“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” One of Churchill’s most famous utterances, in which he was lauding the heroic contribution of Britain’s outnumbered Royal Air Force pilots, who repelled Hitler’s Luftwaffe during the summer of 1940.
It was not until 1969, however, that Britain’s filmmakers produced a big budget version of the inspiring story.
In Battle of Britain, a veritable dream team of acting talent (including Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw) showed how the battle was won.
But the celebrity cast failed to win over the critics. An “insult to our intelligence” claimed the Chicago Sun Times. “One of those all-star non-movies…that attempts to recapitulate history, but adds nothing to one’s understanding,” agreed the New York Times Review.
Well, hopefully China’s film-makers will learn from their predecessor’s flop, as they plan a similar attempt at recreating a symbolic moment in history. And they too are relying on a celebrity cast.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1 this year, China’s top filmmakers and actors have gathered together to make Founding of the Republic.
Directed by Han Sanping – who heads one of the leading film companies in China, China Film Group – the movie will star household names like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Ge You, Zhang Ziyi and Vivian Wu.
Han told Xinhua it took very little convincing to get the A-listers signed up: “I told them ‘our mother is celebrating her 60th birthday – would you love to join in?’ and none of them said no,” he says.
Flushed with patriotism, many seem to have waived their fee too. Which won’t please their agents.
The story, set in 1949, will focus on the establishment of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country’s top political advisory body.
It doesn’t sound like much of a blockbuster. But co-director Huang Jianxin reveals that the film will uncover the hidden human drama surrounding the event.
Judging from the online trailer – bombs exploding, close ups of the all-star cast – the plot may not be a tour de force.
But the promotional tactics seem to be working with Chinese moviegoers. Three quarters of respondents to an online survey on Sina.com even said they would pay to watch the movie, rather than just download it illegally from video-sharing sites.
Evidence that film audiences are feeling patriotic too? Probably not; a large majority then admitted the attraction was the star-studded cast, and not an interest in the historical account of the founding of the People’s Republic.
But Sina’s poll results suggest that Founding a Country may (finally) topple Titanic as the nation’s top box office hit. The American love story grossed Rmb360 million ($52.5 million).
The movie will be released on September 17, before the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Keeping Track: Last week we pondered whether Founding a Country, due for release in October, would finally end Titanic’s reign at the top of the box office. Well, Titanic no longer holds the title, but thanks to Transformers 2 (see WiC23). Michael Bay’s blockbuster took Rmb400 million in its first two weeks, beating Titanic’s total take of Rmb360 million.(24 July 2009)
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