Marriage à la mode

Popular sequel gets simultaneous release in North American cinemas

Marriage à la mode

“I know marriage is a waste of time... but will you respectfully consent to be my wife?”

One of the best lines in Feng Xiaogang’s If You Are The One 2 comes when Qin Fen, the middle-aged retiree, proposes to Xiaoxiao, the beautiful flight attendant, at the Great Wall. “All marriages are mistakes. A long marriage makes the most of a mistake.”

That sounds like a sensible way to sell the benefits of an age gap to a doubtful bride (and one that 84 year-old Hugh Hefner may have used before Christmas, when he tried to get down on one knee to his own 24 year-old girlfriend).

Feng’s franchise sequel picks up where the first instalment left off, showing Qin Fen trying to convince the elusive heroine (played by Shu Qi) to marry him. Xiaoxiao still lacks romantic feelings for her older suitor (best not to tell Hef, perhaps) but she agrees to a trial marriage anyway, in the tourist hotspot of Hainan (for more on this island, see last week’s issue).

Hainan is something of a self-promoter, and reports suggest that the provincial authorities were more than happy to welcome the director’s cameras to the island.

But like Feng’s last few productions, the film has drawn controversy for cramming in product placements. A glaring example is the hotel in which scenes from a beauty pageant are filmed. The location gets at least a dozen mentions, and China News Net reckons that there are 20 product placements in the film in total. That brings in more than Rmb60 million in extra income for the producers, it suggests.

Feng is defensive on the accusations. In a forum at the Beijing Film Academy, he complained the criticism has gone too far. “I didn’t spoil the story because of advertising. If product placement is not harmful to the plot or to the enjoyment of the audiences, I believe it will be beneficial to Chinese films,” said the clearly agitated director.

But Feng shouldn’t be too upset. The original If You Are The One defeated John Woo’s Red Cliff as China’s box-office champ in 2008, and the sequel is topping the charts again, earning an estimated Rmb420 million so far. It faces competition from another film released recently, Jiang Wen’s Let The Bullets Fly (see last week’s issue).

If You Are The One 2 also became the first Chinese release to open in China and North America on the same day. Currently the film is showing on about 20 North American screens – primarily in cities with large Chinese populations.

Critics say that points to the burgeoning international prospects for China’s movie industry. Taking their cue from the big Hollywood studios, which increasingly release movies in their major global markets at the same time they first show in the US, distributors are hoping to tap into overseas Chinese populations now much keener to catch the latest mainland offerings.

As ever, there’s also consideration of the problem of piracy. Milt Barlow, the chief executive of China Lion Distribution, told the Wall Street Journal that having Chinese movies open at the same time in North America will also help in the battle against illegal copying. DVD bootlegs of Chinese films usually arrive on small screens long before their cinematic version is available to the general public.

“The [overseas Chinese] audience is so conditioned to seeing these pictures on the internet or on pirated DVDs,” Barlow complains. “It will take a while to break the habit. But nothing beats seeing these pictures on a big screen.”

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