By Alan Scherstuhl
By Mark Holcombe
By Scott Foundas
By Nick Pinkerton
By Michael Atkinson
By Scott Foundas
By Keith Phipps
By Alan Scherstuhl
WHILE THE ACTION in Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons is straight from Hong Kong, its revamped score comes from a nearer source--Lake Elmo. After spending several years writing jingles and other music for the commercials and infomercials of local companies such as 3M and Nordic Track, Minnesota native Michael Wandmacher is now living in L.A. and scoring movies for Miramax's genre division, Dimension Films. "It's all I ever really wanted to do," the composer explains over the phone. "I've got pages out of my English journal from grade school to prove it." With three recent Miramax projects to his name, including his current work on Supercop II (a.k.a. Police Story IV: Crime Story) and the release of Twin Dragons, Wandmacher has become a player in a peculiar kind of Hong Kong film revival.
In fact, the kind of postproduction work Wandmacher specializes in marks the burgeoning of Hollywood's newest cottage industry. Acting as middlemen of sorts, Miramax and other mini-major distributors have been brushing off old Hong Kong films and shopping them around to new American audiences. The practice has frustrated some fans, because the films--Twin Dragons, Operation Condor, Rumble in the Bronx, and Supercop among them--have been marketed more or less as new films. Not since Ted Turner put crayola to celluloid have Hollywood's bottom-line feeders come up with such a low-risk method of making sizable returns on recycled material. These rereleases target a newfound audience of genre-guzzling martial-arts fans willing to pay restaurant prices for, well, leftovers. (Granted, for cities that lack a specialty exhibitor like the Twin Cities' Asian Media Access, many of these movies have been largely inaccessible.)
"It's very confusing," Wandmacher admits, "because these movies are all rereleases. And they try to repackage them so they make sense to an American public. All the Jackie Chan fans just wonder why they don't tell people the way it is." But you needn't be a Weinstein brother to answer that question. "All Miramax does," Wandmacher explains, "is acquire the films--the acquisition costs are small--and then run them through postproduction again: new titles, new sound, new mix, new music." Postproduction typically runs between $750,000 and a million dollars, Wandmacher estimates, whereas the return on a Jackie Chan film in the theaters averages ten to twelve million. To that sum one need only add video sales--"where Jackie is probably the single most valuable video franchise in the world," Wandmacher points out--to grasp the sizable profits these films can garner.
And what does Wandmacher, a fan of HK action films, think of this practice? "I'm fine with it," he says. "I'm just glad Jackie's getting the exposure that he's getting...If Miramax has to do what they have to do to get the films out and package them in a way that's palatable for everybody, and if people like Michelle Yeoh and Jackie get more exposure, I'm all for it." Because the Hong Kong market has long been riddled with financial improprieties, Wandmacher is inclined to accentuate the positive aspects of this new marketing machine: "It's good for those actors to make a splash in the West, considering that the Mafia over there is so involved in the film industry. Success in the West gives the actors more leverage to call the shots on their own careers."
Onscreen, at least, they'll be making their calls in English.
Twin Dragons is playing at area theaters.
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