A week-long showcase will screen five of the latest acquisitions of Texas-based Well Go USA, including cult Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s “Drug War.”
The Hollywood Reporter HONG KONG – Well Go USA’s long-running efforts in distributing Asian films to the U.S. will be put into focus with a showcase of the company’s latest acquisitions at the New York Asian Film Festival taking place from June 28 through July 15, 2013.
Celebrating its tenth year in existence, Doris Pfardrescher’s Texas-based company will be highlighted at the festival with screenings of the martial arts drama Ip Man: The Final Fight, Johnnie To’s policier Drug War, the 1920s Shanghai mobster movie The Last Tycoon, the heist thriller An Inaccurate Memoir and Taiwanese singer-actor Jay Chou’s second directorial effort, The Rooftop.
Explaining why Well Go has been singled out for commemoration, the festival’s official program guide praises the company for releasing movies quickly, “rather than sitting on them for months or even years,” it said. “They make them available uncut, in their original language, with good subtitles, and solid transfers” – all of which is in contrast to the complaints U.S. fans of Asian cinema frequently level at bigger mainstream distributors of Asian fare stateside.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is among a handful of Asian films Well Go acquired U.S. distribution rights for at Cannes, alongside the Jet Li-starring action comedy Badges of Fury, the martial arts movie The Wrath of Vajra, the Donnie Yen 3-D actioner Iceman, Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti’s Directors’ Fortnight entry On the Job, and the Jessica Biel-featuring thriller Emanuel and The Truth About Fishes.
Drug War will screen at the Philadelphia Film Society on June 13 and then unspool at the Los Angeles Film Festival before making its bow in New York.
It’s rare that a distributor does it right. For years, fans complained loud and long about the short-sightedness of so many distributors bringing Asian films to the American market. At first there weren’t any, then there came a vast wave of folks looking to cash in quick, cutting, dubbing, and releasing movies in cheesy packaging with crummy titles. Subtitling was frowned upon because many distributors felt that their audiences were “urban” (read: black and Hispanic) and they believed that they didn’t know how to read. Even worse, some of these titles sold well, encouraging more of the same. Where was the distributor who got it? Where was the distributor who would treat these movies (and their audience) with respect?
Eventually, glutted with cheap junk, the market collapsed, and soon you couldn’t sell an Asian movie to save your life. And then, along came Well Go USA Entertainment. Based out of Plano, Texas and founded by Annie Walker in 1994, Well Go got into the home video business distributing instructional and fitness videos around the world. They had about 2000 titles in their catalogue, and in 2005 they began to distribute in the United States, as well. After a while, they realized that while the money they were making on some of their videos wasn’t what they wanted it to be, the few Shaw Brothers and Asian horror titles they’d licensed were doing really well. They also realized that no company in North America was focused solely on Asian movies. So they decided to be that company. They began by releasing some titles that did all right, but then they released Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip’s Ip Man and Ip Man 2, and everything changed. Suddenly, they were a major player. They’ve never looked back.
While we should always protest when a distributor does it wrong, we also need to celebrate a distributor who does it right. Well Go USA has given small theatrical releases to the films they think need the awareness. They release movies quickly, rather than sitting on them for months or even years. They make them available uncut, in their original language, with good subtitles, and solid transfers. They release them not just on DVD and Blu-Ray but on streaming and digital platforms, too. Their feeling is that the more people who see these movies, the better, and so they work with festivals to clear rights for screenings and get prints so that these movies get shown to the people who love them.
All of this sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised at how many distributors make a mess of things. Which is why we want to take some time this year to put a spotlight on Well Go USA. Because Well Go? They get it.
~ Subway Cinema Inc. for New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF)