These two Asian romantic drama films, Love Letter and A Wedding Invitation, have unique stories behind their production and distribution. Understanding how these films are produced and marketed can help someone appreciate the audience they are trying to reach and the message they are trying to convey. When analyzing their marketing and distribution, it is of note that many East Asian romantic dramas such as Love Letter and A Wedding Invitation gain much more recognition and popularity across Asia than in Europe and North America. They are not often exported or adapted to Western theatres, unlike Asian horror and martial arts films. The production, marketing strategies, and international successes of Love Letter and A Wedding Invitation demonstrate the growth and limitations of transnational Asian romantic dramas.
Love Letter was produced by Jiro Komaki, Tomoki Ikeda, and Masahiko Nagasawa and distributed and released by Nippon Herald Films in Japan on March 25, 1995. It was immediately a box office success and was then exported to several other countries, including Canada, where it was showcased at the Toronto Film Festival, Taiwan, Hong Kong, USA, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Its success was most notable in South Korea, where it was released just after South Korea lifted its ban on Japanese cultural imports (Kyodo). South Korean access to Japanese films was opened in stages- the first films allowed were Grand prizewinners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin, or the Academy Awards Foreign Language. Only a small number of Japanese films qualified, including Hana-Bi, and none drew in big box office figures. Love Letter fit the terms of the second stage, which allowed prizewinners a selection of 70 film festivals. Love Letter was released in Korea on November 20, 1999. It drew 645,615 viewers, making it a huge box office success and opened the gateway for burgeoning popularity of other Japanese films in Korea like Shall We Dance? and Poppoya: Railroad Man. Love Letter attained the third-highest admissions numbers in Korea, after Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away (Paquet and Lee). Love Letter has such a legacy in Korea that it enjoyed a digitally retouched theatrical release last year (Baek), distributed by Joyncontents Group. The movie’s line “Ogenki desu-ka?” has become a classic line known by many Koreans. Love Letter’s popularity in Korea shows the influence international cinema can have on a nation’s culture.
Often, viewers will enjoy the setting so much that they may even decide to visit the location of where the film was set. “As books and paintings have been the channels that have inspired us to fantasize on travelling to new and exotic places before, films are the modern motivators of today that can through moving image make us want to visit certain places” (Tanskanen, 7). Astoundingly, films promote a great sense of tourism for the country, if promoted correctly of course. Some prime examples of an increase in tourism to a place because of movies are Harry Potter and Brave. “One of the best examples in the UK is the Alnwick Castle which saw an increase of 120% in visitor numbers after appearing in the Harry Potter film series” (Tanskanen, 7). That shows just how influential movies can be. And internet is also a booming spot for promoting travel as well. “Scotland inspired the Disney Pixar’s movie Brave and is strongly marketed at the Visit Scotland web pages” (Tanskanen, 7). Even animated films evoke a sense of adventure and desire to travel in viewers. However, it is not just in the west for the western films, it is very common and almost rather intricate how the east goes about this promotion of tourism. Love Letter has two websites. The first website is sponsored by the Japan National Tourism Organization and it goes into great detail of when the setting from the film was used and where to find the location. The second is associated with the Hokkaido Tourism Organization and similarly lists almost every location where a take was filmed. A film could have a fantastic setting, but it is all in how a country and company decide to promote the film’s setting location.
A Wedding Invitation was a China-Korea coproduction released on April 12, 2013. It is an adaptation of a Korean film called Last Present and features a Korean director, editor, and composer, as well as a Chinese cast and setting. Several producers are credited, including C2M Media, Beijing Century Media International, CJ Entertainment, and China Film Co. It was distributed by China Film Co in China and CJ Entertainment in Japan and South Korea (“Company Credits”). A Wedding Invitation was also released in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Netherlands for the Sea Film Featival, and for limited runs in the US and Canada (“Release Info”). It made $31.4 million in China and $118,000 in South Korea (Ma). A Wedding Invitation is a truly trans-Asian production that gives a Korean storyline a unique Chinese twist.
One interesting element is the way that A Wedding Invitation was marketed in different countries. The film spends the first hour looking exactly like a romantic comedy film, then suddenly takes a tragic turn. The official trailer that was shown in most countries plays up the later shift to tragic drama, while the Indonesian trailer emphasizes the romantic comedy shown in the beginning of the movie. They almost seem like two different movies, and they probably attracted two different audiences to the theaters.
One interesting trend to note about the marketing and distribution patterns of Asian romantic dramas such as Love Letter and A Wedding Invitation are their popularity levels in the West versus in Asia. At the very least, both of these films were successful in East Asia, but they only had limited theatrical runs in the United States and Canada. These films appear to be translatable for an Asian audience, but only fill a niche market in Europe or America. There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon. One is the style and priorities of Asian movie production. According to a Nikkei article, Japanese movies are explicitly made and marketed with a Japanese and Asian audience in mind. Western distribution is a secondary concern, almost an afterthought (“欧米・アジア”). Perhaps, contrary to the global distribution goal of Hollywood blockbusters, Asian romantic dramas just do not cater to an international audience. This would explain why Love Letter has received many accolades from Japanese film festivals like the Japanese Academy Awards, Yokohama Film Festival, Kinema Junpo Awards, Hochi Film Awards, Blue Ribbon Awards, and the Nikkan Sports Film Awards (“Love Letter: Awards”), but not on the international film festival circuit.
Also discussed in Nikkei is the Western preference for Asian action and horror movies over romances. While there are numerous instances of martial arts movies achieving popularity in the US and remakes of Asian horror movies like The Ring, romantic dramas usually do not receive the same level of attention. There are very few examples of American adaptations of Asian romantic dramas- one is the 2006 film The Lake House, which is an adaptation of the 2000 South Korean film Il Mare. While the movie was not a huge success with a $114 million worldwide gross, it did make back over double its budget. However, some of the integrity and spirit of the original film was compromised in order to tack on an appropriately “Hollywood” ending (Hoffmann- page contains spoilers). In this case, the Western propensity for fast-paced action, simple and clearly depicted plotlines, and neatly resolved endings work against the Asian style of romantic dramas.
Overall, looking at production and distribution of different films can help explain how the movie is made, who the intended audience is, and what the movie’s reception might say about that country’s culture. It shows rising trends in international cooperation and the globalization of both the film industry and Asian culture (or, in the case of Asian romantic dramas, the contained globalization and constraints of certain genre expectations.) The production and distribution of Love Letter and A Wedding Invitation aids an Asian film viewer in their understanding of the patterns of Asian cinema, which can then be used to analyze the films on a deeper, individual level.
“A Wedding Invitation (2013): Company Credits.” IMDb. IMDb.com, 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2910520/companycredits?ref_=tt_dt_co.
“A Wedding Invitation: Release Info.” IMDb. IMDb.com, 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
Baek, Byung-yeul. “Movie Theaters Take Audience Back to the 90s.” The Korea Times. Park Moo-jong, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2910520/releaseinfo?ref_=ttco_ql_2.
Hofmann, Andy. “Andy Hofmann Reviews ‘The Lake House’.” Talawanda Tribune. N.p., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014. http://talawandatribune.org/2013/02/13/andy-hofmann-reviews-lake-house/.
“Hokkaido in a Movie and Drama: Love Letter.” Visit Hokkaido! Visit Japan!Hokkaido Official Tourism, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. http://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/thingstodo/holidayideas/hokkaidomoviedrama/loveletter.php.
Kyodo News International. “Japanese Animated Movie ‘Spirited Away’ Big Hit in S. Korea.”The Free Library. Farlex, 19 July 2002. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Japanese+animated+movie+’Spirited+Away’+big+hit+in+S.+Korea.-a089564047.
“Love Letter: Awards.” IMDb. IMDb.com, 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113703/awards?ref_=tt_ql_4.
Ma, Kevin. “Korean Cinema, Chinese Characteristics.” Film Business Asia. Film Business Asia Limited, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.filmbiz.asia/news/korean-cinema-chinese-characteristics.
“Pilgrimage to Sacred Places- Love Letter.” Japan: The Official Guide. Japan National Tourism Organization, 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/cultural/pilgrimage/loveletter.html.
Paquet, Darcy and Lee, Eunhye. “Japanese Films in Korea.” Koreanfilm.org. N.p., 20 May 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.koreanfilm.org/japanfilm.html.
Tanskanen, Tanja. “Film Tourism: Study on How Films Can Be Used to Promote Tourism.” Theseus.fi. Laure University of Applied Sciences, Dec. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. http://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/51720/Tanskanen_Tanja.pdf?sequence=1.
“欧米・アジアなど、海外で人気の日本映画の傾向とは 日経エンタテインメント！.” 日本経済新聞. Nikkei Inc, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.nikkei.com/news/print-article/?R_FLG=0&bf=0&ng=DGXNASFK1602B_W2A011C1000000&uah=DF140620106828