'Transcendence' returns political rock star to spotlight

BEIJING — Directors, writers, venture capitalists and sundry celebs gathered in an Imax theater in a Wanda cineplex in downtown Beijing recently for the launch of a 3D pic about Cui Jian, China’s most popular and controversial rock star.

The 3D concert movie, “Transcendence,” shot in the Workers Gymnasium, is interspersed with footage from 1986, a heady time of swift social change. The people attending the premiere sang along to every word of Cui’s most famous song, “Nothing to My Name” — exactly 26 years after he first sang it.

The song became the anthem of the democracy movement of 1989, which drew its inspiration from student demonstrations of the time, until it was systematically crushed in cities around China, most famously in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Cui Jian was banned for years, and ultimately “rehabilitated” seven years ago.

“Personally, when I first heard that song I had, quite literally, nothing to my name,” says Bai Qiang, who financed and produced the film. “Today we are so much better off, not just concerning money, but we have all reached different goals. But we are still asking ourselves, is this what we were looking for? Do we now have something to our name?”

This may be an apt time for a film that considers upheaval, with political life in a state of flux as the nation prepares for a leadership transition expected later this year. There are rumors that the 18th Communist Party Congress could be delayed because of ongoing factional fighting after the purging of Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party chief of Chongqing.

Among those who attended the film’s premiere were Andrew Yan, managing director of Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund, and China’s most successful venture capitalist; popular CCTV anchor Zhu Dan; the pic’s director, Ning Hao; and investor Xue Manzi, a Red Guard at age 13 before escaping to the U.S., where he became a New York property developer.

Chinese auds love the 3D experience, and Bai hopes to woo younger viewers to the movie, even though Cui might not have quite the same appeal to a younger generation raised on pop from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Bai was careful to follow the rules and censorship requirements of the Film Bureau when making his film.

“We want today’s kids to watch this movie — to take 75 minutes out of their busy lives and to feel some of the strength,” he says. “When we were young, we had spirit. Where’s the happiness today?”

Cui did the music for helmer Ning’s latest project, “Guns and Roses.”

“I’ve been a fan for 20 years; I was excited to work with him,” Ning says. “You could say he wrote the music for my film, but my movie was made for his music.”

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