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Sun on the Chinese Cinema Landscape

2012-05-18 10:45:26        Chinese Films

Jay Sun.[Photo: filmbiz.asia]

Industry Opinion

Film Business Asia talked to Jay Sun, the president of Pegasus & Taihe Entertainment International, who is making his directorial debut with "Switch." The RMB$130m (US$20.6m) action-adventure stars Hong Kong's Andy Lau, Taiwan's Lin Chi-ling and China's Zhang Jingchu and Tong Dawei.

What's your background?

I spent 10 years in the US. I studied music theory at UC Irvine and was then a professional photographer for an image bank. After returning to China 18 years ago, I've been primarily producing for television but I've also produced four feature films in recent years.

Why are you making your directorial debut now?

When I wrote the script of Switch two years ago, I didn't intend to direct it. But the fifth generation directors are too busy and this isn't the right kind of film for sixth generation directors. I just couldn't find anybody else that was suitable.

And why this cast?

Andy Lau is the "king of pop". He's the best choice for the role. The real surprise is the performance of Lin Chi-ling. It is an acting explosion. She really has a great role. She portrays every aspect of a woman that is attractive to men, and uses all her charm to seduce Andy Lau. Tong Dawei plays a Japanese, the bad guy, but the film isn't anti-Japanese. His role is the opposite to that of Lin in that he plays the ultimate Casanova that is irresistible to all women. It's also a great role.

Tell us about the locations.

I chose all the locations while I was writing the script, all from my personal experiences as a traveller. They're very new and fresh for Chinese audiences. We shot in Hangzhou, Beijing, Tokyo and Dubai using the best locations in each city. In Dubai, we shot at the Atlantis Palm, the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Arab. We are the first movie to ever shoot inside the Arab, which is the most famous landmark in the city; they turned down 40 other films before us. We've been invited to host the world premiere of the film in Dubai in September before opening in China.

How long was the shoot?

We shot for 100 days over more than four months with two units. After shooting in Hangzhou, we took a one month break to prepare for the next locations. It was a rigorous shoot with 16 hour days. I was really touched by Andy Lau's support. He never complained. Even on the last day when we shot for 28 hours non-stop. He fell in love with the movie and believes it's the first time that action scenes have really pushed him to his limit.

I hear that HAN Sanping 韓三平 has personally championed this film.

This is the first time that China Film Group Corporation 中國電影集團公司 has put real money into a film production. They invested more money in this movie than either of the films that Han himself directed. Both Han and I agree that China has too many kungfu movies and needs new concepts, new visuals, and a new way of making films so as to create new genres for Chinese cinema.

What's happening at the domestic market now?

In the first quarter, the market share of Hollywood films was more than 60%. It's going to be 70% in the second quarter. Because of the increase in the quota limit, there are more Hollywood films entering the market. And Chinese audiences have become sick and tired of small low budget local movies. Chinese audiences are picky, not unlike North American audiences. In the US, the main audience is teenagers, followed by the middle-class. In China, it's different. The audience is primarily upper-class because ticket prices are so expensive. They are very well educated, and interested in human philosophies and human emotions. That's why such a touching and pure story as Titanic (1997) could be so successful in China on second-run.

What kind of local films have a future in China?

Chinese films have to change. I can perceive three categories of local films surviving. Firstly, very low budget films that are in touch with modern life; either family dramas or comedies. Secondly, mid-budget films of a high quality with good storytelling and good acting that are very serious about their craftsmanship. Chinese audiences have been spoilt by their easy exposure to high-quality American movies. The third possibility is big budget local films, but not the traditional kungfu movies that are no longer attractive to Chinese audiences. I'm very confident that Switch has a good chance because its responding to the changes in the market. It is something new that connects with modern life. China is growing so fast, it is more modern than many countries in the world.

What are the opportunities for new directors?

New directors need to develop their access and their abilities. Young directors will never have enough access to money. I'm fortunate. Because I've been in this business for 18 years — Taihe was once a partner of the Beijing Film Studio 北京電影製片廠 — I could convince people to trust me. Young directors must take things step by step. One problem is that audiences don't trust the media anymore; they only trust their own eyes. On the second or third day of a film's release, the audience already knows when a film is bad and the theatre managers will immediately cut the number of screens. And in the past one or two months, too many Chinese films have been over-promoted. Chinese audiences are so angry that they have lost trust in Chinese films in general. We must regain this trust. Chinese directors must work hard not just for themselves, such as by winning awards, but they must work hard to bring back the audience for everyone.

What are the problems facing directors and producers now? Is it that actors are too expensive, that great scripts are hard to find?

Actors are very expensive, but almost every top actor will lower their rate for movies. For example, Tong Dawei is very expensive to hire for a TV drama, but because movies are risky for everyone he will lower his rate. A bigger problem is not the lack of good scripts, but the lack of a system for developing film projects. A good script is not enough. You need several elements working together including a good script, a good director and a film that taps into trends that the market is attracted to. You need a whole package. Generally, the system that Chinese companies have adopted is very old. I'm not an expert on Hollywood movies, but they have built a healthy film development system. Besides the five major studios there are more than 200-300 companies constantly developing projects. It's very healthy.

And in China?

In China, we depend on just four or five companies but they are still only learning. They're not good enough yet. They're doing better, but they're not there yet. There is not enough talent to develop enough good film projects. Thirty years ago, every film was produced by the State. The government studios didn't care if their films made money or not. It had nothing to do with the market. Then indie directors began producing movies. Literally, the director was also the writer, producer and the fundraiser. That is very very bad. Later on you have the good example of the working partnership between HUANG Jianxin 黃建新 and FENG Xiaogang 馮小剛. And just three years ago, the Chinese industry has really gotten bigger and bigger. But it's still at a premature stage.

How do you see Chinese cinema five years from now?

I'm very optimistic about the future of Chinese films. Five years from now, there will be one hundred small companies developing film projects. I think there will still be four or five big companies. The current investors will learn from their mistakes because the market will teach them lessons very quickly. Right now the system is very unsafe for investors.

And will Taihe invest in more movies?

Taihe is not going to be a major film investor. Our core business is building entertainment malls, a one-stop shop for entertainment and consumption. We want to develop entertainment in a new way, not the Disney way. Disney has a very old model, the idea of planning to break even 35 years into the future. One of our inspirations is the Mall of America in Wyoming which has 50 million visitors every year, as busy as a Disney and a Universal theme park combined.

How do you expect your film to perform at the box office?

Personally, I'm expecting a minimum box office income of RMB300 million (US$47.4 million). With that, we can make a clear profit. We're also considering converting the film to 3-D. And we have lots of sponsorship, so it is not that risky. I also want to try hard to test the overseas market for the film. I think our movie is easy for any people to understand story-wise. And western audiences want to watch something new from China.

Source: Film Business Aisa/by Stephen Cremin

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