Hollywood pays homage to Eastern cultural icon

May typically marks the start of the period when so-called summer blockbusters are released.

This year, the super heroes have been coming at us fast and furious.

Among them is a different kind of hero. An Eastern hero given the total Hollywood treatment - Godzilla.

I went into the Imax 3D experience without reading any reviews. I left the cinema gasping.

Steven Spielberg once said: "I like ideas, especially movie ideas, that you can hold in your hand. If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it's going to make a pretty good movie."

Spielberg's comment embodies the essence of the high-concept film, which can be condensed into one sentence that inspires marketing campaigns, lures audiences, and separates success from failure at the box office.

This is the foundation for the development and dominance of the high-concept movie within commercial Hollywood film-making since the late 1970s.

A single phrase like "Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the water...", a single image or a theme song could be used to turn a movie into a blockbuster.

Almost every shot in Godzilla is what the film industry would call a money shot.

Helmed by Gareth Edwards, one of the most promising young Hollywood directors, the movie bestowed a certain nobility to the title character, a sign of respect for the source material.

This character first crashed onto movie screens in Toho Company's 1954 classic Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese), at a time when special effects were in their Bronze Age.

This monster, born of the two nuclear bombs which exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, started out as a spectacle of carnage and destruction, but evolved into a hero. An antithesis of the play of nuclear power.

When Hollywood takes on an Eastern character or subject matter, with global marketing, there is worldwide recognition.

In 1987, when Bernardo Bertolucci directed The Last Emperor, suddenly audiences around the world were introduced to the richness of the Forbidden City in China.

The movie won nine Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director and also introduced a young actress to global audiences: Joan Chen.

In the same vein, The World Of Suzie Wong and, more recently, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire are movies which brought global attention to a slice of Asian culture or a phenomenon otherwise not known to many in both the West and the East.

Yet nothing fits like a glove into the Hollywood movie-making machinery as this monster called Godzilla. Its Japanese origin just makes it more exotic and appealing.

After its debut in the 1950s, every few years, a threat would arise that was too ferocious for mere humans to vanquish on their own, and the earth-shattering roar and distinctive silhouette would rise from the sea to save the day.

However, not all Japanese Godzilla movies travel well.

In Godzilla directed by Edwards, I see a commercial high-concept movie with artistic merits, not to mention the eye-popping production values.

I think Hollywood has finally produced a movie on an organically Japanese creature with its dignity and majesty intact.

I also realise, that whether in budget, story-telling, effects or cinematography, there is still a gap for Eastern film-makers to bridge.

While we build on our expertise, it is indeed a wonderful feeling to sit back and enjoy the multi-million-dollar homage that Hollywood pays to an Eastern cultural icon, as a super hero on equal billing as theirs.


The writer is a film-maker and life coach. He blogs at danielyunhx.com. Godzilla opens in cinemas here today.

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