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China lacks stars to act as model citizen

(Xinhua)

10:49, May 18, 2012

BEIJING, May 17 (Xinhua) -- China has a multitude of tall movie stars, but a movie depicting the country's model citizen Lei Feng is not after a tall actor but one no higher than 175cm.

The producers of the biopic of Lei Feng are struggling to find a lead star who is around 154cm -- the height of China's renowned good Samaritan.

The production crew started the selection process in April and about 1,500 actors and performance art students have competed for the leading role, but fewer than 20 are shorter than 175 cm. And none were suitable for the role because of their temperament and other reasons, said Liao Mukai, deputy director in charge of the selection.

The crew may consider choosing actors from high school students and other amateurs, but that may also mean risks for the film which is scheduled for shooting in June, said Director Liu Yijun.

Liu defined Lei Feng as a figure who was stunted in appearance, but tough in heart, and was warmhearted and optimistic. Liu said that he hopes to find an actor that can display such a strong contrast.

A solider of the People's Liberation Army, Lei died in an accident at the age of 22 in 1962. He became a national icon a year later after Chairman Mao Zedong encouraged the whole nation to learn from Lei's passion for helping others and his devotion to work.

The official publicity campaign has ever since projected a perfect image of Lei as a lofty altruist and Chairman Mao's good solider.

In a song popular in the 1960s and 1970s, "Learn from the Good Example of Lei Feng," the essence of Lei's merits was summarized as "being loyal to the Communist Party of China, serving the people heart and soul, living in a plain way and working hard, and ready to serve as a screw that never rusts for the revolution."

The producers of the film, however, are trying to rebuild Lei's image as an ordinary young man instead of a hero from the start.

"That's why we insist in finding an actor who is not too tall for Lei's real stature. We don't want any tall stars. We hope to present a real Lei Feng to the audience," Liu said.

The movie to be produced by Xiaoxiang Film Studio based in Changsha, Lei's hometown in central Hunan province, will focus on his growing up stories including his love experiences, according to the director.

Liu said he will not copy the example of other "red films" that used superstars to attract audiences. "Red films" refer to movies depicting the country's history of revolution and socialist construction and role models that represent socialist values.

Olympic diving champion Tian Liang was selected to play Lei Feng in a TV drama two years ago, arousing opposition from Internet users who said the handsome former diver was too showy for the moral icon.

Liu said it's becoming harder today for directors to find suitable actors for ordinary roles as almost all young actors are too good looking.

Gong Xudong, an art critic, echoed Liu, saying that most actors or performing art students seem to have been cast in the same mould.

"Performing art academies and troupes care too much about actors' appearance but neglect their temperament and internal polish," Gong said.

Liu Junze, a graduate from the Central Academy of Drama, said it is well known that performing art academies prefer good looking candidates.

"Some young actors and performing art students would even have cosmetic surgery to become Mr. charming or Ms. pretty," Liu said.

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