Wong Kar-Wai's "The Grandmaster," now being officially presented by Martin Scorsese, is getting an ambitious release from the Weinstein Company, taking the chance that subtitles won't be a barrier in reaching a wider audience. Moviegoers have not had much access to high-budget prestige martial arts films since Ang Lee's spectacular 2000 success with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
With all the recent major hits from the Weinstein Company (while French, silent "The Artist" was less foreign), one area that that hasn't quite replicated earlier Miramax success is subtitled films. In its heyday in the 1990s, the company transformed the normally limited market for foreign language pictures, starting with "Cinema Paradiso" in 1990 and then later "Il Postino," which both grossed over $10 million (a rare achievement today, even with higher ticket prices), and prestige successes like "Farewell My Concubine" and Kieslowski's "Three Colors" series. Miramax peaked with Roberto Begnini's multiple Oscar winning "Life Is Beautiful' (which totaled $57 million).
But these grosses pale next to Sony Pictures Classics' achievement, "Crouching Tiger," which took in a staggering $128 million in 2000-2001 (adjusted would be $185 million at today's prices), which other than the anomaly of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," sold more tickets than any subtitled film in U.S. theater history. (Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" sold as many or more tickets than "Crouching," but it played the majority of its runs with a dubbed English soundtrack in the early 1960s.)
"The Grandmaster" also could be competitive in an Oscar area where the Weinsteins under the Miramax label once excelled -- the Foreign Language Film category. But if so, there could be a complication that could up this year with the change in voting rules.