Newly divorced and feeling depressed, writer and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert decided to take a journey to Italy, India and Indonesia. On the trip she found romance with a Brazilian man 18 years her senior and her subsequent memoir Eat, Pray, Love sold more than 10 million copies. A film starring Julia Roberts was inspired by the book.
Will actress Zhang Jingchu’s Old Cinderella enjoy similar success? Like Eat, Pray, Love the romantic comedy deals with the life of a woman in her thirties after she files for divorce. With the help of her best friend (played by Zhu Zhu), the single mother gets back on her own two feet. But before long she finds herself caught between a male fuerdai (a term for heirs of wealthy business folk) and her ex-husband, who wants a second chance…
Zhang stars in the film and also produced it. It seems to have struck a chord with Chinese audiences, topping the box office charts by collecting Rmb50 million ($8 million) in the first week it was released, says Tencent Entertainment. Weak competition may have helped: Old Cinderella debuted in the same week as RoboCop, Ice Age 4 and The Hobbit 2, which have received more lukewarm receptions. It was also released a day before International Women’s Day on March 8, which was used in marketing it to female audiences.
Industry observers say the film has succeeded because it taps into a very specific demographic – single women born in the post-eighties generation (also known as ‘leftover women’ in China, see WiC99). But unlike other romantic comedies that often portray leftover women as insecure or overly eager to find a husband, critics say Old Cinderella tells a more empowering story about a woman coming into her own after a painful divorce.
But it’s the best friend of the main character, played by Zhu, that gets to deliver the most biting lines in the film.
“You know why I don’t want to get married? It’s because I don’t want to end up in a divorce like you,” she says in one scene. At other times she paints a grim picture of Zhang’s personal situation (instead of consoling her with sympathy she tells her: “You are a divorced woman with a five year-old child. How are you going to find another guy?”)
“In recent years, romantic comedies have become very popular. But they are all stories about impossible romance and they often take place before marriage,” says NetEase, an internet portal.
“However, Old Cinderella is not just a love story, it is a story about finding yourself after a divorce. There are many parts about the plot that are very real and touching.”
Zhang says she was initially attracted to the script because she wanted to portray a tougher female character. “Even when life has derailed, she becomes stronger,” she says.
Like Eat, Pray, Love, the romance is filmed against some exotic backdrops (conveniently Zhang plays a tour guide). But rather than holiday sun and sandy beaches, the producers chose Jerusalem as the place in which Zhang’s on-screen character rediscovers her faith in life.
“It is amazing that we can end this film, which is a love story and romantic comedy, here,” Zhang says. “I’m overwhelmed by all the people I’ve encountered.”
Tourism from China to Israel has jumped 49% to nearly 20,000 visitor arrivals in the past two years, according to Tourism Ministry figures. But that number could be set to rise given the propensity of hit Chinese movies (such as Lost in Thailand, see WiC192) to generate interest from Chinese holidaymakers.
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