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Publicity stunt on the right track

HONG KONG — The run-up to the bow of a film is pretty formulaic: press conferences and smiling stars at the premiere.

The marketing of “A World Without Thieves” shook things up a bit, not to mention simplifying the job by putting everyone — journalists, director and cast — onto a train for 25 hours. The train traveled from Beijing to Hong Kong, arriving just in time for the Dec. 8 gala premiere.

“It’s a very smart idea,” says Jeffrey Chan, Media Asia’s head of distribution. “We’ve been always looking for something more creative … that out-of-the-box strategy.”

A Hong Kong-China co-production, the film was financially backed by Media Asia, Focus Films, Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment Co. and Taihe Film Investment Co.

The pic is about a thieving couple, played by Hong Kong’s Andy Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) and Taiwan’s Rene Liu (“20 30 40”), who befriend a naive young man who doesn’t believe thieves exist. Little does he know the train he is about to board is teeming with two competing gangs.

The creativity of the publicity stunt comes from the fact that the $5 million film, helmed by mainland Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, takes place almost entirely on a train in China.

The bonus is it wasn’t too difficult to execute nor was it overly expensive, Chan says. Ordinarily, airfare and hotels need to be paid for the cast to travel to press conferences and the premiere. With the train, it was all one expense (more than $125,000) and it allowed the press to conduct and film interviews.

“A World Without Thieves” has already opened in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Singapore, and will bow in Japan in late 2005.

In China, the pic broke the opening day box office record with a take of $722,892. “Thieves” has since reached $4.2 million as of Dec. 14.

Although the film has stars from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and is a Hong Kong-China co-production, it’s widely seen as a mainland film. “This definitely has more China sensibilities,” Chan says. It’s set in China and was filmed in Mandarin, although a Cantonese version was dubbed for Hong Kong.

“We are not trying to make this film only to make it successful in China,” says Chan. The goal was to have a “genuine mix of talent and resources between Hong Kong, China and also Taiwan.”

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