The publicity-shy chief of Beijing Culture, which has backed such Chinese mega-hits as “Wolf Warrior II” and “The Wandering Earth,” openly urged film directors Monday to stick to material pleasing to the Chinese state, for the sake of their investors.
“If you’re shooting an art house or smaller budget films, it’s no problem — say what you want to say and shoot what you want to shoot,” Beijing Culture chairman Song Ge said at his company’s first-ever press conference, held at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival. “But once you’re shooting with investors’ money, given the societal circumstances we have today, you should shoot films that reflect mainstream values.”
He defined those values as “things that the state allows you to shoot – things that the average people are used to seeing, that stabilize society,” adding that “this is the place of commercial films.”
Song described his own company’s mission in simple terms: “make good films for our audiences and for the country, that make the government happy, and also that put money in our pockets.”
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He summed up the recent industry climate — at a time when firms have been buffeted by new tax regulations and rising censorship but enjoy a growing box office — by saying: “I’m not so sure if it’s the best moment for China film but it’s certainly not the worst.” He also urged filmmakers to keep pushing to develop types of content not yet seen in the mainland. “Honestly, there are so many, many genres and subjects that have been done abroad but that China has yet to shoot. We can totally take those and shoot them ourselves,” Song said.
Beijing Culture then announced its slate of four films that are nearly finished shooting or already in post-production, bringing each movie’s director and main cast up on stage.
“Dancing Elephant” is first up, hitting mainland theaters July 26. The comedy is directed by Taiwanese director Lin Yu-Hsien, whose 2011 Eddie Peng-starring “Jump Ashin!” has a Mandarin title that mirrors this one’s, though there appears to be no link between the two. “Dancing Elephant” tells the story of a young girl who dreams of being a ballerina but is left in a coma after a car accident and wakes up years later to find that she’s become fat. She reconnects with her old dance classmates, and they enter a dance competition. It stars newcomer Jin Chunhua as the female lead and single-moniker Allen (“Hello Mr. Billionaire,” “Kill Mobile”) as the dance coach who whips her team into shape.
Though it seems positioned as a feel-good film that celebrates different body types, Jin was repeatedly singled out for her weight. A video intro to a dance number by Jin described how many tons actual elephants weighed and how they could therefore never dance. And when Allen lifted her off the floor for a final photo op, the moderator laughed: “Now try holding that pose for 10 seconds!”
Other films in Beijing Culture’s lineup include director Ding Sheng’s “S.W.A.T.” and screenwriter Dong Runnian’s directorial debut, “The People Snatched by the Light,” starring Huang Bo and Wang Luodan. Dong wrote “Crazy Alien,” “Mr. Six” and “Break-Up Buddies,” among other titles.
“The People Snatched by the Light” tells a tale that sounds remarkably similar to that of both the bestselling “Left Behind” religious novel series and Tom Perrotta’s followup “The Leftovers.” “Left Behind” was made into a film starring Nicolas Cage, which garnered a stunning 1% on Rotten Tomatoes and made $5 million in Chinese theaters. “The Leftovers” was turned into a well-received TV series.
But no mention was made of either of those works. Instead, Dong asserted that the idea for his film just came to him. “One day I was just scratching my head and wondering, what would happen if a beam of light came to Earth and everyone who encountered it suddenly disappeared?” The film tells the story of the event’s aftermath.
The moderator of the press event and lead actress Wang both praised Dong’s originality. “This premise really deserves applause because it’s really so inventive,” the moderator said. Added Wang: “I can’t imagine how the director dug deep in his mind to write such a work.”
Asked to explain why the disappearances occur, Dong said to consider the phrase “the last judgment” — baffling his Chinese audience, though perhaps not “Leftovers” fans.
He revealed very little about the plot, but admitted: “When it came to action, I used to think it a bit – well, let’s just say I didn’t understand it well enough,” he said. “Through this film, I’ll become an action director. There’s really a lot of action in this one.”
The film is also quite personal, drawing on elements from Lu’s own youth in military school and, later, his first job, at the government research department Bureau 749.