Chen Hong, Gillian Chung and Masanobu Ando have joined the case of Chen Kaige’s $15 million biopic of legendary Peking opera star Mei Lanfang.
They join Zhang Ziyi and Cantopop warbler Leon Lai in “Mei Lanfang,” which started lensing earlier this month and marks a return to familiar territory for Kaige, after his 2005 film “The Promise.”
The thesps were introduced at a press conference last week, which was also attended by Mei Baojiu, Lanfang’s youngest son and a Peking opera star in his own right, who is collaborating with the production.
There have been reports in the local media that veteran thesp Feng Yuanzheng, who was due to star as Mei Lanfang’s cousin, has quit his role, citing a tight work schedule. .
Also, the production team denied reports that Zhang was being paid up to $2 million for her role in the pic — a huge figure for a mainland thesp, even one with a big reputation abroad for movies such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Producers said she had taken a reduced fee to support the Chinese production.
Japan’s Ando is best known for his role in Takeshi Kitano’s 1996 film “Kids Return.”
Peking opera is highly stylized and the thesps have had to learn a lot about the genre for their roles. Zhang said the hardest thing was getting used to the high-heeled footwear worn by Peking opera stars, while Leon Lai, who plays Mei Lanfang, has said he was taking special care of his hands. Expressive hand gestures are a big feature of Peking opera.
A revered figure in China, Mei Lanfang was the first artist to bring Peking opera abroad, and was a cause celebre in the European theater of the early 20th century.