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When East meets West, the laughs shift into high gear!
|Directed By||Ron Howard|
|Screenplay By||Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel|
|Cast||Michael Keaton, George Wendt, Gedde Watanabe|
|Produced By||Deborah Blum, Tony Ganz|
|Film Editing By||Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill|
|Cinematography By||Donald Peterman|
|Music By||Thomas Newman|
March 14, 1986
A 1986 comedy film directed by Ron Howard that featured the problems of the then-current era difficulties of cultural clashes in the global marketplace and resentment and fears of foreign Japanese corporations absorbing local American companies. The title "Gung Ho" is an Americanized slang term adopted by the US Marine Corps during World War II which meant "overzealous" and "enthusiastic". The phrase however originally is an anglicized pronunciation of the Chinese words "gong" and "he" which means "working together in harmony".
Hadley, Pennsylvania is a company town which owes it's success to the local automobile manufacturing plant. But when the plant closes down, its foreman Hunt Stevenson embarks on an ambitious plan to resurrect the auto plant and his town by convincing a major Japanese car company, Assan Motors to invest in it.
They agree, making Stevenson a local hero. But his popularity plummets when Assan brings in Japanese managers led by Takahara Kazihiro to run the plant to their exacting standards. Kazihiro is an executive who is considered a failure by his peers due to his gentle nature and tendency to be overly lenient on his workers. He has effectively been demoted by being given this position as his last chance. As a result, Kazihiro is determined to be as strict and unyielding as possible to his new American workers but their Japanese ways and work ethic results in a huge culture clash between them and the local Hadley workers, driving them to revolt. Both sides' ire is particularly directed at Stevenson who is the liaison between the Americans and Japanese and neither side is willing to compromise to his despair and growing frustration.
Meanwhile the higher management in Japan is becoming increasingly annoyed at the lackadaisical attitudes, inferior quality control, and poor output of Hadley's workers to the point where they are considering withdrawing their funding, shutting down the plant for good. Desperate to keep the company afloat, Stevenson boasts that Hadley can match the best Japanese car companies' production rates; 15,000 completed cars in a single month.
Assan Motors' CEO Sakamoto scoffs at his preposterous claim but agrees to give them one month to make good on this outrageous boast. If Hadley can indeed prove their worth, they will give the workers a raise which has been one of the sticking points to the Hadley workers. However, if they fail they get nothing and Assan will shut down the plant.
But with time running out and the workers giving up, Stevenson and Kazihiro; once bitter enemies discover that they are both desperate to keep Hadley up and running. When the workers go on strike, Stevenson and Kazihiro begin building cars themselves in a last-ditch attempt to make up the shortage. Both men surprisingly finding themselves respecting the other and becoming friends in the process. Their actions shames the workers and the Japanese executives into helping them and returning to the assembly lines.
On the eve of the deadline, Sakamoto arrives and begins counting cars only to discover that the workers have been forced to cut corners by reducing as many nonessential parts as they could: such as only putting one out of every four bolts in the tires, missing windshields, and no engines in a vain attempt to make up for the shortage. Even so, they fall short of the 15,000 cars and Sakamoto is not impressed until Stevenson tries to bluff him by trading in his old Hadley car for one of the new cars just recently completed; proclaiming that it is just as reliable and tries to drive off in it only to have the car fall apart underneath him.
Sakamoto admits that he admires how the Americans and Japanese workers have come together as a good team and then he whispers to Kazihiro that he better fix those cars before they leave the factory and then loudly tells the workers how impressed he is that that they were able to make the 15,000 cars quota and then proceeds to blatantly lie in remarking how he doesn't see anything wrong with the remaining cars. Before leaving he stops and tells a befuddled Stevenson that: "I like you. You make me laugh."
Afterwards, Hadley continues to operate as a subsidiary of Assan Motors while the Japanese managers and local American workers have started to work together in harmony with both sides compromising slightly.
- Michael Keaton as Hunt Stevenson
- Gedde Watanabe as Takahara Kazihiro
- George Wendt as Buster
- John Turturro as Willie
- Mimi Rogers as Audrey
- Soh Yamamura as Mr. Sakamoto
- Sab Shimono as Saito
- Rick Overton as Googie
- Clint Howard as Paul
- Michelle Johnson as Heather DiStefano
- Rodney Kageyama as Ito
- Rance Howard as Mayor Conrad Zwart
- Patti Yasutake as Umeki Kazihiro
- Jerry Tondo as Kazuo
- Dennis Sakamoto as Matsumura
- Stan Egi as Kenji
- Jun Lyle Kamesaki as Kazihiro's Son
- Tamie Saiki as Kazihiro's Daughter
Gung Ho was based on several concept pages by veteran screen writer Edwin Blum who supposedly had been inspired while watching a “60 Minutes” segment regarding the opening of a Nissan automobile plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. His daughter, Deborah Blum brought the pages to Director Ron Howard who was in the middle of finishing up Splash (1984) who liked the idea. Howard thought it offered a unique opportunity to address a topical situation as a comedy.
Deborah Blum along with Tony Ganz would agree to produce Gung Ho with Howard serving as both Director and Executive Producer. Howard subsequently recruited screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel who had previously worked with him on Splash (1984) to polish the script. Howard offered the star role of Hunt Stevenson to both Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy but both turned it down.
Gung Ho commenced shooting in early July 1985 with several scenes shot in Tokyo before moving to Bueno Aires, Argentina for three weeks at the Fiat automobile factory which was chosen primarily for its architectural look as well as the fact that no major automobile factories in the United States were willing to accommodate an extended filming schedule. The Fiat Regata and Fiat Spazios automobiles being constructed there were used by the movie producers as the Japanese’s Assan Motor Cars.
Final scenes were shot in Pennsylvania including Beaver, Bridgewater, Rochester, West Homestead, and Pittsburgh. In order to make use of a park in Beaver for one particular scene in the movie, the film crew had to construct a gazebo which was subsequently gifted to the city and is still standing to this day.
Gung Ho debuted on March 14, 1986 in 1,150 theaters nationwide and had an opening weekend gross of $7,170,830 which earned it the number one weekend spot. It quickly and steadily dropped in ticket numbers and popularity over its remaining 11 week box office run but still managed to earn a respectable $36,611,610 gross figure, well in excess of its production costs. It garnered mainly negative reviews and the Rotten Tomatoes website reported it had only a 35% "Rotten" positive review rating.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a poor rating and called it, "a disappointment, a movie in which the Japanese are mostly used for the mechanical requirements of the plot, and the Americans are constructed from durable but boring stereotypes" but admitted that if anything positive about the movie; it was the two main characters, Keaton and Watanabe's performances.
Nevertheless, the movie was popular enough that it was sufficient for the development of a short-lived television series, Gung Ho (1987). Gedde Watanabe reprised his role as the newly appointed Japanese manager to the American automobile plant along with many of the Japanese extras. The TV series however was ultimately cancelled after a mere nine episodes.
The Toyota Motor Corporation have also used the movie as an example of how not to manage Americans to their executives.
- Gung Ho was released under the title of "Working Class Man" in Australia. This is probably due to the fact that it was the title of a popular Australian rock song performed by Jimmy Barnes which was used as the ending song at the conclusion and the end credits.