Let's ease into the new year with a couple of news bites of interest for Asian film fans. First up: the US distribution front: if you're like me, you'll have trouble naming more than two East Asian pictures that got any kind of theatrical release in the latter half of 2008; I'm remembering only the Japanese drama Love and Honor and Wong Kar Wai's meditative action remix, Ashes of Time Redux. Anything I'm forgetting?
This year, the release calendar looks pretty empty as well. Tokyo!, expected in March, compiles three short films set in the titular city, but only one from an Asian director, the very talented Bong Joon-ho (The Host). So it's welcome news to hear via indieWIRE that Regent Releasing has picked up the drama Departures (Okuribito) for US release this summer. Directed by Yojiro Takita, the film focuses on a Japanese death custom, specifically, "a professional who cleanses and clothes a body," as described in a review by Mark Schilling in The Japan Times. ("It's about finding your bliss, even if the world thinks your bliss is odd, icky and a marriage breaker.") Sounds intriguing!
Next up: A deal has been set for director Tsui Hark and star Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, The Warlords) to make Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame per The Hollywood Reporter. Years ago, when Tsui was surfing a huge wave bringing cinematic bliss worldwide, with brilliant films like Peking Opera Blues and Once Upon a Time in China, this news would have set my heart on fire. Sadly, Tsui's most recent track record (including the incomprehensible Seven Swords and his lackluster segment of Triangle) has been disheartening, so I'm not terribly optimistic that this "period martial arts suspense thriller" will be his return to glory. They're aiming for a summer 2010 release in Asia.