A poster of the film, "Beginning of the Great Revival" [Photo: douban.com]
Hollywood fans in China can breathe a sigh of relief: Mainstream film "Beginning of the Great Revival" made 100 million yuan ($15 million) at the box office last week, bringing it one-eighth closer to the rumored 800 million yuan ($123 million) needed for it to allegedly make way for imported foreign blockbusters.
The two-hour film is co-directed by Huang Jianxin and Han Sanping, chairman of the China Film Group (CFG).
The pair also co-directed 2009's historical epic The Founding of the Republic, which starred over 170 top stars from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, including Chow Yun-Fat, Liu Ye, Daniel Wu and Chang Chen.
The new film focuses on the 1911 Revolution that over throw the Qing Dynasty (1645-1911) and the May 4th Movement eight years later and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.
Chow Yun-Fat plays Yuan Shih-Kai, known for his hilariously short-lived attempt to revive the Chinese monarchy, a role that sees Yuan go from ruthlessly ambitious to outright desperate.
Liu Ye plays a young Mao Zedong as a promising young Communist rather than a youthful deity; Mao's early romance with Yang Kaihui, daughter of mentor Yang Changji, is included in the film.
Numerous scenes were edited from the film, including those featuring Lust, Caution actress Tang Wei but CFG has announced that, out of "respect" for those actors on the cutting-room floor, the missing 11 minutes will never see the public eye.
Political scenes from the era of the Republic, showing independent scholars, students peacefully demonstrating in the streets and free speech, are all included, however.
The overall tone of the film is serious, with one wartime event after another, interspersed with a few clips of fomenting revolution; the only relaxing scenes are those between the young Mao and Yang.
Despite this supposed gravitas, when the Global Times viewed the film, the audience spent much of the time whispering and playing spot-the-celebrity, even, bizarrely, laughing when comedians Zhao Benshan, Fan Wei and Feng Gong put in appearances in deadly serious roles.
"The cinemas are all full," boasted Wanda sales manager Wang Lefang. "With audiences of all different ages, from the white collar workers in the Central Business District area and the elderly people who reside in nearby neighborhoods. We got several "group buying" firms."
But what did the public think of the film: were they roused by the revolutionary struggle depicted?
"Mao Zedong in Beginning of the Great Revival is not what I saw in the previous films, nor was he the god-like figure I recalled in my childhood... I like this more human version,"56-year-old Party member Jiang Jian told the Global Times.
"The film brings back a lot of emotion and reminds me of the passion and excitement of the old times," Jiang added.
Wang Xin, 34, was more sanguine."It's a reasonable film, it didn't get too angry or too depressing... I guess the film is meant to be like this: balanced and objective."
"I was too busy finding the stars," giggled 20-year-old college student Yu Lilli. "It was like [entertainment show] Xingyun 52. Me and my friends were in competition to see who could name the most celebrities."
Asked about the film's powerful narrative of struggle, Yu admitted she couldn't remember much of the actual plot.
Totally true history
Numerous press conferences have been held in cities including Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Director Huang Jianxin and Jiang Defu, manager of CFG, have attended most of them.
Doubts about casting, such as tall heartthrob Han Geng (Deng Xiaoping, known for being a short man) and Hong Kong star trend-setter Angelababy as Xiaofengxian, General Cai E's sexy lover, were dismissed.
"I believed the historical facts are all true," Huang asserted. "I did a lot of research… and drew the right conclusion… people can judge it in their own ways.
"The film is telling true history, which can't be adjusted according to the taste of the audiences."
It is common for state-run organization and institutions nationwide to buy tickets and organize staff to watch State-sponsored films together.
Huang defended the practice. "During last Christmas and New Year showing slot time, group buying was 30 percent of the whole box office, now it is only 7 percent. People like the film and are willing to buy to watch… isn't that a good thing?"
Jiang Defu, manager of CFG, strenuously denied the 800-million yuan allegation.
"CFG didn't set an any box-office goal. We want the young audience, such as post-1980s and 1990s, to see the film, to know our history and what the great revolution was like. Box-office revenue is the least thing we care about," Jiang claimed.
"The viewing slots of films were arranged as early as last year," Jiang added. "It is not true that they are adjusted to [favour] the Beginning of the Great Revival."
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