Why does Harvey Weinstein think Americans are too stupid for Asian cinema?

The producer wants to give Wong Kar-Wai and Bong Joon-ho’s latest films his infamous treatment.
Harvey Weinstein
 (David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0)

Over the years, Harvey Weinstein has developed a reputation for hacking apart — or trying to hack apart — Asian films. In the past, this has included such titles as Shaolin Soccer, Hero, and Princess Mononoke. And now, Weinstein has turned his attention to two of the year’s most acclaimed Asian films: Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer.

Both of these films have achieved considerable success already — Snowpiercer, for example, has dominated the South Korean box office since its release earlier this month — but apparently, that doesn’t mean much to Weinstein. He’s ordered cuts made to the films in order to make them more… palatable to American audiences.

For The Grandmaster, that means a film that is shorter by 20 minutes, and is more action-oriented and less drama-focused. You can catch a glimpse of this repackaging in the film’s first North American trailer, which uses a lot of footage from the Chinese trailers but tacks on a really lame voiceover that makes the film look like a simple bad-ass smackdown. Which, if you’ve ever seen anything by Wong Kar-Wai, you know is pretty far removed from the type of film the man makes.

 (CC BY 3.0)

As for Snowpiercer, Weinstein has requested that Bong Joon-ho cut 20 minutes in order to make the film more easily understood by “audiences in Iowa… and Oklahoma.” Bong has resisted, claiming the edits would remove character detail and turn his film into a simple action movie.

As someone who has been a longtime fan and supporter of Asian cinema, I find this situation frustrating. On the one hand, I want to see these movies, and I’d love to see them in the theatre (along with a few friends, hopefully). I want to support Asian cinema here in the States, and a good way to do that is to do my part to ensure that they do well at the box office.

On the other hand, I want to see the real versions of these movies, the versions that the directors intended for me to see. I don’t want to pay money to watch butchered versions that flow out of a cynical view of American moviegoers, i.e., that we’re too stupid to “get” Asian films unless they’re dumbed down enough for those of us in flyover country. Because apparently, we only like Asian films if they have lots of punching and explosions… or something like that. But even if that’s true, I’d like to see American moviegoers challenged just a little bit to move outside their moviewatching comfort zones. And that’s not going to happen with movies edited to appeal to some perceived lowest common denominator.

What’s more, I continue to remain confused as to why Asian filmmakers let Weinstein acquire their films in the first place. They should know by now that, though he claims to love their films, Weinstein’s actions communicate something else entirely. And its their legacies and reputations at stake here, not Weinstein’s. Or, as Jesse Knight puts it:

By the time Snowpiercer reaches midwestern theaters, it’s unlikely anyone interested in seeing the film will be aware of this controversy. An opening voiceover narration may not bother certain viewers as much as it does me. They may not find it as condescending and lazy, but if they do, it’s not at the expense of Weinstein’s reputation, but Bong’s. If Weinstein’s cut of Snowpiercer were my introduction to Bong’s body of work, I’d be hard-pressed to seek out his other titles, or to even invest in the one I’d paid to see. Weinstein’s horning in on a film that’s already been completed meticulously and lovingly risks narrowing the scope and individuality of a vision as imaginative and singular as Bong’s. Let the film breathe. Sometimes it’s the quieter moments that speak loudest.

When Weinstein says that he’s “not cutting for fun” but rather, “cutting for the shit to work,” I find that very telling. To me, that says that he doesn’t really believe in the films he acquires, that he doesn’t really trust the directors and their abilities to make films that “work.” Rather, he sees something in those films that he can manipulate and exploit… for money, for Oscars, whatever. But these films and their creators — and by extension, those of us who want to see and appreciate these films as intended — deserve better.

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