At 30, and already an accomplished novelist, Guo Jingming deftly turned himself into one of China’s top film directors when he unleashed bratty, aspirational comedy-drama “Tiny Times” on an eager public in June 2013. Then he showed his understanding of marketing strategy by releasing a sequel barely six weeks later.
Guo’s upcoming action fantasy “The Yin Yang Master” is already billed as a two-parter, so he will not be able to pull off the surprise sequel trick a second time. But there is every reason to expect the movie pair to be among the biggest Chinese films of the next 12 months.
The story involves a snake dragon, and a cabal of Yin-Yang masters, a scheming princess and a well-placed palace guard who each have other plans for the power of the demon than the one they advertise.
The films, being pitched this week in the online version of the Cannes Market, completed most of their lensing before the coronavirus-induced lockdown, and wrapped up principal photography at Hengdian Studios in April. They are now in post-production, and with distribution in China targeted towards the end of the year, if mainland cinemas are allowed to reopen.
The films star Mark Chao (“Saturday Fiction”), Allen Deng (“Ashes of Love”), Jessie Li (“Port of Call”) and Wang Ziwen (“The Postmodern Life of My Aunt”), all exactly the young, beautiful and talented actors that have appeared in Guo’s previous works.
Where Guo differs from type this time is that he is adapting a third-party work, the popular 2001 novel “Onmyoji” by Japanese writer Baku Yumemakura. His six previous movies were based on his own novels. Guo says he is interested in creating films from literary works, but also wants to try an original script one day.
“The advantage of making a film from contemporary literature is that audiences know the story and characters. ‘Onmyoji’ has a lot of faithful fans around China and Japan. So we already have an strong audience base with great expectations and a big space for imagination,” Guo told Variety. “But there are also limitations. We cannot make dramatic changes to the personalities of the characters or the storyline, audiences also know the plot in advance.”
Guo said that he did not shift from the hyper-modern China of “Tiny Times” to an imaginary historical period in order to escape from present-day problems, rather to embrace the opportunity to exercise his sense of the weird and wonderful. “Fantasy action is always a popular genre, as it brings infinite space for imagination, visual strangeness and emotional excitement to audiences,” he says. “The strong [Asian] aesthetics of the film might be appealing for international audiences. In the meantime, the story is universal and accessible to anyone.”
The films were produced by Alibaba-backed Hehe Pictures and owner of Fortissimo, Zestful Unique Ideal, Thinkingdom Pictures, Shanghai Film Group and Black Ant Films. Fortissimo is handling worldwide rights.
Two-part films are a regular occurrence in Chinese cinema. Guo says that “The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity” and “The Yin-Yang Master: Retaliation” can be viewed together or separately.
“While there is continuation in the characters’ setting through both parts, the stories are completely independent. We shot the two parts together,” says Guo, before adding the dreary proviso that is becoming so familiar. “We are still working on the release plan, and will have to take into account the current cinema context.”