Getting the message

Spy stories captivate

Getting the message

Eye spy: Li Bingbing and Zhou Xun star in espionage flick

Chinese espionage has a long history. The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu (544 to 496 BC), is filled with tales of spies and subterfuge.

China has its own Mata Hari too, a beautiful concubine named Xi Shi dispatched by the Yue kingdom to undermine the Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 to 476 BC).

Much more recently, spy stories have been enthralling mainland viewers, from Lee Ang’s thriller Lust, Caution, to the hugely popular TV drama Lurk (see WiC13).

The latest spy tale to hit the big screen is The Message. Loosely based on a novel written by Mai Jia, The Message is set in the early 1940s, mostly in Japanese-occupied Nanjing.

Following a series of assassination attempts on officials in the Japanese-controlled government, five suspects are detained for questioning. The plot sees the five compete to outwit their captors, and escape.

Co-directed by Chen Kuo-fu from Taiwan and Gao Qunshu from the mainland, the movie also stars A-listers like Zhou Xun, Li Bingbing and heart-throb Huang Xiaoming.

Chen, who also wrote the screenplay, is one of the most successful thriller directors in Taiwan. Gao also has a solid track record, having directed a popular TV series that centred on 13 murder cases.

“I think the audience has the same curiosity about their [spies’] work as I do. Their mysterious experiences give me a lot of space for imagination and creation,” Chen told the China Daily.

Spies like to keep secrets, and bosses at The Message want to do the same.

Huayi Brothers, the movie producers, forbade the cast and crew from revealing the film’s ending before the movie’s premiere on September 30.

In part this is an anti-piracy ploy – the directors have filmed several different versions to confuse the counterfeiters.

Huayi Brothers has a lot riding on The Message. The mainland filmmaker – partly owned by Alibaba chairman Jack Ma (see page 8) – is hoping to raise $91 million on Shenzhen’s ChiNext, a trading board for smaller companies that is expected to launch later this year.

Founded in 1994 by brothers Wang Zhongjun and Wang Zhonglei, the company offers film and TV production, as well as talent management services. Among its recent hits are war film Assembly and the romantic comedy If You Are the One, the highest grossing domestic film at the Chinese box office.

According to the filmmaker’s Shenzhen prospectus, profits have surged in recent years, tripling from Rmb23.6 million ($3.5 million) in 2006 to Rmb68 million in 2008. Net income of Rmb31.6 million is being reported for the first six months of this year.

Analysts believe more media companies will follow suit if Huayi’s IPO is successful.

Separately, China Film Group, the nation’s largest state-run film company, has confirmed to the Global Times that it is preparing for a listing on the Shanghai exchange.

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