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April 8, 2005 2:00 AM
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Aiming For The Next "Crouching Tiger," Sony Classics Invests in "Kung Fu Hustle"

Aiming For The Next "Crouching Tiger," Sony Classics Invests in "Kung Fu Hustle"

by Eugene Hernandez









Sony Pictures Classics' co-president Michael Barker with "Kung Fu Hustle" writer/director/star Stephen Chow at Oceana in Manhattan last week, following the film's New York City premiere. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE.

If the gamble being taken by Sony Pictures Classics pays off, Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" will be a big hit. The company has invested a sizable $12 million P&A budget for the release of "Hustle" that begins with a limited launch of the film today on just a few screens.

"What we did on 'Crouching Tiger' in eight weeks we are going to do here in two," Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker told indieWIRE yesterday (Thursday). That film earned more than $128 million in its domestic release, opening in December of 2001 and hitting more than 1,000 screens in early February of 2001 then expanding to more than 2,000 screens in late March.

"Kung Fu Hustle" kicks off today on 7 screens in New York and Los Angeles, before hitting an anticipated 2,000 screens nationwide on April 22nd.

At the film's New York City premiere last week, held in the large and filled Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan, Barker introduced Chow to a cheering crowd of fans, praising him and his new movie.

"The key with this film is that it is so fresh and new," boasted Barker, during yesterday's conversation with indieWIRE. "This is a film that will not only get the mainstream audience, but will also get the audience that has no interest in martial arts whatsoever."

A winner of multiple prizes at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards, Chow's fast-paced, funny, kung fu send-up topped the ceremony nabbing the award for best film. Calling Chow a "major filmmaker," Barker reminded that his film "Shaolin Soccer" a few years ago connected with European audiences and Chow has been popular in Asia for some time.

"'Kung Fu Hustle' has a demented appeal not limited to specialists or aficionados," noted film critic A.O. Scott in today's New York Times review. "Hectic and eclectic, the movie snatches tasty morsels of international pop culture, ranging from Looney Tunes to Sergio Leone to 'Airplane!,' and tosses them into a fast-moving blender."

Sony is betting that a large audience is ready to embrace the film, driven by genre fans but extending to a wider group.

"The recognition among the mainstream audience is there much earlier than it was for "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon," Barker explained, citing a heavy marketing campaign that has focused on both television and Internet exposure. Chow has toured the country to support the release.

"One of our approaches is to familiarize the audience with the variety of characters in the film," explained Barker, touting the twelve characters in the movie." Barker emphasized that his company has been laying the foundation and working on this release since as early as last June. The film was produced by Sony's local language production entity, Barker explained, and was overseen by vice chairman of Sony's Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, Gareth Wigan.

"Everything is a risk," offered Barker, when asked about the gamble that Sony is taking with the upcoming wide release of this movie. "We feel this is a film that is very fresh, that has real mainstream potential."

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