'Day Watch' producers have 'Fate' in hands


MOSCOW -- The producers of Russia's biggest-ever boxoffice success, "Day Watch," which took in $35 million here last year, are planning a sequel to one of the nation's most popular Soviet-era films, "Irony of Fate."

Beginning the buzz early, cinema booking agents, in Moscow this week for the 70th annual Russian International Film Market, were confronted with brash posters promising a new, as-yet-unnamed blockbuster from the makers of "Day Watch."

The film -- to be shot by "Watch" director Timur Bekmambetov and featuring "Watch" star Konstantin Khabensky -- will update a film that has become a cult classic since its Dec. 31, 1975 release and which holds a place in Russian affection equal to that in the U.S. for "It's a Wonderful Life."

Written and directed by Eldar Ryazanov, "Irony of Fate" tells the story of a group of friends in Moscow who get blind drunk while partying at a Turkish bath on New Year's Eve.

One of them is supposed to fly home to Leningrad to join his wife to celebrate the New Year, but by mistake they send Muscovite Zhenya instead, who is too drunk to notice.

Arriving in Leningrad, Zhenya takes a taxi to a street bearing the same name and looking identical to his own region of Moscow. He makes his way to the fourth floor, lets himself into what he believes is his flat with a key that works without a hitch, undresses and goes to bed.

When the flat's owner, Leningrad beauty Nadya, returns to her apartment, the comedy begins.

The film, which captures the absurdity of a Soviet system in which identical apartment blocks and identical lives were elevated to ideology, has become part and parcel of every Russian family's New Year's Eve celebration, with television channels across Russia running the movie every Dec. 31.

First Channel, which produced both "Day Watch" and its predecessor "Night Watch," confirmed Thursday that Bekmambetov and Khabensky are working on a new project scheduled for a 1,000-print release at the end of the year.

Anatoly Maksimov, one of the producers of "Day Watch," declined to either confirm or deny that the film will be "Irony of Fate," saying only that "it will be interesting to see what Bekmambetov and Khabensky come up with."

Maksimov added that the promotional posters on display at the film market were deliberately designed to spike curiosity about the precise nature of the new film. More informative adverts will be released during the summer, he said.

But sources close to the project independently confirmed the film will be an updated version of the Soviet story and referred to it as "Irony of Fate 2."