Sony Pictures Classics plans to play rough with ‘The Raid’

It’s hard to believe that “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was eleven years ago.

If you don’t remember what it was like when that film was coming out, let me take you back.  Sony Pictures Classics took Ang Lee’s Chinese language masterpiece that was my favorite film of the last decade and turned it into a genuine box-office phenomenon.  A movie with subtitles.  That’s supposed to be impossible.  Anyone will tell you that audiences simply don’t want to read a movie, and any movie with subtitles is doomed to a certain size audience and no more than that.  But Tom Bernard and Michael Barker bet on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and more than that, they strategized.  They made a big play with that film, and it paid off and paid off and paid off for them.  It’s still one of the biggest foreign-language releases of all time.

Barker and Bernard have been around since the dawn of man, of course, and they’ve been adventurous distributors longer than I’ve been a film fan.  I’ve met both of them many times over the years, and they’re exactly what I would have hoped, smart and still engaged and always looking.  They really do love that moment where they get to present something exciting to the general public.

And with “The Raid,” they’ve got the single biggest potential hit in their hands that they’ve had since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”  This is a film that, marketed and cultivated properly, could be a genuine  box-office sensation, because it is one of the most non-stop kinetic action moves I’ve ever seen, and a major, major action cinema accomplishment.

This summer, when I was at Cannes, I first heard that Sony International was getting involved with the movie based on an unfinished fight reel they saw.  I’m sure they figured that, worst case scenario, this is a direct-to-video title with a cool trailer.  But I was at the film’s first screening at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it felt like being at the first screening of John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.”

Evidently, Barker and Bernard felt the same way, because while the common wisdom after Toronto was that Screen Gems would handle the release, that was not something that had been officially announced.  Deadline broke the news today that it will actually be Sony Pictures Classics that handles the release, and that is good news indeed.  Barker and Bernard work hard for the movies they love, and I’ve heard that they are crazy enthusiastic for this one.

Are we going to see “The Raid” at Sundance or SXSW?  Time will tell.  I’m sure SPC is going to work to build awareness and word-of-mouth before they finally unleash this one on the general public sometime in 2012, but it’s going to be exciting to see how they do it and when.  I’m just glad this has been made official, and I can’t wait for action fans around the world to see the movie.