Political bio sets China record

Pic has garnered $1.2 mil, likely to remain in the red

SHANGHAI — Chinese biopic “Deng Xiaoping,” based on the life of the late Chinese leader, is heading up the domestic box office charts. Since preeming on Feb. 19, the sixth anni of Deng’s death, the movie has taken 10 million yuan ($1.2 million), making it the biggest earner so far this year.

Pic is the latest tale of Chinese leadership from helmer Ding Yinnan, who also directed “Zhou Enlai” (1992) and “Sun Yat-sen” (1986). Veteran Deng impersonator Lu Qi plays the Chairman.

The movie tackles the last 20 years of Deng Xiaoping’s life, following the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, when his political career was rehabilitated.

Events depicted include negotiations with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over the return of Hong Kong to the mainland and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crisis.

Production costs eventually reached $2.5 million, following a reported nine years of preparation, beginning before Deng’s death in 1997.

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Less than 10% of domestically produced movies in China ever reach profit, and despite its relative success, “Deng Xiaoping” is likely to remain in the red.

Profit problems

Even Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” — the most successful domestic film of all time — barely broke even from domestic B.O., after production costs of $30 million.

Typical of Chinese political epics, “Deng” involved a vast cast of extras — reportedly close to 150,000 — and 70 government departments participated.

Made by Zhujiang Film Studio based in the southern province of Guangdong, the screenplay went through over 40 drafts by five groups of screenwriters, not untypical for a political movie in China, where former leaders’ legacies are closely controlled.

Deng remains a popular figure in China, largely for his instigation of the “Opening and Reform” policies of the 1980s.