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The skinny on official, English-subbed Asian Films & TV
North American Asian Film and TV Series Distributors 
Mizushima Hiro - Bright Light
While more and more Japanese and Korean media is getting licensed in English-speaking countries, as fans, we'll always want something that's not yet available. One way to ensure that we continue to get quality DVD and Blu-ray releases is to support the companies that make titles available to us. The below are some of the distributors you'll come across most often in the North American market.

5 Points Pictures
The new kid on the block, 5 Points Pictures is Right Stuf's live-action division. They haven't yet released any DVDs or BDs, but the company's upcoming slate of releases boasts some interesting picks from genres that not many companies are currently putting out in the U.S. I can't think of any recent Korean romantic comedies (outside of K-dramas) like Finding Mr. Destiny and Penny Pinchers that have made it to the states, nor that many straight dramas like Bleak Night, either.

Other highlights: Punch, Moss, Tazza: The High Rollers, The Suicide Forecast

If you're looking for sword fighting adventure that can only be found in samurai films, AnimEigo should go on your list of favorite companies. In addition to samurai movies, AnimEigo also offers a number of amazing Japanese films and classic series, like Shohei Imamura's devastating yet beautiful Black Rain.

Other highlights: Ballad of Narayama, Tora-san: Japan's Most Beloved Loser, Zatoichi Box Set

Asian Crush
Predominantly known as a broadcast rights distributor (cable, satellite, broadband, mobile Video On Demand (VOD) systems, etc.), Asian Crush recently started licensing home video rights, as well. Its current roster of physical media releases is still pretty small, but the ones that are included are solid, like Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Boys on the Run.

Other highlights: Dasepo Naughty Girls

Though predominantly known for licensing anime series, FUNimation also releases Asian live-action films that are almost always packed with bonus features. The majority of its catalog features films with a historical bent (Love and Honor, Ichi, Mushi-shi), but there are a few contemporary titles in the mix, as well (Drop, Daytime Drinking).

Other highlights: Hana, Goemon, Shinobi, Zebraman 2

Magnolia Pictures / Magnet Releasing
Known for offering U.S. audiences some of the best independent-style films (they distributed Academy Award nominee Food, Inc.), Magnolia Pictures also licenses and distributes some of the Asian entertainment industry's biggest, critically lauded titles, like Japan's 13 Assassins, Korea's Mother and Tidal Wave and China's Red Cliff and The Warlords. Releases tend to be full of special features and extras.

Other highlights: I Saw the Devil, Big Man Japan, Chocolate, Ong Bak

New People Entertainment
New People Entertainment (formerly Viz Pictures) is the live-action affiliate of Viz Media and has been releasing wonderfully charming Japanese live-action feature films for years. It focuses on films with strong ties to manga series and books the already distributed in the U.S., like GANTZ (Kazunari Ninomiya, Kenichi Matsuyama, Yuriko Yoshitaka), Nana (Mika Nakashima, Aoi Miyazaki, Hiroki Narimiya, MatsuKen and Ryuhei Matsuda) and Kamikaze Girls (Kyoko Fukada, Anna Tsuchiya).

Other highlights: 20th Century Boys, Honey and Clover (Sho Sakurai ♥), Hula Girls (Yu Aoi ♥), Eatrip

Pathfinder Pictures
Pathfinder Pictures is dedicated to releasing independent foreign and domestic movies with unique points of view. In the last year, it's released some major Korean and Japanese critical darlings, like The King and the Clown, The Servant and Fish Story, along with a couple idol studded features (I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, Killer Bride's Perfect Crime)

Other highlights: Relation of Face, Mind and Love, The Recipe

Switchblade Pictures
Switchblade generally focuses on the slasher, campy style Japanese horror films. These seem to star a lot of gravure idols and tend to walk right along the line of ero movies, so they not everyone's cup of tea, but Switchblade is constantly expanding its catalog. Additionally, Section23 (Switchblade's parent company) used to put out a number of more fantasy/supernatural films that appealed to a wider audience, so there's always a chance that they'll return to soliciting them at a later date.

Highlights: Attack Girls Swim Team vs The Undead, Conduct Zero, Dark Water

Tokyo Shock
Tokyo Shock's catalog doesn't really stick to just one genre (fabulous!), but the company's been pretty quiet on the release front for quite some time (not so fabulous). It licenses a lot of gritty films, but it's also picked up titles like Yaji and Kita (Tomoya Nagase ♥). It distributes a large number of Takashi Miike's films (Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ichi the Killer, Zebraman, etc.), which even all on their own cover a vast range of genres and moods. For Arashi, V6 and Ryuta Sato fans, Tokyo Shock's also the company that licensed the two Kisarazu Cat's Eye movies.

Other highlights: Crows Zero (Shun Oguri ♥), Great Yokai War, GTO, Hansel and Gretel

Virgil Films and Entertainment
Virgil Films and Entertainment distributes films from a number of different genres and doesn't solely focus on releasing Asian titles. The Asian films they've licensed, however, have all been excellent and include titles like My Son, Voice of a Murderer, and Blue Dragon Film Award winner (sort of the Korean equivalent to the U.S. Academy Awards) The Divine Weapon.

Other highlights: Modern Boy, Soo, Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield

Well Go USA
At this point, Well Go USA is practically synonymous (to me, anyway) with "kick-ass Asian action" films. After all, this is the company that brought The Man From Nowhere (Won Bin ♥) to North American viewers, along with Ip Man and the recent War of the Arrows. Recently, though, they showed off an interest in bringing over at least one film that has absolutely nothing to do with swinging fists or flashing blades - the beautiful HK dramatic film, Ocean Heaven. Whether we'll see Well Go put out more quietly moving films is anyone's guess, but even if we don't, we'll always have something to look forward to on the company's release schedule.

Other highlights: Shaolin, A Better Tomorrow, Goth, Little Big Soldier

YA Entertainment
YA Entertainment is the premiere K-drama distributor in North America. The company licenses everything from romance to action to period dramas, and at a time when a lot of companies are pulling back from high-quality packaging, YA is still producing lovely chipboard box sets, oftentimes chock of of special features and the occasional external bonus. Lately, it's been releasing a stream of recent hits like City Hunter and Secret Garden.

Other highlights: Boys Over Flowers, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, You're Beautiful My Lovely Sam-Soon, Palace

Not sure where to shop? Trying to avoid bootlegs? Check out my retailers page to get the skinny on reliable online stores out there!

September, 14th 2011, 11:05 pm (UTC)
i am pretty sure i asked this before, but in regards to some korean dramas i found on yesasia i was wondering if you could provide some insight. It seems a lot of newer dramas are coming out really fast by a group called tai seng entertainment. I know that yesasia is a good supplier for legit copies, however I read a review that said the quality of the subs is sub-par at best. I was wondering if you have had experience with this subbing company?

As well, she stated that YA entertainment apparently no longer has licensing agreements with KBS. Is this true? I love YA entertainment releases (having just bought Secret Garden and planning on more), so it's a disappoint that they won't be releasing more dramas. As cheap as the current dramas seem to be (only 25 bucks compared to 55+) it seems you get what you pay for. No extras and poor quality subs.

You are the only person i know who is so in the loop so i hope you can help :)
September, 15th 2011, 01:09 pm (UTC)

If you're looking for YA quality subs (the recent releases, in particular), you're definitely going to be disappointed by Tai Seng. I have quite a few of their HK-films and C-films (and a couple K-dramas), and I'd say they're at the lower end of Hong Kong release level subs. Sometimes the subs are a bit stronger than others, but there are almost always some errors. I'm generally OK with them, but if you're not used to it, it would probably be distracting.

That being said, they are an official distributor, so at least some money eventually makes its way back to the original rights holders.

Can you link me to where you saw the info that YA no longer had any KBS licenses? While it's always seemed to me that the relationship between YA and SBS was stronger than with MBC or KBS, YA just licensed Sungkyungkwan Scandal a couple months ago. I'd say KBS might have its own agenda for how it licenses its series (particularly because of its online video portal), but I wouldn't count YA out of the mix. Tom (one of the company's main execs) has never mentioned anything to me about it, and he's been really up front with me anytime we've spoken.

I hope this hasn't ended up leaving you with more questions than answers. :)
September, 15th 2011, 01:20 pm (UTC)
ah, i see. i just wanted to get an opinion on their subs before i decide to go crazy getting some dramas...the sad thing is there will probably not be another release from a different company containing better subs because they have already released it :/

she didn't outright say it, however it is implied that this is the case. maybe it's her personal opinion on the matter

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