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Cannes: Emperor Brings Back Restored ‘Devils,’ ‘Ichi the Killer’

Variety logo Variety 5/9/2017 Patrick Frater
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Emperor Motion Picture has picked up sales rights to two restored classic films of modern Asian cinema: “Devils on the Doorstep” and “Ichi the Killer.”

The Hong Kong-based studio has begun sales on the so-called Cannes version of “Devils,” the black comedy directed by Jiang Wen in 2000. Although Jiang is today celebrated as a cultural icon in China, the film earned him a seven-year directing ban and was refused a theatrical release in China.

The story involves a captured Japanese soldier who is mysteriously billeted in a Chinese village. Jiang’s intention may have been to contradict stereotyped thinking on Chinese passiveness, but his humanistic portrayal of the Japanese prisoner was controversial.

Edited versions of the film were given releases in some territories, including Japan in 2002. Those compounded Jiang’s previous fault of having submitted the movie to Cannes – where it won the Grand Prize – without Film Bureau permission.

The restored, 162-minute Cannes version of the film was screened at the Hong Kong festival in 2011, while a shorter version of 140 minutes played at the festival in 2014. Rights were previously handled by Fortissimo, but the contract expired and EMP struck a new deal with the producers.

EMP has also restored and revived “Ichi the Killer,” one of the most challenging, violent and iconic films to emerge from Japanese auteur Miike Takashi. The film was released in 2001. EMP was one of its original co-producers, alongside Japan’s Omega Project.

Miike has been a Cannes regular – albeit not with his splatter films – and will be on the Croisette this year for the fifth time with the Warner Bros.-backed samurai film “Blade of the Immortal.”

“Miike is prolific, but ‘Ichi the Killer’ stands out as something special,” says EMP’s head of international sales May Yip. “Unfortunately, the materials were in very poor condition as it was shot in Beta and only later converted to 35mm. So, given that there was enduring interest and licenses expiring, we took the decision to restore it. The result will be better, even gorier.”

Restoration work on “Ichi” was handled by L’Immagine Rittrovata Asia, the Hong Kong branch of the Bologna, Italy-based laboratory and restoration group headed by Davide Pozzi. In recent years, the company has found that restoring Asian movies is a flourishing business as demand grows from online video and archive sources. It opened its Hong Kong unit in 2015.

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