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Low-budget films worth a million laughs

By Xu Wei  (Shanghai Daily)

07:58, January 29, 2013

There's a deadly serious epic about famine and another about a power-crazed emperor. But Chinese viewers want to laugh and low-budget, funny films are just the ticket.

This is the season when Chinese people go to the movies for hesuipian, or New Year's films, and it's a good time to gauge public taste and find out what people really want to see.

There are historic epics like "The Last Supper" about a power-mad emperor and "Back to 1942" about a devastating famine that year in China. And there's Ang Lee's philosophical 3D "Life of Pi" about a boy trapped on a small boat with a tiger - and the meaning of life.

These have been eclipsed by two ridiculous "everyman" comedies, "Bring Happiness Home" and "Lost in Thailand." They're very low budget, but have reaped high returns.

"Bring Happiness Home" is a canine comedy about the adventures of a fluffy white poodle named Le Le that gets lost. Its wealthy owner offers huge reward and many people scramble to find the dog and claim the reward.

Xie Na, a famous TV hostess of the entertainment show "Happy Camp," is dressed like a pirate for some bizarre reason. She and her dim-witted assistant think they can get the reward if they can abduct the dog that has already been kidnapped by gangsters.

There's a car chase, kung fu and a lot of silliness.

The film, budgeted at 30 million yuan (US$4.7 million), earned more than 100 million at the box office nationwide since its release on January 18.

The film has been criticized for being generally superficial, absurd, tacky and poorly acted. It was made to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Hunan Satellite TV's popular entertainment show "Happy Camp." The TV hosts act in the film.

Why is so successful?

The answer is simple. People want to laugh and they don't want heavy fare.

Further, "Bring Happiness Home" already had a large fan base because of the long-running TV show. It also had a microblog support from celebrities.

"We had a clear positioning and promotion plan from the very beginning," director Fu Huayan told reporters. "With light-hearted elements of pet and love, we wanted to make it a film catering for the whole family."

Fu's dog film is not the first "dark horse" production recently.

The biggest surprise was another small-budget film "Lost in Thailand," which turned out to be the highest-grossing Chinese film in China's film history since it screened several weeks ago.

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