Crouching Tiger sequel on Netflix and Imax next year

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The long awaited sequel to the Lee Ang box-office hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) will debut simultaneously across the globe on video streaming site Netflix and Imax theatres next year.

In a first deal of its kind, Netflix and the Weinstein Co said it will be available on Aug 28 at no extra fee to Netflix subscribers and is the first of several films that Netflix is backing that will follow this new model for release.

Only Imax is involved; other theatre chains will not screen the film.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said he hoped the deal would show Hollywood that the time had come to respond to what fans wanted and to change the traditional method for releasing films - first in theatres then, typically several months later, for streaming.

"What I am hoping is that it will be a proof point that the sky doesn't fall," he said. "These are two different experiences, like going to a football game and watching a football game on TV."

The move underscores an eagerness at Netflix to shatter the traditional windowing system for movies in the same way that it has rattled the structure of the television business, with TV shows now made available for streaming soon after they are broadcast on traditional networks.

Netflix has also introduced entirely new models, releasing original series such as the critically acclaimed House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black all at once.

Yet the deal also reflects the challenges that persist in breaking the system, particularly in film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend is a production of the independent Weinstein Co, not a major movie studio, and has a relatively modest budget.

The partnership with Imax avoids one big problem - the major theatre chains refuse to break the system. Three theatre chains control most of the movie screens in the United States and they have aggressively opposed any encroachment on their release window, maintaining that any shortening would encourage consumers to stay home.

Under current contracts, theatres get to play movies for three months without competition.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which starred Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh and made Zhang Ziyi a star, was very much an art house film, but it played more like a blockbuster, which helps explain Imax's interest in the sequel.

Lee's film earned US$176.8 million in North America, after adjusting for inflation, and ranks as the best-selling Chinese language film in domestic box-office history.

It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 2001 and won four, including Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.

The film catapulted its Taiwan-born director, Lee, to the forefront of Hollywood. However, Yuen Woo-ping, the influential martial arts choreographer and director, is at the helm of the sequel.

The budget for the sequel is a multiple of that for the 2000 film, according to a source. In it, Yeoh reprises her role as the warrior Yu Shu Lien.

Set 20 years after the events of the first movie, it follows four martial arts heroes trying to protect the Green Destiny sword.

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Weinstein Co, said the industry needed to explore new ways to distribute his movies.

"There is a big world out there and there are many ways to exhibit things," he said. "This is the wave of the future."

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