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Script guru returns to China

By Liao Danlin (Global Times)

09:33, September 27, 2012

A scene from White Deer Plain (Photo/GT)

In a list of the most popular Chinese films in the world, Zhang Yimou's Hero would be among the group. But Zhang's fans, who hoped to see the big film win international acclaim, were disappointed in 2002 when both domestic and international film critics felt the big-budget production lacked a crucial element, namely a clear and moving story.

"This problem of creativity comes down to the fundamental fact that we can't tell a story very well," television scriptwriter Yu Fei told the Global Times.

For the second time, Cloudary, a publisher and cultural communication company based in Shanghai, invited famed scriptwriting instructor Robert McKee to put together a six-day training course in China, including a number of talks with Chinese directors such as Li Shaohong, whose works include Baober in Love, and Wu Ershan who is famous for his Painted Skin II as well as Lu Wei, the scriptwriter of To live and Farewell, My Concubine. Scriptwriter William M. Akers and film consultant Viki King also came to participate in the activities and advise on the pitches given by their trainees.

Last year, McKee's course focused on the skills and rules of storytelling, the core of his world-renowned book Story. This time, he went into further detail about different film genres and genre filmmaking.

Reality gap

Zhang Wei, the scriptwriter of The Story of LaLa's Promotion, said McKee's course was not closely related to the reality of China's filmmaking. The examples he usually referred to were not new for mature writers who have read his book and learned the rules about scriptwriting.

Bo Bangni, who wrote the latest television series of Dream of a Red Mansion and the script of Mulan, directed by Ma Chucheng, similarly feels that McKee's theories are difficult to apply to the situation in China.

"They cannot be directly connected," said Bo. She referred to the case of two popular Chinese films that McKee commented on, namely You Are the Apple of My Eye and Love is not Blind. McKee used these to explain that Chinese audiences seem to be more interested in emotions rather than a normal fully-rounded story.

Yu, who has attended both of McKee's courses, holds a different view. He said no theories could be used directly in practice but that it is important to learn the basic skills and fundamental techniques of scriptwriting. Talking about McKee's critiques of the two popular romantic comedies, Yu said one kind of film being popular does not mean audiences are only interested in this type of story. He believes that good stories have universal appeal.

Yu found that this year's training course was of more benefit to young scriptwriters than to experienced industry pros.

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