The Real Hard Target: Martial Arts Cinema and Piracy

martial_arts_piracy

September 2016 saw the release of the Scott Adkins action vehicle Hard Target 2, a sequel to Hong Kong auteur John Woo’s 1993 Hollywood debut. Just like any fan of action cinema, I was eager to check it out, and as a writer for cityonfire.com, I was just as much looking forward to giving the British stars latest leading role the review treatment. Writing for a website has its perks, one of which is often distributors are happy to provide screeners before a movies official release, be it via physical media or a secure download link. So, no doubt the same as many other fellow action cinema writers, I reached out to Universal Studios Home Entertainment to see if this was the case with Hard Target 2. Alas though, they weren’t going the screener route with their latest release, so it turned out we’d have to wait for the official release on September 6th like everyone else.

"Hard Target 2" Blu-ray Cover

“Hard Target 2” is currently available for purchase.

I was quite surprised then, when reviews of the movie started turning up in August, both on forums and respectable sites that specialise in action cinema. Had cityonfire.com been singled out as not being worthy of receiving a screener, and received short thrift? As with most things in life, the simplest way to find the answer was to ask the question to those who were offering up their reviews – how had they seen it? Even more surprising than when I first spotted the reviews popping up here and there, was the overwhelmingly blasé answer from everyone that I asked the question to – they’d illegally downloaded it off torrent sites.

If any action stars movies are capable of generating discussion on piracy and its effect on the industry, then it has to be Scott Adkins. I’ve read several interviews with the affable star, as well as meeting him during the SENI Combat event in London back in 2014, and he’s always very vocal and upfront about how piracy is effecting the industry and his own career. After Undisputed 3: Redemption was released in 2010, which saw his supporting character of Yuri Boyka from the previous instalment take center stage, he’s been subjected to an almost never ending barrage of questions of when Boyka would be returning to the screen. It’s worth noting that at the time of writing, the fourth instalment in the Undisputed franchise, simply entitled Boyka: Undisputed, has been completed, and is due for release in early 2017.

The following is an excerpt from a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), featuring Scott Adkins and his fans.

adkins4

However every action star has a shelf life, we’re all only human, and action filmmaking takes a remarkable physical toll (just ask Jackie Chan). So why is there a 7 year gap between the installments of what’s considered to be Adkins’ most iconic role? The answer is a straightforward one – Undisputed 3: Redemption was illegally downloaded so much, that its profit from legitimate sales was barely enough to scrape even. Producers don’t back titles based on a star’s output being overwhelmingly popular on illegal torrent sites, they back them based on knowing they’ll get a return on their investment. Go onto any action movie site or forum, and you’ll see nothing but praise for Undisputed 3: Redemption, but if you were to show a producer its profit as a sales pitch to make a fourth instalment, you’d be understandably laughed out of the room.

"Close Range" is also available for purchase.

“Close Range” is available for purchase.

While I, just as everyone else, have high hopes for Boyka: Undisputed, there’s already a trailer out there, and the production values are undeniably on the low end of the scale. Thankfully Adkins’ talent is more than enough to overlook such issues, so let’s hope that it delivers, because 7 years is a long time to wait. As recently as Adkins’ last starring role in 2015’s Close Range, during an interview to promote the movie he explained that the original vision was much grander in terms of action, however with only a small budget and tight filming schedule, they had to make the most of what was available. Why did they have to work in such a restrictive environment? Again it was a simple answer, the producers didn’t want to invest too much, as they weren’t confident they’d get much of a return.

Just like we’re seeing with Hard Target 2, in the lead up to the release of Close Range reviews started to flood the net, many of which pointed to the somewhat rushed nature certain aspects of the production appeared to have. So we have a vicious cycle – we have a ready and willing action star who’ll always give 110%, but who many feel doesn’t get productions that are worthy of his talent, because of low budgets and restrictive filming schedules. Adkins’ puts it out there that for him to have those bigger and better opportunities, his fans need to legitimately purchase his movies, and stop downloading them before they’re released. His pleas seems to fall on deaf ears, and with the imminent release of a new movie, opinions start appearing on the net, often complaining of the apparent low budget and anything else they can gripe about. This pre-release negative feedback inevitably has an impact on the chances of increasing legitimate copies being shifted, and hence we end up back at square one.

"Lackey and the Lady Tiger" Theatrical Poster

Click here to order a copy of “Lackey and the Lady Tiger”

I wish the above was conjecture on my part, but for a real time example, all you have to do is go onto Adkins’ official Facebook page, and check out the hundreds of comments from before September 6th of so-called fans labelling Hard Target 2 as ‘boring’ or ‘stupid’. Scroll just a mere few posts down, and you’ll see a post from Adkins promoting the DVD and Blu-ray release, with a note from him requesting to support the legitimate release for all the hard work that was put into it.

So what’s the deal? Is this issue of piracy one that spans across genres, or is it more specific to the martial arts genre? A great example to look at is the recently proposed Zinemaxploitation Blu-ray release of the Hwang Jang Lee and Mars vehicle, Lackey and the Lady Tiger. The release was limited to 200 copies at €20 each, and to make it happen they needed a minimum of 75 purchases, which they aimed to get between 9th August and 9th September 2016. Fans have been demanding Blu-ray’s of kung fu classics for years, and Zinemaxploitation are making the bold move to step up and deliver what’s being asked for. I was waiting for the announcement that the 200 copies had fully sold out, so that the campaign was closed, but instead, 2 days before the campaign ended they were still short of the minimum order of 75. Thankfully, due to several pledgers double dipping, it just scraped over the line.

Now, let’s look at another niche genre, that of Italian horror. Earlier this year UK based distributor 88 Films launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Indiegogo platform, with the aim to restore 4 obscure Italian horror titles. They were looking for a minimum of £10,000 to restore one of them, and £40,000 would result in all 4 titles being restored and released. When the campaign wrapped up in June, they’d raised £83,155, which just to put it in perspective, is 808% of their original target, achieved through 1452 backers. Then we have kung fu cinema fans like myself and others reading this article, who can barely find 75 people to purchase a Blu-ray of a movie that features such legendary names as Hwang Jang Lee. It’s kind of sad isn’t it?

The ‘got through by the skin of its teeth’ nature of the Zinemaxploitation campaign saw a certain level of backlash from fans across social media platforms. In the days before the campaign ended, those who had pledged €20 seemed genuinely exasperated that the possibility of not reaching 75 purchases was a very real one, and in one post I read, labelled fans of kung fu cinema “a tight fisted bunch of idiots who want everything for free”. Harsh, however it’s hard to ascertain what else could possibly be the reason for such an appealing title to have struggled to reach a perfectly reasonable number of sales. Is it really the case that fans of kung fu cinema have come to expect everything for free?

You've waited for "Pedicab Driver" for years. Now what?

You’ve waited for a “Pedicab Driver” DVD for years. Now what?

I decided to research more into this, however ultimately I stopped delving into the matter too deeply, as it paints a depressing picture. Going back to the end of 2015, the Warner Brothers studio finally decided to unearth a movie which had been sitting in their vaults for a countless number of years, the Sammo Hung classic Pedicab Driver. Go on any forum relating to kung fu cinema, and it’s possible to find threads dating back to the early 00’s of posts making enquiries as to when this title would hit DVD. The fact is, it’s never had a DVD release anywhere, not even in Hong Kong, so for it to be finally unleashed as part of the Warner Brothers Archives series was big news. At last, people could rejoice and throw away the poor quality bootleg copies that they’d been living with so long, and enjoy the movie in crystal clear clarity from a legitimate release.

One day after the release, a good friend of mine who is well known amongst kung fu cinema fan circles, e-mailed me to express his disbelief at how many requests he’d had from people, asking when he was going to upload the DVD that they knew he’d purchased onto a torrent site. Having purchased the title on the day it was released, in the hope that supporting it would result in Warner Brothers releasing more of the titles they have sitting in their vaults, the fact that so many were automatically assuming it’d be immediately up for free download, paints a grim picture. The short sightedness, and sheer volume of requests he’d received, is indicative of just how much kung fu cinema fans are their own biggest enemy. Yes it’s possible to get everything for free, but it comes at a price that’ll far exceed the $12 – $15 it costs to pick up the title legitimately.

So where does that leave us? It seems to boil down to one thing – as fans of martial arts and kung fu cinema, we have to be willing to put our money where our mouth is. We need to stop being our own worst enemy. It’s not enough to keep on complaining that there’s no more companies releasing kung fu movies on DVD or Blu-ray, but when companies like Terracotta Distribution and Zinemaxploitation put product out there hardly anyone buys them. It’s not enough to complain that stars like Scott Adkins are appearing in movies that don’t do their talents justice, but then ensure that the situation is never going to change by continuing to illegally download their movies before they’re released. Movie piracy will always be there, and to some extent the large Hollywood studios can absorb the damage it does, however for a niche genre such as ours, where it’s a struggle to even find 75 people to buy a Blu-ray, every illegal download of a new movie has an impact.

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45 Responses to The Real Hard Target: Martial Arts Cinema and Piracy

  1. ColinJ says:

    Speaking of bootlegs being reviewed by ‘legit’ sources with no repercussions, the biggest case of this was when David Poland (who I’ve always felt was an opportunistic weasel in the Nick Nunziata/Devin Faraci mold) reviewed a leaked workprint of Eli Roth’s HOSTEL 2, that he’d bought off the street.

    How that guy wasn’t drummed out of the business for good still amazes me.

    Then you had the time Drew McWeeny, when he was ‘Moriarty’ at AICN put a hidden link on an article for people to download the leaked workprint of Ang Lee’s HULK. Of course, it would no longer be in the archive and I’m sure McWeeny would swear up and down that he didn’t do it, but I saw it with my own two eyes.

    Since fandom review sites have been co-opted by the studios and find their hit numbers decreasing every year this is now extremely rare. Most of them are now just going for clickbait garbage.

  2. Demon says:

    While I think the main point of this article is a completely worthy and valid one, you picked two bad examples to use: 1. To my understanding, Zinemaxploitation are not a legitimate company, but a “fan” organization who have access to 35mm prints of the films they are releasing on burned (BD-R) blu-rays. If this is true, then they are part of the problem that the main article is discussing, as none of the money being made by them is going back to the actual film owners. 2. The Warner Archive Collection DVD release of PEDICAB DRIVER is a very disappointing and shoddy product. Being a DVD-R is bad enough (especially at that price), but not having real subtitles for the film (just SDH [subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing] subtitles) is just pathetic. If Warner can’t even put in the bare minimum of effort to provide correct subtitles, why should fans buy the product?

    Excellent article, but those two points may be worth looking at for a future revision.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Hi Demon, thanks for the feedback, you raise some valid points. However more so than the argument of if Zinemaxploitation are a legitimate company or not (which they aren’t), the point was more around would the amount of purchases have been any higher if they were? I’d say no, and wholeheartedly believe it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference, which is the real issue here. Terracotta Distribution are legitimate, and are facing exactly the same issues with their current Classic Kung Fu Collection, there’s simply not enough copies being shifted to continue putting them out.

      Likewise with The Vengeance Pack label in Germany, they put out ‘The Fatal Flying Guillotine’ on Blu-ray, and the day after it was released someone had uploaded it onto a torrent site. It seems to be an inherent problem, and the worst thing is the cause is the fans themselves, who seem to think that by putting something onto a torrent site as quickly as possible after (or before) it comes out, they’re doing everyone else a favor.

      Fair enough regarding ‘Pedicab Driver’, others have mentioned this as the reason for not purchasing it, but if that’s the case, then I’d say don’t download it either. Go back 25 years ago and people would spend $40 on a dubbed VHS with a cropped grainy picture, today people won’t spend $15 on a DVD-R because of SDH, despite the fact that the picture is crystal clear. Somewhere down the line we all became incredibly picky.

      • Demon says:

        I would order just about every film that Zinemaxploitation are releasing if they were a legitimate company, so I do think it makes a difference to some of us who still want to spend our hard earned money on legally licensed DVDs and blu-rays. Why would I want to spend over $20 on a bootleg BD-R? I own most of the Classic Kung Fu Collection DVDs that Terracotta has released and just about every English subtitled disc that The Vengeance Pack has put out – specifically because I want to support legitimate physical releases of these films.

        I don’t think it has anything to do with being incredibly picky when it comes to the PEDICAB DRIVER (and all the other HK films from Warner Archive) DVD. It has everything to do with wanting at least the bare minimum of effort to be put into a release before spending about $20 on a DVD-R. Warner has been sitting on those films for years, and preventing any other legitimate releases from coming out, only to crap out these poorly produced burned DVDs. Why should anyone support that? Especially when companies like Shout, Arrow, Terracotta, TVP, Criterion, etc. have proven that you can do at least decent releases of Asian cinema.

        Again, I completely agree that piracy is harming this industry, and the feeling of entitlement that a lot of “fans” have is despicable. I just don’t think holding up those two examples helps prove that point. The Terracotta and TVP examples are far more relevant, as are the viewpoints from Scott Adkins and others in the industry. I think that the fan base of action cinema has gotten a lot smaller over the years and that combined with piracy is making it a very tough industry to make money in (along with the decline of physical media sales). As someone who loves the genre, I truly hope it can survive and thrive again.

        • Rhythm-X says:

          Indeed, it’s releases like the Warner Archive Golden Harvest titles like PEDICAB DRIVER that lead people to pirate who might not otherwise. In fact, EVERYTHING about the way that Warners has treated their Hong Kong titles is tantamount to a written invitation to piracy. “Give us twenty bucks! Here’s a defective release! If you let us know the problem, we won’t fix it even though we could, because we do not care.” It’s not like they’d need to order up another factory run of DVDs, these things are manufacture-on-demand DVD-Rs. Just send the corrected DVD image out to the manufacturing points. I reauthored my PEDICAB DRIVER DVD with fixed subs in an evening. It would only be easier for the people who made the disc in the first place to fix it, but they’d rather make cute videos of themselves tossing the cases around the office. I hope they get bootlegged mercilessly. At least the bootleggers care about the quality of the product.

  3. Ernie Barbarash says:

    Thanks for the great article, Paul. As Scott and I and many others have stated before, movie piracy is theft, pure and simple. As a filmmaker, part of my income is paid up front as a fee, the other part comes from residuals I make through the DGA and WGA, residuals that are based directly on how much revenue the movie generates in its worldwide sales. So when you download one of our movies without paying for it, you are literally taking income away from me and my family – and, as the article states, you are also directly impacting our future ability to make better martial arts and genre films. One of the most ridiculous defenses I’ve read online of movie theft is that people are merely “checking the movie out to see if they want to buy it”. So when’s the last time you walked into a furniture store, took a bed home for free to sleep in it for a while so you could decide if you want to pay for it? How did that work out for you and who paid your bail? The other, even more offensive pro-theft argument, is that I as a filmmaker should be happy that people are interested in seeing my work and spreading it around, that many more people are seeing my work because it’s being downloaded illegally than would otherwise. To those people I say – I don’t care if you watch my movies, because you’re either ignorant or a liar, and once you download someone’s hard work for free – you’re a thief. If you don’t want to watch my movies because you don’t want to pay for it – I’d rather you didn’t.

    • I was on Scott Adkins’ Facebook page late last night and early this morning, and I’m very shocked at how many people are justifying piracy. They also weren’t being particularly polite about it, either. I have to ask: Do these people even care about the amount of effort that goes into making a movie? Probably not, but the way they try and justify their theft is ridiculous. I mean, yeah, the BIGGER budget movies like Jurassic World and Star Wars aren’t going to get hit as hard as the smaller guys, but they still get hit, regardless, and that’s not a small chunk of change, either. I will freely admit, that I have been guilty of doing it in the past, but that was years ago and before I really knew better. I actually feel pretty bad about it, now that I know how hard it is to make a movie. It’s one of the reasons why I CAN’T condone piracy of any kind. It does more damage than people think, especially for Independent film-makers. I don’t care how justified you think you are in pirating a movie, you’re affecting somebody’s livelihood.

    • Rex says:

      Hey Ernie,

      Check out the other comments by the actual writer of this piece, where he’s actually okay with piracy as long as it’s clearly a labour of love on the part of “fans” who just really, really want to see rare films with complicated ownership histories on disc, so they make — and MARKET — them themselves.

      He’s not really on your side.

      • Paul Bramhall says:

        Hi Rex. Thanks for your feedback. It’s ironic that before posting the feature, our biggest concern was the comments section being flooded by people defending piracy, so it’s definitely an eye opener to see your viewpoint from the opposite end of the scale. Just to clarify, I am against piracy, and wouldn’t have put the effort into writing it if I wasn’t. It’s obviously a passionate subject for you, something that can be seen by the way you’ve repeated your point in several comments (not trying to be facetious here either). I won’t get into a “no I’m not”, “yes you are” scenario and reply on every post you’ve made, but definitely respect your opinion.

        Let’s split it into 3 parts, with the disclaimer that I’m fully aware you see no difference between any of them, but hope you’d respect my views the same as I do yours. We have the illegal uploads of new movies which are effecting the industry, by shrinking the schedules and budgets of any new project that tries to get off the ground. I’ll be transparent and say this is what I have the biggest issue with more than anything else, as it has the most noticeable impact. We also have the same illegal uploads of new releases that could be of old movies (I used the ‘Pedicab Driver’ release as an example), which have the impact of the same companies choosing to not continue with any further genre releases.

        Then we have the grey area (and again I’m putting a disclaimer in there of being fully aware that in your opinion it’s black and white), of fan-subbed or cleaned up Blu-ray releases such as Zinemaxploitation or Fu-Subs. Yes, these teams don’t own the rights, that much is clear. However I do appreciate the passion and effort that these groups put into remastering and subbing movies which have never had such high quality presentations, or English subtitles, or even a release, before. I actually have some experience in fan-subbing myself, on a project which ultimately didn’t see the light of day, for an early Casanova Wong movie. It only had a VHS release in Korea, no English subs or DVD. Casanova Wong was very grateful that the movie had been found, fully supported us releasing it, and even filmed an interview with us discussing the movie. But does he own the rights? No, he doesn’t. For me though, having his blessing was enough to go ahead and have it subtitled. It’s a lot of grey.

        • Rex says:

          Paul, the gray area is STILL piracy. There’s no justification. I’m not so callous as to not appreciate and even understand the desire and motivation of the people involved with projects like the one undertaken by Zinemaxploitation, but the plain and simple fact is that they didn’t bother to get the rights to do what they’re doing and are thus potentially depriving someone, somewhere of their right to do so by effectively cornering a very small market with an unlicensed product. Simply because they didn’t want to wait any more, had access to a print, and probably felt the market was small enough (which it apparently was, based on the difficulty they had even reaching a measly 75 orders) that the rights-holders might not even notice. Sure, they may love the film and want to share their cherished print with the greater population (all 70-ish of them, apparently), but their methods are wrong and they know it. If they couldn’t be bothered to trace the ownership (which they presumably did not) or could not afford the actual legal costs of doing so, then they have no right to release the film as if they own it, and potentially reap the windfall of doing more such releases or even building a “legit” label some day based on ripping someone off like this.

          Sadly, I suspect this is the fate that has befallen a lot of old “chop socky” pictures over the years because of all the crummy, poorly dubbed prints floating around and the difficulty in finding chains of ownership. However, in most cases, such chains DO exist, and if they’re so muddled that a legitimate release is impossible, that doesn’t automatically grant the film some kind of public domain status just because someone happens to have a pristine element on hand.

          As I’ve said in my other comments here, I wholeheartedly agree with your stance in the article, but you lost me when I read your soft position on fan projects in the comments. All altruism aside, it’s still stealing. While I understand where you’re coming from, I just can’t support it. Even though LACKEY is a film I’d very much like to see, I’ll live a long and hopefully fruitful life if I never do so under such circumstances. I know too many people in these industries to agree that an “exception” like this doesn’t really hurt anybody because it only makes a small minority happy. Even when a film is old like this one and half the participants might even be dead, it sets a dangerous precedent for similar treatment of more recent productions (i.e. not brand new, but newer than LACKEY).

          Nonetheless, I appreciate the measured and reasonably reply.

  4. Zach says:

    As a fellow writer for the site as well Paul, I too was very disappointed that no Hard Target 2 screener or physical copy came along. I was dumbfounded when I saw a review pop up on Birth Movies Death several weeks ago, and it made me think that City on Fire was singled out to not receive review copies. But after reading this and understanding the whole story, I now realize that they, a legitimate movie news and reviews website, illegally downloaded a copy of the movie, wrote about it, bashed it, and than posted it on their site. It’s very frustrating. Also, loving all the likes and attention you’re getting from this man. On the topic of the community, I just think that action fans are unfortunately more inclined to torrent things than horror fans. There’s an insanely tight horror community that lives off of legally buying things and attending conventions and such, supporting one another. After attending an awesome book signing in L.A. several months ago for The Good the Tough and The Deadly book, to which Ernie was at, as well as several others, I realized that the action community needs its own conventions and such, maybe to bring us all together more. Either way, people need to stop pirating movies and respect their genre, especially those within the action community.

    • Evan Saathoff says:

      Hello. I wrote that Hard Target 2 review on Birth.Movies.Death. and can assure you I watched a Blu-ray sent from the studio. I also interviewed Adkins following my viewing of the film, also set up by the studio’s PR people.

    • Al says:

      >> I was dumbfounded when I saw a review pop up on Birth Movies Death several weeks ago, and it made me think that City on Fire was singled out to not receive review copies. But after reading this and understanding the whole story, I now realize that they, a legitimate movie news and reviews website, illegally downloaded a copy of the movie, wrote about it, bashed it, and than posted it on their site.<<

      The writer of the review also interviewed Scott Adkins to promote HT2, so he probably got a screener from Universal. BMD is very anti-piracy.

  5. Dirty Tiger says:

    Been telling people this for years. The amount of vitriol I have received in return is remarkable ! People seem to think it is a victimless crime and they should be able to do whatever they want. I have many many other examples that could be added to those already highlighted. The movie industry is dying sadly. I live in Thailand these days and it has become very hard to get legit releases whilst there are bootleggers on the streets outnumbering legit stores by at least 10 to 1 now. I fear soon it will become like Laos here where there are no legit releases and only boots. I hope it will never happen but over the last few years has seen a big shift in that direction.

  6. HKFanatic says:

    This is a fantastic article, Paul. I’m genuinely impressed by the amount of research and care that went into writing this. It’s disappointing to think of our favorite action stars trapped in a vicious cycle of rushed production schedules and diminished financial returns, all because their die-hard “fans” aren’t willing to show their appreciation with their wallets.

    Even if you don’t think a movie like “Close Range” is worth a purchase, is it really such a sacrifice to pony up a few bucks for an On Demand rental? Considering that every Scott Adkins movie features a committed performance from Scott and at least one jaw-dropping physical feat, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to pay for his hard work.

    (On a side-note, it’s kind of mind-blowing to realize that it’s been 7 years since “Undisputed III.” It’s remarkable that Adkins has been able to keep himself in peak physical condition for so long. That can’t be easy. Yet another reason why he deserves our support.)

  7. john smith says:

    No way am i funding these shady money laundering flicks.
    Protip:look at the upcoming kickboxer movie since when does a b movie need over 30 producers?
    yeah also that 88 films ebegging event was a scam those HD masters have already been created but goy’s are stupid and fall for the same scams over and over again.

  8. Kyle Warner says:

    Great piece, Paul. Really enjoyed reading it, though it’s a depressing and frustrating subject. I don’t think any media or art form — and I mean film, TV, fiction, painting, music, etc. — properly anticipated piracy and how best to defend themselves from it. You can download a film or a TV show illegally and cut into the profits of a production that’s (likely) a very expensive endeavor. You can download a book now instead of paying the already cheap price that most ebooks run you. An author friend pointed out that no one has issue tipping their coffee barista an extra buck for something that took them less than 5 minutes to make for you but those same people may not be willing to spend a couple dollars on a book which took many months or even years to complete. People take other’s paintings, throw them on shirts, and give the artist zero profit. And of course we all know the saga of Napster. It’s disappointing. Art has value and it’s only right to pay for it — otherwise, the art will go away. It’s that simple.

    The only time I’ve ever viewed a film in any illegal sense was when I once watched a 50 year old samurai film online because I figured, by this point, it just wasn’t ever gonna get a release here. I’m not proud of doing that but I would never download a modern film (and for what it’s worth, if that 50 year old samurai movie ever does get a US release, I’d buy it in a heartbeat).

    My favorite show on TV over the past 5-10 years was Hannibal. It’s brilliant, strange, and somehow both beautiful and grotesque at the same time. One of the show’s producers says its short lifespan (3 years but there’s hope for a revival) is partially thanks to piracy. I think her quote perfectly explains the reason why piracy hurts productions. Martha De Laurentiis: “it wasn’t much of a leap to connect its fate with the fact that the show was ranked as the fifth-most illegally downloaded show in 2013. When nearly one-third of the audience for “Hannibal” is coming from pirated sites — despite the fact that a legitimate download for each episode was available the following day — you don’t have to know calculus to do the math. If a show is stolen, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fairly compensate a crew and keep a series in production.” (http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/272979-did-pirates-kill-hannibal) Filthy pirates!

  9. Al says:

    Excellent article.

  10. Scott Blasingame says:

    A timely article, Paul, on a subject that seems to resurface quite frequently. Yet, sadly, it is a fair warning that falls on many deaf ears. I would almost submit that a justifiable defense could be made for fan-subbed efforts of films that the odds of them ever having a legitimate release are nil. Almost. But for a genuine new release? It’s no wonder that the output of the genre is severely lacking. (Closets gather mothballs and cobwebs quicker than new indie MA films get backing or release.) Just about the only recourse is for the filmmakers to produce and release the films under the radar without any public foreknowledge in order to protect it, but in this day and age, even that preventative won’t last long. As much as I hate it, we’ll be going through this debate again in Jan. 2017 when “Boyka: Undisputed” comes out. Unfortunately, the sense of self-entitlement, rather than a sense of self-control, will most likely once against become the prevalent tactic of many in order to see it as soon as possible.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Thanks Scott. It’s a catch 22 situation, if the filmmakers were to release their movies ‘under the radar without any public foreknowledge’, what that basically translates to is expecting a movie to sell without any marketing or promotion whatsoever, which is self-defeating. In a crowded marketplace of big budget productions, the smaller independent distributors need a smart marketing strategy to make their product appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Like it’s been said many times before though, it’s usually not the wider audience that causes these problems, it’s the actual fans of the genre that fall over themselves in a rush to get the movies onto a torrent site as quickly as possible, almost like being the first person to put it up for download is an achievement to be proud of.

      Your point about fan-subbed releases is a grey area, and I’m inclined to agree with you. Like some others who have commented, Zinemaxploitation aren’t a legitimate company, they’re a group of fans who have come into possession of several 35mm reels of classic kung-fu flicks, and are cleaning them up then putting them onto Blu-ray. Yes, on the most technical level you could say it’s still piracy. However for me there is a difference. Zinemaxploitation are taking the time to put these movies out on Blu-ray, and the likelihood is that if they didn’t then no one else will (c’mon, was there really ever going to be a legitimate ‘The Clones of Bruce Lee’ Blu-ray!?).

      They’ve taken the time and effort to package their releases with a proper Blu-ray case, a printed cover, and a printed DVD label, meaning that for all intents and purposes their releases look and feel like the real deal due to the effort put in. This for me is completely different than someone grabbing a new movie, and putting it onto a torrent site before it’s released so that people can freely download it instead of paying. My personal opinion, and I know there’s people that won’t agree, but I think there’s a difference between fans that care and want to put movies out there that wouldn’t be otherwise, and those that just want to freeload whatever they can.

      • Rex says:

        So, you’re actually justifying piracy, right? Just wanna be clear on that …

        Fans cleaning up and transferring films THEY DON’T OWN to Blu-Ray and making it “feel” like a legitimate release is NOT a legitimate release. If the original owners or Hong Kong studios or whomever decide there’s no market for discs anymore, and no U.S. distrib can acquire the rights, then fans have to learn to live without, or hunt down old LEGITIMATE copies wherever they can find them. I’ve no doubt that that means hundreds of HK movies will never see the light of day on disc at all, but I’ll live with it. It’s a shame other fans don’t feel the same way.

        The attitude seems to be: “But hey, it’s musty old Hong Kong cinema, right? And since discerning the ownership of these old movies would probably necessitate the hiring of a lawyer or some other, possibly Hong Kong-based expert in these kinds of things, let’s just pretend it’s public domain and release it ourselves! Even better if we get other people to pay for it! And then, if it sells out, maybe it’ll show those convoluted rights-holders that there’s money to be made (well from about 60-70 people, anyway, 75 if you count desperate double dippers) and we’ll be on the road to legitsville in no time!”

        For an article that’s anti-piracy, there’s an awful lot of “except in this case over here” going on in these comments. 🙁

        If you support fan-subbing or Zinemaxploitation in any way, shape or form, then you’re not anti-piracy. Period.

        • Rex, you have some valid points, but let me ask you this, just for the sake of getting into your mind: Let’s say there’s a “musty old Hong Kong” movie you’ve wanted to watch forever. You’ve been waiting for its release as far back as you can remember. Still, no official release. No sign of an official release… Then one day, out of the blue, you either: 1) Come across it on a torrent site (you probably don’t visit torrent sites, but maybe someone sent you the link) or 2) a guy on a forum/website started selling dvd “copies” of it…

          For the sake of discussion: 1) and 2) are basically the same, but in the latter, someone is making a profit, but we can agree that both are PIRACY, right? )… Anyways, here’s my question for you: Would you download/buy a bootleg of this film? Or would you go through the rest of your life without ever watching this rare movie you’ve been wanting to see forever?

          Of course, there’s the issue of public domain, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just say we don’t know if it’s public domain or not (let’s face it, even when things are public domain, I’m pretty sure someone’s still getting screwed out of their hard work!)

          Someone in this “piracy” topic, there is a gray area. It’s a teeny tiny spot, but it’s there.

          • Rex says:

            I would go through the rest of my life without seeing this rare movie I’ve wanted to see forever.

            I’ve got more than enough legit movies, purchased legally, and even more wish listed at every legitimate retail,site I can think of, to occupy me for the better part of the rest of my life, if not all of it. The “films I’ve wanted to see forever” is a comparatively short list. I’ll survive.

            You’re justifying piracy.

            And so is the author of this finger-wagging anti-piracy article throughout the comments section. As long as it’s a labour of love by “the fans”, that’s ok, but when “a fan” uploads to a torrent, he’s making “us” our own worst enemies?

            You can’t have it both ways. Period.

            • I may not fully agree with you, but I do respect your high moral principles. As for me, life is way too short to be deprived of watching something for self enjoyment (in the context that it’s never going to be officially available).

              • Rex says:

                I choose not to make it about me and MY immediate gratification, but about the people in these industries (especially the low-budget arena, as well as industries I cherish like the long-embattled one in Hong Kong), some of whom I know and who very much ARE impacted by the stealing of their collective efforts by people who too easily contextualize their need to steal in order to justify it.

                There are so many movies that I have NOT been deprived of — I’m staring at literally a few THOUSAND of them across the room right now, still to be watched!! — that the ones that I HAVE been deprived of can be placed on the back burner forever if need be.

                It just irks me that movie thieves can’t find other equally rare and obscure yet legally available shows to watch in lieu of that rare handful of holdouts they somehow feel entitled to right here, right now. There’s so much out there to be grateful for, and I suspect most of these folks have barely scratched the surface because they’re obsessed with seeing that which they feel is wrongly denied them. 🙁

                Contexts CHANGE, but not when thieves take away the reasons for the people who CAN change them to do so.

        • xino says:

          piracy is wrong, and it is stealing!
          yes i admit, we admit.
          but where is Justice?

          if Sony are telling us to buy PS4, and we end up buying PS4. And the games Sony are bringing out are PS2 and PS3 remakes and ports.
          Isn’t that ripping off, theft and deception?
          we bought a PS4 to play PS4 games NOT ps2 ps3 games that we already own!

          It is like a 3rd world country and you have a company who is the only company that sells water, and no other,
          But that company sells water for £100 which only rich people can buy.

          So where is the justice in that!?
          yes stealing is wrong! But why did Robin Hood stole the king’s golds and distributed them to the poor???

          why do people pirate?
          *they can’t get their hands on classic movies
          *they hate waiting, why should fans wait a year for a movie they are ready to pay for, but other countries who are not fans of the movie gets to watch it first? wtf!???
          *over priced bluray/dvd
          *no contents for bluray/dvd
          *region lock issues and content cut problems!
          *no cinema release!

          if industry wants to reduce piracy. Fix all those bullet points!

          and kudos to zinemaxploitation, never heard of em. But they are doing a great job, keep up the good work guys!
          If industry does not want people like zinemaxploitation to exist. Then HIRE guys to legally clean up old movies and include subtitles and distribute the damn movies to us at decent prices!

          In the end….piracy justifies right justice.

          and because of this website, i just heard Rush Hour 2 is finally coming to bluray. WTF???
          Do you know how long i had been waiting for that damn movie to come out on bluray?
          now do you see why people pirate?

  11. Lady Kymbuchi says:

    Great piece, Paul. I am used to old clunky prints, sure I’d like to be able to read the subtitles and know what’s going on but if you want to see something rare, you get it in whatever format you can.

    These days I try to buy as much legitimate product as I can from film distributors etc. I still use one bootleg online shop and don’t feel right about it, but there’s no other way to get some of these movies. I rent almost every new blockbuster etc. now because I’d rather spend that money on an older film I will revisit time and again. I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on European and Hong Kong movies and I will continue to.

    Now if I had a brand new movie on a screener, there’s no way I’d post it on torrents (hell, I didn’t even know what torrents were until this past weekend.) If I loved or liked that movie, I’d urge people to go see it, rent or buy it.

    I’d rather be 100% legitimate in my purchases and supporting HK cinema, but you explain very clearly why that doesn’t always happen.

  12. masterofoneinchpunch says:

    Good article. I do notice a somewhat perfectionist fallacy with releases: aka if the release is not perfect than that gives people an excuse to download it. Now I have no issue with complaining about a release — that of course is fair especially if you purchased it and we all would like better releases of movies we hold dear — but with Pedicab Driver and a couple a movies I had recently watched like Souls for Sale and What! No Beer? I’m just happy to have a copy. And Warner Bros did not single out their HK output to be treated poorly, they treat all their MOD pretty much the same (with a few exceptions like Don Juan (1926) which had a decent amount of extras but that is rare) as I have a decent sized collection of MODs from the studios.

    I also think that many people just expect or feel entitled to have entertainment to be free whether it is music or movies — so yeah it goes beyond not just martial art films, but other arts as well. The biggest loss has been in the middle especially in the music industry, but it has certainly hurt the movie industry as you had noted. But once people expect free how do you go back?

    Bigger companies have more resources to go after copyright infringement (does not help that Youtube’s policy is more reactive than proactive for example) so it is another aspect of the middle-to-lower companies getting hurt because they just do not have the money.

    • hank says:

      I’d also be curious to find out how much is made from putting films on streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu. I know it’s not going to be nearly as profitable as if every person who watches Close Range on Netflix bought or rented the film proper, but I at least hope there’s a chance for some return on investment that way.

  13. Robert says:

    I agree with this article. The consumer has been conditioned to trade either their time (watching an ad) or their privacy in exchange for video entertainment. And this is toughest on the people making small – medium budget films. I do think there has to be a distinction between the pirates and the fans who are restoring movies that studio rights holders have no intention of ever releasing. Drunken Master 2 in widescreen with subtitles is impossible to find here in North America without turning to the community that has labored to make the best version they can make available, and it vastly outshines the pan and scan dubbed offering that the studio has released. Another example would be the original Star Wars films, which would not be available to be seen in their original theatrical presentation without fans that restore and release them, acting outside the law to do so. For new films that have just had an official release it is abhorrent and it is killing the action genre. Good article.

    • Rex says:

      There should be NO distinction between the pirates and the fans because NEITHER PARTIES OWN THE RIGHTS. Period. BOTH groups are key reasons why no studio or secondary distributor will release the same titles legitimately. Those who buy the ILLEGAL versions always SAY they’ll buy a legit version if it ever becomes available or meets their impeccable standards, but we know that’s not true in most cases. They’ll just keep what they have, and probably buy more of the same every time somebody discovers a reasonably pristine old print in their garage or the basement of some old derelict movie theatre.

      Funny how even the most ardent anti-piracy folks — both here in the comments AND in the original article — always seem to have exceptions where it’s sorta-kinda-maybe alright to steal what isn’t yours and even sell it to people, multiple times over.

  14. hank says:

    Glad to see this comment section not explode into a mess of piracy justification. It is absolutely mind boggling how many people will come up with a million excuses why their theft is totally righteous. If you’re a fan, just rent the damn movie for 4-7 bucks. I buy basically every terrible low budget action movie that gets released. I know at least 50 percent of the time even the worst movies are made by talent actors and filmmakers who are just doing their best in a terrible situation. If we can make action cinema profitable for filmmakers and producers, we WILL see an uptake in quality of films.

  15. Demon says:

    Easy legal way to watch some of the films mentioned in this article:

    HARD TARGET 2
    https://www.netflix.com/title/80112368

    CLOSE RANGE
    https://www.netflix.com/title/80043047

  16. Jimmy P says:

    Excellent article. As a writer, I have wrestling with piracy all the time. The fact that I can get a jump on the other sites would be a cool thing and an advantage to my site, but I snap back into my own brain and think “the right sites are doing the right thing, so shall I”. I have been writing for a while now and I have not used a pirated copy of any film for review purposes. I haven’t watched a pirated film in a very long time. I want to be as honest as I can with my audience as I can. I try to have integrity in my writing and would feel shame if my audience was lead down the wrong path by me.

    I have been reading this site for the longest time and I can tell that you feel that same way. You would rather have an honest review than the first review. I wish that more people would look at what they are doing and think about how it is affecting the films that come later. I believe that Hard Target 2 was called that simply for name recognition. Had it been called something else, I don’t know if as many people would have watched it.

    I think that this article needs to get to more readers because I think that it would do some good,

  17. Jay Lee says:

    Solid f*cking piece by brother Brams. These little, thieving, entitled bitches needs to be called out. They long since ruined the DVD, Blu market for the old school martial arts genre, and it continues with the smaller budget dtv/vod martial arts titles of the present. F*ck the freeloading ass motherf*ckers and their “give me” mentality.

  18. I’ve probably said this before. Over here in Brazil, DVD is dying off rather quickly and with the country’s current economic crisis and the death of the vídeo store due to piracy and Netflix, less and less Asian movies are getting imported. Most of the movies that have been imported and given a legitimate DVD release have been a handful of Shaw Brothers movies, Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies, and most of Donnie Yen’s movies post-SPL, plus a few odds and ends. And some of those not only commanded high prices during their initial release, but have gotten almost four times more expensive in Used form in some forums.So I can buy movies from the States, but the economic crisis has played havoc with the Exchange rate and it’s not really something I can really afford at the moment.Recent American movies I can watch on cable TV (which I’ve done with Seagal’s output), but if I want to watch a Asian movies, it’s a lot trickier. Thus, I’ve watched a lot of movies via Youtube (for better or worse). I can easily swear off using YouTube and declare that from here on out, I’ll do everything 100% legit, but I’ll have to accept the fact that there will be a lot of obscurities that I’ll never get around to seeing.

  19. The illegal pirating of martial arts films(amongst many other various genres of films) has been going on since the late 80s,for I never had no idea that HARD TARGET 2 was already released on DVD/Blu ray until I saw it at my local Wal-Mart and rightfully bought it(to show my fullest support),as well as the film already available on-line as a bootleg torrent(which explains why reviews of the film are all over the Internet),which I luckily avoided. People that watch torrents need to rightfully buy the film when it’s available on DVD/Blu ray to show their fullest supports for those very films and the people involved in contributing to the hard work in making them in showing that they’re true fans. And it’s pretty ironic how those some of those video bootleggers of the late 80s and the 90s now run their very own legit companies(whether it’s distributing films or official t-shirts and comic books),since many of those pirates eerily helped gain the likes of Jackie Chan,Dario Argento,(the late)Lucio Fulci,Hammer Films,Jet Li,and John Woo and many others land deals with major studios so that their films can get legit American and international releases to keep them out of the hands of pirates. And sometimes,either foreign region DVD/Blu ray releases(before those films land a U.S. deal) and people that work on the sets of films help enable bootleg torrents to happen and be all over the place. However,there are many films out there from the pasts(the 60s,70s,80s,and 90s) that are still without any legit DVD/Blu ray deals(as in the case of the mark Dacascos film CRYING FREEMAN[which still never received a U.S. release]),for legit film companies and legit DVD/Blu Ray companies really need to step up their game in purchasing these titles(at affordable prices) for legit U.S. releases if they really yearn to see video piracy and torrent piracy permanently sliced in half(and/or permanently demolished) and want to see the fans purchasing those very films(once they’re officially released to the public).

  20. Nick G says:

    It has already been said multiple times, but wicked article.

  21. tantao2 says:

    Excellent article. Martial Arts movies pirating goes as long as I remember collecting them, esp. in USA and UK…In the eighties and nineties I heard it again and again that this kept “kung fu fandom” alive…Whether this is true or not, is difficult to evaluate…You write in your article about these “fans” who release or will release stuff like Lackey And The Lady Tiger: I assume Ng See Yuen would not be that happy about this project as his company still exists…
    On the other side it seems to me there is no market for these movies (i.g. martial arts movies from 1965-1985) anymore. Even Shaw Brothers movies never legally made into USA market on VHS or DVD, so that the legal company, which released them, would make real profit! Whether this is because of the piracy or not: I still found not out…It think the common audience of these movies is part of the problem…

  22. xino says:

    piracy does hurt industry, i admit I do it as well, but whose fault is it?
    i blame Distributors!

    i don’t go cinema often, but i only go there to watch a movie that catches my interest, or Marvel and DC movies. Apart from those, I don’t go cinema for other movies, let alone bother downloading them from torrent!

    The majority of movies I torrent are just Japanese, Korea and Chinese movies: thriller or action. And martial arts movies.

    I blame the distributors for not distributing the movies like they should! Rather they are trying to gain lots of money by doing a half ass job!
    Seriously! A damn martial arts movie gets released in China July 2016, and why the hell should US and UK wait JAN-APRIL 2017 just to watch the movie?
    we can see that happening with Samurai X, movie released couple of years ago is now finally making it’s way to the US this year. what a piss take!

    Let alone fans who can’t wait for the release would have to wait a long time just to watch a movie half of the world had seen and are already talking about.

    Then you have price point!
    I don’t watch dvd movies anymore, only Bluray and I know what I am paying for.
    But why should I buy a damn movie on bluray with no special feature and i’m paying £20 which supposed to have pack of contents.
    This perfect example was the basta*s who distributed Kung Fu Killer in UK which I bought first week it came out on bluray. And what did it had? NOTHING, just a damn movie and I paid £10 for it.

    Sorry but distributors are the ones provoking people and us to pirate movies!
    I watched the Raid at the cinema and enjoyed every inch of it.
    I watched the Raid 2 at cinema and enjoyed paying for it
    I watched Ong Bak 2 at cinema and loved every damn inch of it!

    I am always ready to pay for a movie I want to watch at the cinema.
    and Hard Target 2 sucked, Close Range sucked!
    I watched Ninja 1 & 2 online, and I bought Ninja 2 on Bluray.

    Also onto price point.
    I was going to buy Undisputed 1 & 2, but why should I freaking pay extra amount for owning it on dvd/bluray? old movies and I’m paying almost £25 excluding shipping to own and old movie?
    stuff like this p*sses me off.

    Oh yea…don’t forget REGION LOCK!
    I bought Blood Last Vampire and found out it was missing some fight scenes. I already paid for it, so why should I pay extra just to own another region copy that had the fight scene?
    Not to mention I need to get a region free dvd/bluray player.

    Sorry but all these just p*sses me off and are ripping us off!
    Distributors are to blame!
    Blame the Distributors!

    1 Million (C)Licks movie came out 2 years ago, and now we are finally getting it. wtf???
    but i rate those damn distributors:) because no one could find a torrent for that movie. Kudos to them.

    This is why people would rather download than be ripped off.
    but some people do pirate on purpose and have no intention of paying and supporting industry.

    all I want are:
    *reduce the waiting time for a movie to reach other nations
    *make all movies available either on Demand, Youtube, or Cinema
    *include CONTENTS for the bluray/dvd copies
    *make lots of copies available so that everyone can buy the movies at decent price! (if only 500 copies were shipped, the remaining and left overs become rare and they end up being sold for a lot of money)

  23. laagi says:

    This is a very sensitive topic. It hasn’t been until recently I’ve gotten a different angle on this. Trying to release some Kung Fu titles myself (HKKino) I’ve quickly had to learn this is not any easy task. It takes amounts of efforts, countless hours of work and not to mention tons of budget. And when you finally get to release the title in very limited quantity; you don’t even earn money with it! If you’re lucky you might just cover all of your expenses and get a little extra for another release. Taking all of this in account, I have to say for a niche genre with limited audience every single purchase counts. And every pirated one just hurts as hell!

    I know this genre has been suffering the neglect for years from the industry and continues to do so. I’ve downloaded some rares before simply because there was no alternative! But when it comes to a decent and good release I think we owe it to ourselves to support it the best way we can. Else this genre will be doomed sooner or later. Cause let’s face it nobody out there likes to work for free.

    • AgriWuxia says:

      I suppose I am a product of both my age and my upbringing. I have no interest in downloading from torrent sites, preferring physical media such as dvds instead. Of course, piracy is an issue in both forms of media. My thinking on the subject correlates closely with laagi.

      Prior to connecting to the internet, and discovering the Forums, I had little understanding of the concepts of licensed releases and bootlegs. A dvd was a dvd. Thankfully all my retail purchases of Shaw films in those early days were official licensed releases, as that was all that was readily accessible at the time. It was only after using a special order service offered through a nationwide dvd retailer, in an attempt to track down specific titles, that I ended up with three bootleg dvds (as I later discovered reading the Forums). These people should have known better, if they even cared. I can only assume that a sale was more important than any ethical considerations. These three titles I have since replaced with licensed versions.

      One of my friends is quite adamant that dvd releases by the major studios are grossly overpriced and a rip-off to the consumer, so he unapologetically uses bit torrents to download material. Whether he is correct or not is subjective, but “stealing” their intellectual property is hardly the correct response. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Here in New Zealand, legislation to combat copyright infringement and piracy has recently been enacted, but I have not heard of any prosecutions. The law really has no teeth, much cost and onus is placed on the copyright holder to prove infringement, and a set procedure of warnings must be issued first. I don’t think anything has really changed.

      On a personal level, I genuinely feel that when you pay for a product you appreciate it more. When it comes to Bootleg v’s Licensed dvds I think two old sayings are appropriate- “You get what you pay for” and “quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”. When it comes to illegal downloads, apart from the obvious harm to the industry, I believe laagi’s point is relevant. In order for one person to receive something for free, someone else has to work or provide a service for nothing.

      Sadly, I discovered the Shaw catalogue after the end of Celestial’s release schedule. For OOP or never released dvd titles I am faced with this stark reality- Do I give up on ever owning said titles?; Do I wait in the vain hope of another official release?; Do I try to buy on the expensive secondary market should they even become available?; or Do I go down the cheaper bootleg path and become part of the problem plaguing the genre? Given official licensed dvds remain available of titles I don’t yet own, I have avoided this last option so far, but I will have to face this dilemma eventually.

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