Localization isn't easy. I think that everybody can at least agree on that. Nobody ever agrees on how mainstream appeal and fan service should be balanced, though lately, the situation has improved. Remember the early days of DVD and Dimension's releases of various Jackie Chan and Jet Li classics? It's easy to forget that only a decade ago, nobody could expect original language/subtitles or an uncut version of a Hong Kong film on DVD. But even now, distributors screw up in really weird ways, particularly when they try to market these films. Knowing that most customers at brick-and-mortar stores probably won't buy a Tang Dynasty retelling of Hamlet with a bunch of foreign people doing fancy, flighty kung fu, it should surprise nobody that The Weinstein Company's subsidiary, Dragon Dynasty, tried to make Feng Xiaogang's clunky Oscar-bait, The Banquet, seem like a more conventional wuxia/fantastic martial arts film.
But did they really have to give it a title reminiscent of the most uncreative kind of pulpy fantasy?
Not to pick on it too much, but "Legend of the Black Scorpion" combines the three words nobody with any taste ever wants to see in sequence. "Legend," in spite of the logical evidence to the contrary, is actually an anagram for cheese. You have no reason to complain about a cheesy movie if it's known as "Legend of the..." because it tells you what you're getting right in the title. Another problem: "Black Scorpion." That wouldn't be so bad, were it not preceded by "Legend of the," which makes everything sound worse. If I saw a movie which said "Deathhammer Valkyrie Bikini Vixens" and picked it up only to find "Legend of the..." in tiny script, my estimation would rapidly diminish.
Also, the black scorpions really aren't a particularly large plot point in The Banquet, and it really isn't a giant cheese fest. I understand that a good portion of the audience that Dragon Dynasty caters to wouldn't be interested in a period drama that takes its cues from Shakespeare. But still, that's one damn goofy title.
Dragon Dynasty isn't the only the distributor to make that mistake. New Line Cinema actually helped produced Kim Young-Jun's 2005 wuxia film, Shadowless Sword, which received fairly good coverage from fans who were reminded of the fun that early nineties Hong Kong used to offer. Now, Shadowless Sword sounds plenty evocative to me, but somebody at New Line decided that "Legend of the..." simply made it better. I still think it sucks.
This practice of simply dropping "The Legend of..." before an adjetive and a noun began with Dimension's release of Swordsman 2 as "Legend of the Flying Swordsman," for which there are actual, justifiable reasons. The same cannot be said of Sony's retitling of Corey Yuen/Wong Jing's weird unofficial adaptation of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" manga, New Legend of Shaolin. The original title sounds generic enough, but Sony's new title makes it sound like what a bunch of marketing shills have mistaken for a generic kung fu movie title. That's worse -- I'm sure of it.
Not every martial arts movie receives the lazy designation as a legend of whatever. Equally popular in the days of Dimension Home Video releases were titles that went "The __________" -- you can insert your own tough and/or cool sounding word. The most annoying was "The Legend" because it has "Legend" in the title, and the film it was applied to, Jet Li's comedy kung-fu vehicle Fong Sai-Yuk, deserved a more interesting title. In a fit of sheer ridiculousness, when Dragon Dynasty re-released it, they did so under the title, "The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk." Bleaaoashdoaghdfhahaghagh.
Ugh. The worst of these actually came in the form of "The Enforcer." The dubbed, cut version of another Corey Yuen/Jet Li collaboration (Wong Jing was involved too), My Father is a Hero, Dragon Dynasty actually offended many fans when they re-released the Dimension DVD almost completely unchanged, without any audio options or even substantial bonus content. Now, if you'll notice, "The Enforcer" doesn't sound anything like My Father is a Hero, and while the intended title is damnably cheesy, "The Enforcer" just doesn't say anything at all.
Not to pick too much on Dragon Dynasty, but their recent release of the big-budget period epic, Battle of Wits, received one of the worst re-titles of the bunch. Aside from not being a martial arts film, Jacob Cheung's Warring States era drama highlights the battles not only of armies and strategists, but of the era's prevailing philosophies. What did Dragon Dynasty choose to call it?
Yes, making your movie sound stupid will really help sales there. So, a battle of warriors? I'm glad you guys cleared that up. I might have thought I was watching a battle of intellectuals, or a battle of actors, or a battle of underpaid People's Liberation Army in costume. Also, thank you for reminding us that a guy who choreographed stunts and fight scenes for one hit movie, also worked on this one, even though his input clearly wasn't a driving creative force. Awesome work, guys.
Dragon Dynasty looks like its going under. Bey Logan stepped down from his position within The Weinstein Company (DD was his project) just a few days ago. Let's wish them good luck in the future, and shed a quick tear for all the movies that they didn't have a chance to release, and then package in a totally silly or intentionally misleading fashion. No matter what, the fantastic visual quality, bonus features, and erudite commentary that often accompanied their releases will be missed.
Finally, if anything annoys me about kung fu movies, its the title "Faster Blades, Poisonous Darts." I don't know when this title first came into being, but it's used on all sorts of movies. IMDb is still confused to this day whether "Faster Blades, Poisonous Darts" is the Cheung Pang-Yi film, Lone Ninja Warrior (and this one has a billion other informal and bootleg titles) or the Chu Liu-Xiang film starring Adam Cheng, Night Orchid (which is also known as Demon Fighter, etc). Granted, the incompetence of IMDb's staff and users will one day be immortalized in song, in the great halls of nerd-Valhalla. I understand there will be Mountain Dew.
I could go on; I could tell stories of bootlegs with titles like "Chessboxing Matrix" and "Thugs, Hoes and Scrillah," but there's no need. For all of its problems, many of us love this genre. But the hobby would be more fun without the stupid re-titles.