Historical epic film eyes box-office record

08:46, June 16, 2011      

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"The Founding of a Party," an epic film to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), is expected to set a new box-office record.

The 140-minute film features an all-star cast and follows the market-oriented model set by its sister edition, "The Founding of a Republic," released in 2009 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China.

Jiang Defu, marketing manager of China Film Group Corporation, producer of the two films, says as the "Republic" attracted an audience of 13 million and box-office sales of 420 million yuan (about 64.8 million U.S. dollars), he expects the "Party" to double that box-office receipts and reach an audience of 30 million.

That would be a new record, as the current record is held by "Aftershock," released in 2010 with box-office sales of 660 million yuan.

Jiang's confidence seems warranted. Box-office numbers aside, these two films appear to have created a successful model for revolution-themed films or "red-themed" movies, which merge political doctrine and commercial success.

Film director Li Yang says "The Founding of a Republic" started the commercial model of red-themed films, which depict historical narratives starring famous actors. "Even if audience members know well the film's plot, they're still willing to pay to see a big-name cast."

And producers say they find themselves in the unique position where it's not them wooing the stars but rather, the other way around. Actors and actresses from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan scramble for parts because appearing in epic red-theme film shows they are well-connected and popular.

"The Founding of a Party" has a cast of 178 actors and actresses, such as mainland star Liu Ye, Hong Kong's Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau, and Taiwan-American singer Leehom Wang.

Jiang says most stars in the "Republic" performed for free, but the "Party" would be more market-oriented, paying each actor a small, symbolic amount.

Even with relatively paltry payments for actors, the film still managed to entice a mega star such as Chow Yun-fat. "He values the enormous mainland market that director Han Sanping can reach," said a film director who asked to be anonymous.

For Han, who also directed the "Republic," it's a common practice to boost box-office sales with stars. "I've studied foreign movies and political movies, such as "The Birth of a Nation" and "Round the World in Eighty Days," are the forefathers of political movies -- all joined by a large number of stars," Han said.

Sources report that over 400 people sought roles in "The Founding of a Party."

Those who got smaller roles worried that their scenes could end up being cut, according to the film's co-director, Huang Jianxin, who didn't respond to any inquiries actors made about cut scenes.

Han believes impersonating historical figures itself makes the roles more attractive.

Lead actor, Liu Ye, portraying Mao Zedong in his 30s, wore wigs, applied double-eyelid tape, and gained 10 kilograms by swallowing 20 eggs a day.

Liu struggled with the Hunan dialect, but had to master it in order to "become" Mao. "For the first two days of shooting, I was really nervous," Liu said. "Mao had a broad vision and mind, and I was not sure if I could bring that out."

Liu's hard work is expected to pay dividends, as Jiang expects the film to be commercially successful whether it sets a new sales record or not.

Jiang has designed a "major-client plan" where companies can buy into the studio's year-long advertising campaign with a 20-million-yuan investment. The studio has already signed six major clients under the plan, according to Jiang, who expects the film could provide an opportunity for the state-run studio to embark on a new profit model.

Lu Chuan, director of the World War II film "Nanking, Nanking," believes such a market-oriented approach is crucial for red-themed films. "Previously, such films were often sponsored by the government, with no regard to the audience at all, which led to substandard output and propaganda."

Although Lu thinks the all-star model can be effective, especially for an iconic director such as Han, in the long run he believes red-themed films will have to perfect their narrative skills and shooting techniques.

"The Founding of a Party" tells the story of the founding of the CPC during the early half of the 20th century when China was marked by political disunity. In 1921, thirteen representatives from throughout China met in Shanghai -- marking the beginning of the Party.

Huang says the movie is dedicated to the martyrs who died for China's revolution, and he hopes the film will remind younger generations of their sacrifices.

The film will be officially released nationwide Wednesday. Later, it will make its way into theaters in over 10 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and Singapore.

Source: Xinhua
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