When Hunan Satellite TV got starlet Zhang Ziyi to be a judge on its reality singing show The X-Factor: China’s Strongest Voice, it looked to be something of coup. But unfortunately, audiences don’t seem to have been impressed (see WiC191). Viewers and critics alike were soon questioning Zhang’s credentials as the only judge without a musical background. Rumours even circulated that she planned to quit the programme.
Last week Zhang once again found herself on a panel but this time round she’s judging a subject matter closer to her own expertise as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival. Cannes is not only one of the world’s biggest film extravaganzas, it is also the most glamorous. Small wonder then that Chinese actresses have been flocking to the Riviera to showcase their red carpet looks. In addition to Zhang, Fan Bingbing showed up in ballgowns galore (she has form in this respect: as we described in WiC183 – on Oscar night she appeared in four different dresses). But the starlet stealing the show was another Zhang, this time Zhang Yuqi, parading in a Ulyana Sergeenko gown with a cleavage-baring neckline. Zhang starred last year in White Deer Plain (see WiC165) and was invited to walk the red carpet by the festival’s organisers.
Others took the opportunity to announce their upcoming China projects, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein who announced that Michelle Yeoh will star in the sequel to the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, joined by kung-fu star Donnie Yen. The original film, which starred Chow Yun-fat and Yeoh (and shot Zhang Ziyi to international prominence) was an unexpected hit in 2000, pulling in a worldwide haul of $213.5 million, rendering it the best performing Chinese language film ever. The movie went on to win four Academy Awards: for best foreign-language film, art direction, original score and cinematography.
The director of the first film Lee Ang – who was also at Cannes as a juror – will sit this one out. Instead martial-arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, who served as action choreographer in the original film, will direct the latest version, titled Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II — The Green Destiny.
“I loved Lee Ang’s film,” says Weinstein. “I thought it was a masterclass in directing, but I know we are in fantastic hands with Yuen directing the second instalment. He is a first class director and choreographer and I am thrilled to be teaming up with him once more.”
Will the new version have the same wow factor more than a decade on? Hua Shang News doesn’t seem to think so. The Xi’an-based newspaper says historical martial-arts films have gone from being the most popular genre in Chinese cinema to the worst performer. Take Valiant Legend. The kung-fu epic is set in the Song Dynasty and stars Taiwanese heartthrobs Wu Chun and Vic Chou. It cost Rmb200 million ($32.6 million) to make but barely made Rmb60 million in ticket sales. Another spectacular failure in box office terms was martial arts film The Guillotines, which cost Rmb100 million to make but ended up taking only Rmb50 million at the box office earlier this year.
Perhaps Chinese moviegoers need a rest from the genre (a topic we first touched on in issue 50). “The majority of the country’s moviegoers are the post-nineties generation [those that are born after 1990]. And they like to watch either good-looking characters or romantic and comedy films. They are repelled by anything that is set in historical periods. That explains why even films like The Last Tycoon [which is set in the 1920s] bombed at the box office,” says filmmaker Lei Zi.
Probably more importantly, a lack of creativity is also to blame. Internet users complain that most historical martial-art films are “boring” and “unoriginal”.
“The fact that the script of Valiant Legend is weak is besides the point,” complained one netizen. “Worse, the martial arts scenes are not exciting and appear to be lifted from films that were made in the last century.
“There’s no originality!” was the verdict of another weibo user.
All this suggests that the new Crouching Tiger movie might find it easier to enthuse international audiences than those in China itself.
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