Before I get started, I want to first thank everyone who came out to the premiere of Fast Five at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival (we’ll post photos and videos from opening later this week). On behalf of everyone at YOMYOMF, thanks to everyone for their support and to the folks at Visual Communications who put on the fest. My fellow Offender Justin Lin (who directed Fast Five) was doing a press tour in Europe and couldn’t be there but our awesome hosts Danny Pudi (Community) and Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced) had the packed audience in the two theaters screening the movie say a quick hello to Justin in this video (of the theater 1 audience) shot on VC staffer Davis Jung’s phone:
Unless you were living in an isolated bunker with no internet or phones in Abbottabad, you probably already know that Fast Five’s opening weekend here in the U.S. was beyond huge. Normally, I don’t like to repeat information that you can find on a gazillion other sites, but I’m going to make an exception here because, after all, when was the last time an Asian American filmmaker made a movie that did this well? So let the folks at Deadline Hollywood, break it down for you:
Here’s the latest news about the start of the Summer Box Office with its first official weekend totalling $145 million, +52% from last year. The 2011 box office slump is now officially history. North America’s #1 movie is Universal’s Fast Five whose weekend of $83.6M blew away the $71M opening weekend of fourquel Fast & Furious. Now, this 5th installment in the street racing franchise breaks the studio’s non-toon losing streak in recent years with a global cume of $165M in just 10 days of release internationally…
The film received an “A” CinemaScore and an “A+” from moviegoers under age 18. In terms of records, Universal is claiming: the biggest opening in Universal history (besting Lost World: Jurassic Park’s $72.1M), the biggest opening of 2011 (besting Rio’s $39.2M), the biggest Universal opening for 2011 (besting Hop’s $37.5M), the highest opening for an April Release (besting Fast & Furious’ $71M), the highest opening for the last weekend in April (besting A Nightmare On Elm Street’s $39M), the highest opening for stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and producer Neil Moritz, and director Justin Lin. A lot of Uni execs are breathing easier today now that they’ve delivered a nice fat hit to their new Comcast overlords who must have been wondering if they’d bought a bomb factory instead of a movie studio. Fast Five opened first overseas 10 days ago and this weekend grossed a huge $45.3M at 3,211 dates in just 14 territories. That raised its early international tally to $81.4M. So now the worldwide total stands at a whopping $165M. The pic opened No. 1 in each of the 10 new markets. The openings are bigger than all the previous Fast franchise films and far ahead of Marvel/Disney’s Thor, which Paramount has opened head-to-head against Fast Five in 12 markets but not in the U.S. and Canada until next Friday. Of course, sequels do better overseas than in this country. But even rival studios say Fast Five is on track for a $300M foreign and $500M worldwide finish.
But wait, the most updated news released yesterday was that the studio underreported the first weekend grosses and the film actually pulled in a whooping $86.2 million not the measly $83.6 million that was originally reported. Not only that, but Fast Five has received mostly positive reviews which never happens with the fifth film in an action franchise and critics are pointing out how this may be one of Hollywood’s most progressive films ever (see here and here for examples).
Amidst all this hoopla, I got a chance to talk to Justin over the weekend before he left for the Asian leg of his press tour and I’m happy to report that he hasn’t turned into a dick. Well, not yet at least. In fact, in the stress and pressure of the weeks leading up to the film’s release, he said the thing that was most on his mind wasn’t one of the big international premieres or shouldering the weight of the massive expectations for the film. Nope, the thing he was most worried about was how would the film play at the Asian Film Fest? Would his peeps there like it? Would the event go well? What?! At this moment, you’re probably the most powerful director in Hollywood and you’re big worry is how the film would do at an Asian American film festival?
Well, I’m sure it must be a surreal experience to be in the eye of this perfect storm and I can’t begin to fathom what that must be like. However, Justin has promised to blog about what he’s been going through so look for that shortly.
But let’s return to the question I posed at the start: what does this film’s success, the fact that one of the biggest hits of all time was directed by an Asian American, mean for our community? I’m not going to try to volunteer any concrete answers because I don’t have any, but let me offer some general observations.
The first and most important point I want to make is that I don’t think this film will be a fluke that exists in a vacuum. I know in the past films like The Joy Luck Club have met with success and it didn’t lead to any real change for our community so it’s easy to be suspicious and cynical, but I think things are different now.
As a lot of other people have written already, it’s going to be hard for Hollywood not to take notice of the fact that a big tent pole picture with a mostly non-white cast can be hugely successful. Will this lead to studios suddenly populating their films with brown, black and yellow people (yes, I’m looking at you Akira)? Maybe not right away. But in an industry that often “copies” what’s already been successful, it’s definitely not going to be business as usual. And we know there’s at least one Asian American director now who actually cares about the community and has a lot more clout now to do what he wants. And that’s significant.
Hollywood has always been behind the rest of the arts when it comes to reflecting the world in which we live. You look at other fields like music where out and proud Asian Americans like our friends Far East Movement and Bruno Mars are at the top of their game and it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before the movies have to start reflecting that reality too or it’ll go the way of fax machines, VHS and CDs. Hopefully, the success of something like Fast Five will give Hollywood a big push in the right direction.
But where this reality is truly reflected is online where the young and Asian American generation of YouTube stars like Wong Fu, KevJumba and Ryan Higa are already the rock stars and pioneers. I know there are people (usually “old” folks on the other side of 25) who dismiss these guys as passing fads who will be unable to cross over into the “mainstream.” But I think those people are going to be eating their words if history is any indication.
It’s true that none of the YouTube stars have been able to parlay their success online to other traditional fields (like Hollywood)…yet. But I think it’s just a matter of time before some enterprising soul figures out how to turn that “niche” online world into the powerful mainstream force it’s on the brink of becoming. And the exciting thing is that Asian Americans are the ones at the forefront of this.
It reminds me of the early days of Hollywood when most people dismissed the new medium of motion pictures as a fad and something that was beneath them (sound familiar?). It was Jewish immigrants (or children of Jewish immigrants) who became the pioneers and leaders in what would become one of the largest industries in the world because they got involved from the beginning when no one else would and saw the potential that others didn’t.
Well, we’re in the same place today with YouTube and new media and Asian Americans are the new Jews—we were able to see and utilize the potential in this new form before others did and now we have the power to really create a new model that can potentially transform the business. The only difference is that back then, the Jews who ran the studios had to “hide” their cultural identity and make films that did the same because they didn’t think the mass audience would be supportive (and they were most likely correct). But this new generation of Asian Americans are proud of their identity and they know their multicultural audience is ready and willing to embrace that too. And that’s a very good thing.
So let me proclaim right here that it might just be the most exciting time to be an Asian American in this crazy business. To see the success of a film like Fast Five, to see the FM boys move up the charts with each new song, to see these young YouTube guys being greeted with Beatles-like fandom wherever they go, to see so many TV pilots this season featuring Asian characters—it does feel like a perfect storm is brewing and it’s fucking exciting! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Am I saying everything is perfect and we’ve made it? Of course not. No one knows more than those of us in the trenches the real obstacles we face everyday (Yes, Justin still gets mistaken for the Chinese delivery guy on the sets of his own movies), but I think no one else also knows better that the world is such that we now have the power to affect real change. We have to get out of this 20th Century mentality of victimhood—boo hoo, Hollywood doesn’t care about us. So fucking what? It’s the 21st Century now. It’s time to move beyond that. We’ve been on the defensive for too long. It’s time to play some kick ass offense and we now have the players to do that.
I wrote recently that in five years you’ll see a genuine Asian American movie star—that there’s no longer any obstacles preventing us from doing this that we can’t overcome. I know some took that statement with a bit of skepticism, but let me ask you this: Five years ago, did you think that the most successful Hollywood director of the year would be an Asian American? That an Asian American music act would claim the top spot on the charts? That the most subscribed and viewed personality on YouTube would be an Asian American?