Left to right: Zhao Wenxuan, Jackie Chan and Li Bingbing [Photo: globaltimes.cn]
Although you may not have noticed it among the hoopla concerning another birthday, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the so-called 1911 Revolution.
If your appetite for history, as viewed by the Communist Party of China, was not sated by the summer movie "Beginning of the Great Revival", you'll be eager to learn about the imminent arrival of the (somewhat unimaginatively titled) China, 1911, starring Jackie Chan and Li Bingbing.
"China, 1911" is produced by the Shanghai Film Group (SFG) ("The Lost Bladesman" (2011), "Aftershock" (2010)) and focuses on the activities of the Tongmenghui, or Chinese United League, founded by Sun Yat-sen and Huang Hsing to oust the Qing Dynasty (1645-1911) and establish a republic.
Playing Huang, Chan proudly marks his 100th film and also takes the co-director's chair. Chan and SFG say they originally came up with the revolutionary topic during casual meetings between both sides some time ago.
"I hope more people will know about 1911 Revolution and how much effort those people made for democracy, especially for youngsters who may only know about 'Harry Potter' and 'The Lord of the Rings'," said Chan.
Principal director Zhang Li has a background in historical television series, so Chan admits he left the plot and storytelling to Zhang and only "assisted" him to achieve their goal: "He was driving the car and I was in the car," as Chan humbly put it.
Chan also admits he hadn't originally planned to act. "Initially I only wanted to be a good director and had no plan to play any role. I only knew about Sun Yat-sen in the 1911 Revolution. When I got to studying the history more, I discovered the important role of Huang in Chinese history and decided to act."
Chan said it was not easy work: "As the actor, the [1920s dialogue] was very different. It was hard to memorize and also to work on my Putonghua." Chan is a native of Hong Kong and normally speaks Cantonese. "As a director, it means I do everything, including paying attention to safety issues, especially for a film with so many war scenes," added the kung fu star, famous for performing his own dangerous stunts.
For a historical film, a good screenplay was essential. Veteran propaganda screenwriter Wang Xingdong ("The Founding of a Republic" (2009)) took the job, but says he had a surprisingly difficult time writing.
"Compared with previous stories I write, China, 1911 is more dramatic and has more war scenes.
"I wanted to write about it for a long time [but] there were too many characters and events involved in the revolution.
"I had to showcase them within two hours, and therefore had to employ maximum minimization. For instance, Sun Wu, Jiang Yiwu and Zhang Zhenwu were all very interesting revolutionaries but I can't include them all," lamented Wang.
"I saw the surgical knife in Sun Yat-sen's previous residence and it gave me inspiration. The knife is a key motif throughout the film."
Sun emigrated from Guangzhou to Hawaii before returning to China and studying to be a surgeon at a Hong Kong institute not recognized by authorities.
"He was a doctor, he cures patients and also a country. I learned that revolution is not for the sake of sacrifice but to save a country for a better one," said Wang.
Although a propaganda film, Wang still believes it will attract young people. "It is such a great revolution. From then on, there was no emperor, men no longer had to plait their hair, women no longer bound their feet, isn't that attractive enough?" said Wang.
The Qing forced all male citizens to sport a Manchu pigtail (on pain of death), while foot-binding was technically outlawed in 1912, though continued secretly for several years after.
According to SFG, meanwhile, North American distribution rights have already been sold. As of mid-July, the last such film, "Beginning of the Great Revival", had grossed $151,305.
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