Asian film imports first hit American shores decades ago, driven by the rise of the International Film Festivals in Europe. Erstwhile agoraphobic Hollywood executives would drag themselves from their gold castles and actually find something worthwhile in the amazing epics being produced on the far side of the Pacific. The market never quite found the foothold it would need to be commercially successful though, at least not until the martial arts genre came flying in on the golden wings of Bruce Lee.
Since then, company's like Sony and Miramax have gone out of their way to import film after film to US shores, featuring some of the most amazing directors, actors, and martial artists in Asia. Unfortunately, with their eagerness to share those findings with the American public, comes the dreaded cut. It's what any foreign film fan hates to hear most―"American edit".
It's not new to the industry. Since the '60s, foreign films have been going under the knife time and time again. It's basically the American studio executives deciding for the American people what they will and will not understand. They take a perfectly amazing film and cut out vast quantities of the story, and remake the film in a manner more suitable to the short attention spans and fickle nature of a nation that doesn't like to read at the movies. Unfortunately, those that most appreciate and wait eagerly for theatrical releases of these films, are also largely displeased with these methods.
The results are appalling sometimes, as not only do they take out vital scenes just because they contain cultural references that Americans may not understand, they dub over the original voices with English voices so as the American public won't have to read subtitles.
It's not new, and if you go back and watch any Kung Fu film released in America in the '70s or '80s, it's there. It's a shame that the results are so horrible, because some of these films are truly amazing. And it's Miramax that's the biggest culprit in these film cutting crimes.
Take Shaolin Soccer for instance, one of my favorite films from Hong Kong in the last 20 years. The original Stephen Chow cut of the film in Hong Kong was 113 minutes long, a respectable normally cut film. The American cut released two years later, and was only 87 minutes long. Somewhere in the film, they'd seen fit to cut almost a half hour of the comedy and/or action out. They'd essentially rewritten how the film would be shown, by taking out an entire subplot.
The same can be said of any imported film. The Protector, a Thai import released with 27 minutes cut from the film. The critics panned it for being nonsensical and baseless in its plot. I've seen the Thai cut, and I can say it wasn't astoundingly well-written, but it was decent, and of course it's baseless when you've cut 25% of the film out for a domestic audience. The results are unfair to the filmmakers as well, whose chances at success in the massive American market are skewered by the trigger happy finger of an American censor and cultural editor.
Other genres and markets feel the same backhanded scorn of the American studio system as well. In turns, Anime, Bollywood, and scores of amazing Latin American films are torn apart piece by piece for the good of our culturally ignorant masses. Anime, which dominates our children's programming anymore, is essentially redirected during localization to clean up the slightly more liberal approach to just about everything Japanese audiences have. Even the violent, battle-filled anime such as Dragonball Z or Naruto is whitewashed at times, blue statements redubbed with goofier phrases.
When I go to see a film, I hope to see what the director wanted me to see, not what a board of stuffy American executives and censors decided would be acceptable for my less than worldly American brain.