A scene from the Russian thriller, Day Watch
Sequel to Night Watch casts a new spell
By Rania Richardson
With stunning visual style and a delicious mix of characters a vampire butcher, a Mongolian horse lord, a punk seductress, and an otherworldly father/son duo fixed in tormented conflict Day Watch is the dazzling sequel and stand-alone thrill ride following the phenomenally successful Night Watch (2004) that single handedly revitalized contemporary Russian cinema.
In a strategic move to lure post-Soviet audiences to movie theaters, writer/director Timur Bekmambetov was recruited to helm films based on the science fiction of Sergei Lukyanenko. Unlike in America, there were no fantasy movies shot in Russia before this one, the director said in a statement for the press. But in reading the book, I suddenly realized Sergei had managed to distill magic and miracles, the transcendent and the supernatural, into our way of life. I found that the story really was something special because in it, fantasy not only meets reality, but Russian reality, and its the first Russian movie that has this unique point of view. The story takes place in the real world, in real Russian life, but its also fantastical.
Former stage and television actor Konstantin Khabensky stars as Anton, a Russian Clive Owen-type caught in the web of witches, shape-shifters, and black magic as he struggles to come to terms with the newfound existence of his young son. The complex narrative involves two supernatural factions, the Dark Ones and the Light Ones, together known as the Others, locked in a perpetual battle. Each polices the other with a Night Watch or Day Watch patrol in a corrupt and decaying Moscow that evokes the Communist reign and aftermath.
One of the fastest-growing film markets in the world, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (including Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus) is poised to be a hotbed for new world cinema. Night Watch made $16 million on a mind-boggling $4 million budget and broke all post-Soviet box office records when it opened in Russia in 2004. It then went on to earn a respectable $1.5 million in the U.S. in its release last year. Day Watch grossed over $30 million in its 2006 Russian release.
Fox Searchlight signed onto the project in 2004 as a three-film deal the international distribution of the first two in the series and the third, Dusk Watch, currently under development as an English-language film that will be directed but not written by Bekmambetov. In a smart nod to an emergent generation of moviegoers, Fox reinvented the concept of subtitles for the initial projects. Reflecting the action, the words stutter, ripple, change color and get injured in combat. This clever use of dynamic captioning adds a fresh energy to the usual pedestrian text and allows the original dialogue to remain.
As international cinema increasingly reaches out to the youth market with genre pictures of sci-fi, fantasy, martial arts, and horror, filmmakers are giving the global movie business a shot of adrenaline, enticing audiences who prefer thrills to the relatively static or cerebral fare that their parents prefer.
Young people like this language, they like the energy of music videos and the clarity of commercials, said the Kazakh-born writer/director. They like the speed of the story, they like the action fast and dramatic. And we choose this style because we felt it would speak to our audience, and, of course, because we as filmmakers like it as well.
Related blogs and interactive websites are the natural offshoot of these films, where young Internet-literate enthusiasts can translate foreign language discussions of movie minutiae. The Community for Others at www.lightordark.com, one fan site for the Bekmambetov films, includes a reference book of glossary terms and, in the spirit of creepy make-believe, a realistic license for the consumption of human blood.