Lineup includes Zhang Yimou stage show and the film 'Founding of a Republic'
As the spectacular 2008 Olympics proved, no one organizes public events with the same attention to detail as the Chinese government. So the world will be watching as this week’s massive celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China unfold.Showbiz, naturally, is playing a key role. The key day is Oct. 1, when a military parade — details are being kept top-secret — will be followed by a mass pageant, themed “Motherland and I Marching Together,” to feature 200,000 citizens and 60 floats. Director Zhang Yimou — who choreographed the amazing Olympic opening ceremony — is staging “Turandot” in the Bird’s Nest stadium as part of the celebration, and some are wondering if he will be consulted on the parade’s pageantry too. Humor website Shanghaiist.com anticipates the pageant will be “just like ‘High School Musical 3’ … with less teenage angst and more revolutionary zeal!” But there’s been a long buildup to the parades, including a special screening for journalists and dignitaries of “The Founding of a Republic,” a propaganda movie like no other. In an attempt to lure iPod and cellphone-toting youngsters, the pic features more than 170 of China’s top stars, including Jet Li and Jackie Chan, as well as Zhang Ziyi of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Stephen Chow of “Kung Fu Hustle,” Leon Lai, Donnie Yen, Gou Ye and Zhao Wei plus a host of helmers, laffer stars and even journos. It’s the rough equivalent of having the entire audience at the Oscars being roped in to make an ensemble piece. Auds at the “Founding” screening in Beijing cheered, and occasionally giggled, when their favorite thesps or warblers appeared onscreen. In the past few weeks, hundreds of tanks have been rumbling past homes in Beijing in preparation for the anniversary events. Every aspect of this sensitive celebration is being taken care of. Security has ordered that residents’ windows remain closed on Oct. 1 — kites, racing pigeons and even balloons have been grounded. Even the weather won’t be left to chance, with authorities ready to deploy cloud-seeding jets and artillery with silver iodine rockets to banish any clouds that threaten to rain on the parade. And, as with the Olympics, there is a clampdown on any form of dissent or unpleasantness — even the sellers of pirated DVDs have disappeared from the streets. The details of the parade are a secret, but it’s safe to expect the kind of procession that we know from newsreel footage of Moscow and East Berlin during the Cold War era, with goose-stepping troops reverently staring at the huge portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong that stares down onto Tiananmen Square, which will likely be a sea of red flags waved by devout cadres. And, in honor of the celebration President Hu Jintao has even commissioned an extra-long 20-foot stretch limousine. And, of course, there are films. To ensure everyone does their cinemagoing duty, Beijing theaters are issuing 900,000 coupons to encourage moviegoers to watch patriotic movies in the run-up to the anniversary. “The Founding of a Great Republic” set a record on its opening day, Sept. 17, taking in $2.2 million in its first nine hours of release last week, according to the China Film Group, which opened the pic on a record 1,450 prints — nearly half of China’s 4,100 screens Helmer and China Film prexy Han Sanping estimates the film ultimately will gross $65.9 million. That would put it far ahead of the biggest film to bow in the country so far this year, “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen,” which in July overtook ‘Titanic’ as China’s B.O. champ, with $59 million in receipts. Film fans will also be able to watch the adventures of “Iron Man” during the October holiday. But it’s not the Marvel Comics invention, or even the Ted Hughes version. Rather it’s a stirring propaganda film about “Iron Man Wang,” China’s first industrial hero, famous for digging for oil with his bare hands and jumping into a cement mixer to mix cement with his body so as to prevent the machine from freezing up. There are various reports of how much the pic cost, and it was certainly less than $10 million, because everyone gave their time for free. Some put the price tag at as low as $4 million. To westerners, one of the most interesting aspects of the pic is that three top Chinese helmers — Chen Kaige, Feng Xiaogang and Jiang Wen — appear in memorable small roles. (Hong Kong action king John Woo ended up on the cutting-room floor.) But to locals, the film offers a fascinating mix of blatant propaganda and sophisticated drama. Mao is played by Tang Guoqiang, who emphasizes the leader’s “Great Helmsman” role in the early days of the Revolution and comes across as an avuncular father figure, a hero who cares deeply for his troops and the people. There are several moments of hidden political messages. In one scene, Mao arrives in Beijing, where shopkeepers have fled in fear. He makes a brief speech about how it’s important not to chase out the capitalists lest production suffer. That’s a sentiment familiar to a generation reared in New China, and hardly a doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist statement. Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader and Mao’s archrival (sensitively portrayed by Zhang Guoli) is portrayed as a troubled man and victim of his time, a lonely figure on the wrong side of history. This depiction may have a lot to do with the thawing of relations with Taiwan (which is under the leadership of Chiang’s inheritor at the helm of the KMT, Ma Ying-jeou). The prospect of the eventual return of Taiwan to the fold is held out in the way the movie stresses the common bonds between the KMT and the Communist Party, which both came from the same Soviet-funded roots and were wartime allies against the Japanese.