Chinese cinema’s new ‘it’ girl

Which film won the box office battle during the Golden Week bonanza?

Chinese cinema’s new ‘it’ girl

A star is born: Angelababy is enjoying huge box office success

Taichi is an ancient martial art that is characterised by slow, flowing movement. And it’s suddenly very much in vogue as a source of inspiration for several martial arts epics. Keanu Reeves, for instance, is directing a film called Man of Taichi. And more recently, Taichi 0 – the first of a trilogy directed by Stephen Fung – topped the box office during the Golden Week holiday period in early October. That’s significant, as it’s one of the most competitive (as well as lucrative) times of the year for Chinese cinema.

Taichi 0, thanks in part to higher average ticket prices at IMAX theatres, even edged out Chinese-Hollywood co-production Looper (see WiC166) in total weekend revenues, taking in Rmb110 million ($17.6 million). Coming in third, was actress Fan Bingbing’s romantic thriller Double Exposure.

Double Exposure also outperformed Dangerous Liaisons, which stars two of China’s biggest names in cinema Zhang Ziyi and Cecilia Cheung. However, their combined star power was not enough to save the latest remake of the 18th century French literary classic. Despite its generous budget – the film cost Rmb100 million to make and market – Dangerous Liaisons barely nosed into the week’s top five during the Golden Week, taking only Rmb50 million at the box office. Fan’s Double Exposure, which cost much less produce, delivered Rmb80 million in ticket sales.

One netizen wrote on weibo: “I don’t know how else to say it but the film [Dangerous Liaisons] is just not any good. In this case, the box office figure is actually a true reflection of how well-made the film is.”

But a spokesperson for Huaxia, which produced Dangerous Liaisons, told Southern Metropolis Daily that it wasn’t disappointed by the box office figures. “The intention has always been to promote the film to an international audience so the fact that we broke Rmb50 million in the Chinese box office is already considered a victory,” the spokesperson said. “The film will soon be released in South Korea, Japan and even Europe and North America. Overseas markets will account for a big chunk of the total takings so we are not worried.”

Still, analysts say the reason for the movie’s less-than-desirable outcome is because Zhang’s box office appeal has faded over the years. Dangerous Liaisons is her first big feature film since 2009. It certainly didn’t help that her co-star Cheung has been labelled “box-office poison” by the local media, after a string of duds, such as last year’s releases Treasure Hunt, Legendary Amazons and Speed Angels.

On the other hand, critics say the plot of Double Exposure – a modern-day love story with a bit of suspense – appeals more to younger audiences than Zhang and Cheung’s movie, which is themed around aristocrats and lavish society balls that’s set in the 1930s. As Beijing Evening News suggested, “Even if you put Fan Bingbing in Dangerous Liaisons the outcome is not going to be different. The film is a lost cause.”

Indeed, that could explain why Taichi 0 has done so well at the box office. While from a very familiar genre (one critic says it is “no different from your average kung-fu flick”), it is fun to watch. It’s also offers new takes on kung-fu film traditions – adapting 3D technology , as well as the Victorian ‘punk’ aesthetic seen in Hollywood’s Sherlock Holmes movies.

“If we don’t innovate, we’ll forever be watching the same thing over and over again. It becomes meaningless,” opines Fung, the director.

The plot is based (very) loosely on the story of Yang Luchan, the inventor of Taichi. Also adding to its appeal, it stars Yang Ying, better known as Angelababy (see WiC29). The model-turned-actress has become something of a fixture on China’s big screens, starring in 14 major films over the last two years. In fact, her career trajectory seems to be heading in the opposite direction to Cecilia Cheung’s, with the 23 year-old Shanghainese now being considered as box office ‘gold’ and enjoying leading lady status.

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