Thursday, June 24, 2010

NYAFF ’10: Development Hell

After much sacrifice, Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary vision of a free democratic Mainland China remains unfulfilled. However, a long and sometimes tragic pre-production process eventually yielded Teddy Chen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, the story of an ad-hoc team recruited to protect Dr. Sun from an Imperial assassination plot in Hong Kong. Beset by all manner of misfortune, the ultimate fate of Chen’s film remained very much in doubt when Hiroshi Fukazawa completed Development Hell (trailer here), a documentary on what was then the Hong Kong movie industry’s most notorious unmade film, which screens at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival as part of a double bill with Chen’s Bodyguards.

Originally titled Victoria City in October, Bodyguards was known as Dark October during most of its prolonged pre-production. In a way, it was a case of history repeating itself. Chen’s prospective film was largely based on The Bodyguard, a project that had similarly bedeviled its director, Chan Tung Man, the father of October producer Peter Chan. Technically, the elder Chan had finished his troubled film, albeit in a problematically foreshortened form, but legal wrangling stymied its release.

It seems like all Chen was spared during the early 2000’s was a plague of locusts. Indeed, world events like 9-11 and the SARS outbreak, as well as personal tragedies, like his mother’s passing and the suicide of his business partner repeatedly conspired to halt the development of October and other projects he had in the works.

While Fukazawa employs standard documentary filmmaking techniques, including talking head interviews and voice-over narration, his use of animated storyboards adds an intriguing visual character to the doc, conveying what was then still a hypothetical sense of what the finished film would have been like. Fukazawa does not belabor his story either, economically wrapping up Development in just under an hour’s running time.

It is a pretty engaging behind-the-scenes story of what was once considered a cursed film, even if it does not include Chen’s ultimate triumph, when Bodyguards swept the 29th Hong Kong Film Awards. Still, audiences can see that missing third act in toto when Development screens with Bodyguards this Sunday (6/27) at the Walter Reade Theater, with special guest Fukazawa in attendance, but NYAFF formally disavows any responsibility for accidents suffered during the screening.