After the success of “The Founding of a Republic,” an epic tribute to China’s 1949 revolution, work has begun on “The Founding of a Party” to mark the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation on July 1 next year.
As with “Republic,” the propaganda pic will feature a galaxy of stars — heartthrob Liu Ye will play the young Chairman Mao Tse-tung — doing it for nothing other than the glory of the Communist Party and China.
Pic is part of the Party’s efforts to present a modern image and comes as its membership has expanded to 78 million.
“We don’t want people to see it because of the anniversary, we just want to do a good movie about an important period of Chinese history,” said Huang Jianxin, who is co-helming the movie with Han Sanping, the powerful prexy of China Film, the state film company that controls all aspects of the local biz.
“We want to attract more young audiences to watch it since it is a story of young people,” said Huang.
“Republic” was the top earning Chinese film of last year, taking in $61 million at the B.O., and was the most successful Chinese film of all time until this year’s earthquake epic “Aftershock.”
The movie will be written by young scribes and many of the leading roles will be taken by young thesps to appeal to youthful auds and put fresh faces on the icons of Chinese history.
Pic has some surprising casting decisions: Tang Wei, the actress who was blacklisted by the Film Bureau for her steamy role in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” will star as one of Mao’s girlfriends, marking her gradual rehabilitation.
Tang Guoqiang plays the older Mao, while Chen Kun stars as Zhou Enlai, who helped Mao set up the Party and win the Civil War that established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, although their relationship soured in later years.
Zhang Guoli will play Mao’s nemesis, the Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan after losing the Civil War.
His influential wife, Madame Chiang Kai-shek will be played by Vivian Wu, while Zhang Hanyu plays the revered President Sun Yat-sen.
Li Qin will star as Yang Kaihui, Mao’s second wife, an important role as she remains a national heroine today. She was captured by the KMT in 1930 and imprisoned, then tortured and killed in front of her son Mao Anying when she refused to renounce Communism.
Some of Hong Kong’s top thesps are also involved in the movie, showing their loyalty to the Motherland. Andy Lau stars as the warlord and revolutionary Cai E and Chow Yun-fat as politician and general Yuan Shikai. There are reports that Hong Kong helmer John Woo will play a part.
There is still a question over which stars will be paid for taking part, and which will be performing their patriotic duty by doing the film for free.
“During ‘Republic,’ many stars worked for free,” said China Film VP Shi Dongming. “But we think in this film we will pay actors and actresses. I can’t reveal the budget but it will not pass 100 million yuan ($14.7 million).”
China makes dozens of propaganda films every year, most of which fail to register outside the country or even beyond the province in which they are made.
“Republic” transformed the propaganda movie in that it was well acted, cleverly scripted and generally entertaining. Became of this, there is a lot of online curiosity about the new movie.
“People have an open mind for this kind of propaganda movie since ‘The Founding of a Republic’ succeeded in combining advocating a message with commercial thinking,” wrote one anonymous online commentator. “A lot of people are waiting to see the movie because they are fans of the young actors and are curious to know how those important historical personages can be portrayed by these young faces.”
Celebrity appeal looks likely to be the deciding factor. “I just can’t wait to count the stars,” wrote one webizen.