Singafest brings out “Hostel” director Eli Roth’s love for Asian films

If a film festival programmer asked “Hostel” director and “Inglourious Basterds” actor Eli Roth to choose a title for the program, he or she would probably expect a horror movie in the lineup.

Instead, for the inaugural 2011 Singafest Asian Film Festival in Los Angeles, Roth went with an obscure Takeshi Kitano film called “Getting Any?” (みんな~やってるか!) – obscure not only in that it has been rarely seen, but also because the bizarre cavalcade of comedic sketches barely stringing together the plot is miles away from the work that Kitano is known for. (In fact, only one 35mm print of Kitano’s film with English subtitles exists, and Singafest organizers had to ship it in from France!)

“I didn’t want to pick an obvious one,” Roth said after he watched the movie at the Bigfoot Crest Theater on Oct. 2. “This is definitely my sense of humor and I’d love to make a movie like this one day, so it was fun to watch with a crowd.”

“Getting Any?” is the story of a down-on-his-luck man who, upon seeing an automobile commercial that preys upon his yearning for sex to become reality, decides that he will go to insane lengths to find a better car in order to attract a woman. That in and of itself sounds crazy, but nothing prepares the viewer for the oddball string of characters and situations that the man encounters, or the increasingly desperate choices he makes to try to achieve his dream.

Aside from Kitano, Roth cited four other Asian film directors as his favorites: Park Chan-wook (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”), Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “13 Assassins” and “Ninja Kids!!!”), Hideo Nakata (“The Ring”) and Sion Sono (“Love Exposure” and “Cold Fish”).

“What’s great about the film festival circuit is that I’ve got to meet a lot of these guys,” Roth said. “They’re total cinephiles, they know everything about American cinema and they’re really up-to-date. And they’re doing such interesting, innovative, cutting edge stuff.”

Roth noted that his own 2005 film “Hostel” was greatly influenced by two films in particular.

“It was “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Audition” that made me feel like the Americans were really behind and we had to step it up,” he said. “So those are the movies that kind of pushed me to make that film.”

“I love Asian films,” Roth added. “It’s really an exciting time in movies.”

For our full interview with Eli Roth at Singafest – where he met some of his fans who won tickets to the “Getting Any?” screening through our giveaway – watch our YouTube video and read the full transcript below.

Video: Interview with Eli Roth at Singafest 2011

Meniscus Magazine: Thank you for choosing this wonderfully bizarre film, and for promoting our ticket giveaway on Twitter a couple times.

Eli Roth: Oh sure.

Yeah, I know a few people responded right after that.

Oh that’s really cool.  It’s my pleasure, it’s such a fun movie and it’s great to see with a crowd, and this is the only print in existence in the world with English subtitles.  You know, comedies were meant to be seen with a crowd in the theater and it’s just great that you guys put on this festival and actually tracked down the prints.  They found it from France, so it’s really great.  It was nice that people came out to see this kind of obscure movie from 1994 on a beautiful Sunday sunny afternoon. So, it was fun.

I know that you requested it, though you were pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to find a print, is that right?

Yeah, I didn’t request it cuz I thought that, it was actually Dennis Bartok who ran Cinematheque who said, you know, you should pick a movie for Singafest and I thought, I don’t want to pick an obvious one and I didn’t want to pick a horror movie – I think that’s kind of what everyone expected.  So in the way that you sort of expect a gangster film or different type of movie from Kitano and you get this film…it seemed like a good match.  I was like, this is definitely my sense of humor and I’d love to make a movie like this one day.  So it was fun to watch it in the crowd.

Other than Beat Takeshi, who are some of your favorite Asian film directors?

Chan-wook Park actually is one of my favorites. I wrote an immigration letter for him.  I’m proud to say, you have to…they get different sponsors so I was very honored he asked me because I was a big early champion of his films after his “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.”

And Takashi Miike is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. Hideo Nakata is amazing. Sion Sono. Love, love his films so there is so many. You know, you’ll find someone like Sono and then you just go through everything they’ve ever done. So “Love Exposure” is up next.

I was going to ask, have you seen “Cold Fish” yet?

No I have not seen “Cold Fish.” I hear it’s amazing, I hear it’s really really dark.

It’s pretty crazy.

He’s fantastic. It’s really cool, these guys actually, what’s great [about] the film festival circuit is I’ve gotten to meet a lot of these guys. They’re just fantastic, they’re total cinephiles and they knew everything about American cinema and they were really up to date. And they’re doing such interesting, innovative, cutting edge stuff and obviously Asian cinema was a huge, huge, influence on “Hostel.” It was “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Audition” that made me feel like the Americans were really behind and we had to step it up.  So those are the movies that kinda pushed me to make that film and that’s why I gave Takashi Miike a cameo in “Hostel.”  It’s a tip of the hat to him. So I love Asian films. It’s really it’s an exciting time in movies.

Great, thank you for supporting Asian film and Singafest.

My pleasure, no it’s cool you guys did this.