theatre chains refuse to break the system.

    For Imax, the deal reflects the manner in which it struggles to find marquee programming during lulls in Hollywood's release calendar. Late August is sort of a cinematic black hole - a time when big studios hold back new releases to avoid competing with back-to-school activities and end-of-summer vacations.

    Three theatre chains - Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark - control the majority of movie screens in the United States, and they have aggressively opposed any change to their release window, maintaining that any shortening would encourage consumers to stay home. Under current contracts, theatres screen movies for three months without competition.

    Netflix has been interested in breaking into the original film business for some time, and has worked with Weinstein on several projects, including the forthcoming Marco Polo historical adventure series, which will be shown exclusively on Netflix.

    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was very much an art-house film. Made for about US$23.5 million in 2000, it took audiences - in Mandarin, with English subtitles - on a martial arts romp. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won four, including best foreign film. The film catapulted its Taiwanese director, Lee, to the forefront of Hollywood.

    Despite its art-house imprimatur, the film played more like a blockbuster, which helps explain Imax's interest in the sequel. Lee's film took in US$176.8 million in North America for Sony Pictures Classics in 2000. It ranks as the best-selling Chinese language film in domestic box office history.

    The budget for the sequel, The Green Destiny, is a multiple of that for the 2000 film, according to a source familiar with the financing.

    In the sequel, Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as the warrior Yu Shu Lien, but Lee does not return. Weinstein has instead given the directing reins to Yuen Wooping, a well-known director in China.

    The Green Destiny, set 20 years after the events of the first movie, follows four martial arts heroes trying to protect the Green Destiny sword.