BREAKING: While Hollywood studios and exhibitors endlessly spar over shortening the window between theatrical and home viewing on feature films, you just knew that someone was going to take a bona fide movie, bypass theaters and go right to home viewing. Not surprisingly, it’s Netflix, already a disruptive force with series including House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. The pay service has just contracted with The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein to release its first major feature film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend. Sort of a sequel to the Ang Lee-directed 2000 martial arts epic that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the film will premiere exclusively on Netflix, and it will simultaneously have a berth in IMAX theaters. The release is August 28, 2015.
Yuen Wo-Ping is directing a script by John Fusco, and Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen star. Lee is not involved in this, and the connective tissue is the source material based on the Crane-Iron Pentalogy by Wang Du Lu. Crouching Tiger was the fourth book in the series, and this film is based on the fifth installment, Silver Vase, Iron Knight. Both are from Wu Sia, the centuries-old genre of Chinese fiction that this series is part of. There is plenty of high-wire sword fighting along with the themes of lost love, young love and redemption. Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu-Lien, and Donnie Yen plays Silent Wolf. The film is shooting in New Zealand. Yuen is a legendary filmmaker and fight choreographer, and the production team is composed of all seasoned feature players. Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey are producing with Weinstein and The Imitation Game helmer Morten Tyldum is exec producing with Ralph Winter, Anthony Wong and Bey Logan.
This isn’t the only feature film that Netflix is working on, but it likely will be the first one released. Fusco, Harvey Weinstein and Netflix also are in business on the mammoth event series Marco Polo, and the TWC catalog of films, including those directed by Quentin Tarantino, are available on demand to Netflix subscribers. TWC already has branched into other distribution models with its multi-platform releasing arm RADiUS, but this more closely mirrors the Golden Age of cable television that is partly fueled by the ability for viewers to watch what they want, when they want it. That has not been possible with feature films until now. TWC and Sony had battled several years ago over the rights to the Crouching Tiger books left behind by the author, who died in 1977. SPC released the 4-Oscar-winning original. Reports quoted his son, Hong Wang, saying his family made very little money from the original film, and that is why they made another deal. TWC then made the movie, going in with a budget north of $20 million.
Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, who has thumbed his nose at exhibitors in the past, understandably considers this a coup to get a branded title with global appeal.
“Fans will have unprecedented choice in how they enjoy an amazing and memorable film that combines intense action and incredible beauty,” he said in a statement. “We are honored to be working with Harvey Weinstein and a world-class team of creators to bring this epic story to people all over the world and to partner with IMAX, a brand that represents the highest quality of immersive entertainment, in the distribution of this film.”
Weinstein was a bit more reserved in his statement: “The moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement. We are tremendously excited to be continuing our great relationship with Netflix and bringing to fans all over the world the latest chapter in this amazing and intriguing story.”
Being along for the ride helps IMAX broaden its horizons, per senior executive Greg Foster. “IMAX has a terrific opportunity, via this partnership with Netflix, to release Crouching Tiger – a high-quality action-packed film that is right in our wheelhouse, at the end of the summer blockbuster season,” he said. “We are particularly hopeful it will play in our highly successful China market. In territories where we simultaneously release with Netflix, we are excited to offer consumers the option of deciding how, when and where they want to view the film, and exhibitors the opportunity to participate in this alternative form of content in a new and innovative way.”
Will the status quo theater chains see it that way?