Film feud

A rivalry that began with novels hits the big screen this month


Chen Qiaoen, who stars in Han Han’s new film

Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald contested one of the literary world’s most famous rivalries. Initially best friends – Fitzgerald helped a younger Hemingway by acting as his agent and even edited The Sun Also Rises – the pair were torn apart by a combination of jealousy, alcohol and rows over money.

Hemingway was said to belittle Fitzgerald to mutual friends and even proffered a snide portrait of him in his Paris memoir A Moveable Feast (“He was always trying to work. Each day he would try and fail”).

A more topical (and, WiC admits, rather less weighty) rivalry is being waged between Han Han and Guo Jingming in today’s China. Both men started writing when they were young. Both were winners of the New Concept Writing Competition at only 18. And the pair have garnered cult-like followings, which has helped to turn them into celebrities in other aspects of life.

While Han is more political in tone and known for occasionally cynical social critiques, Guo, a year younger, writes love stories and fantasy novels. Both have featured frequently in WiC, although while Guo’s star seems to have risen Han has garnered fewer headlines over the past year or so.

In the past Han has mocked Guo by saying that his stories appeal to “small kids”, insisting in an interview with Southern Metropolis Weekly that the two are completely different (“Like men and women”, he said, apparently playing on Guo’s metrosexual appearance).

But now the two writers are going to be facing off again – this time on the big screen. This month Guo’s Tiny Times 3, the latest instalment of his Tiny Times franchise, will launch a week before Han’s directorial debut in Continent.

Han wrote the screenplay for his film, while Guo makes film versions of his Tiny Times books. Again, the subject matter is very different. Han says his production is a road comedy while the Tiny Times series follows the lives of four materialistic students from Shanghai (for more see WiC202).

The proximity of the two release dates has invited comparison of the two films, even if some journalists seem to have problems telling the two directors apart. During Han’s press conference for Continent one reporter mistakenly referred to him as Guo in a question about his rival. Han jokingly answered her question pretending to be Guo: “I am thrilled that the third film of Tiny Times will soon premiere, and I know Han’s film will come out a week later. I welcome competition, and I believe the market will accommodate diverse films.”

But Guo, who turned up for a media event of his own last week, refuses to be compared to Han. “Nowadays China’s film industry has become increasingly heated with different genres and different films showing all at the same time. In July more than 10 domestic films will show. They all have a different target audience so… There’s nothing to compare with,” he told his audience.

Han is another of China’s new filmmakers. Before him and Guo, actors like Xu Zheng and Zhao Wei made the transition to behind the camera, overseeing some major hits. Industry observers say this is a positive. “More people going into the industry is a good thing. At least there will be more variety,” another writer-turned-director Liu Tong told Nanfang Daily.

Continent is likely to showcase Han’s more rebellious side. The film’s trailer, already viewed more than a million times online, ends with a man shouting at someone who keeps preaching at him to “Shut up!”

“I hated it when people lectured me as I was growing up, so my film will never do that,” the director explained at his press event. “This is a road comedy, but it is not that clamorous or that in-your-face. I don’t like screaming in front of camera.”

It remains to be seen which of the two will win the box office battle but July is going to be a busy month at cinemas. A total of 20 films – including foreign titles – will be released this month. Domestic productions like Girls, a drama revolving around three women, as well as the horror thriller The House That Never Dies, will compete against Continent and Tiny Times 3.

Hollywood studios will have to watch most of the action from the sidelines. None of the Hollywood imports coming out this month are blockbusters in what commentators regard as scheduling ploy designed to clear the decks for domestic productions to thrive.

Small wonder then, that the producers of Continent are upbeat. They are also expecting their film to gross more than the first two Tiny Times movies combined, which means surpassing Rmb800 million ($128.9 million) in ticket sales.

Han, however, tried to stay humble: “Something I found early on is that whether you succeed in something depends not on how much time you spend on it – I spent 12 frustrating years trying to learn to swim – but whether you have the knack for it,” he says.“I have proven my knack for writing and racing, and I feel the call for directing. Maybe it will turn out like swimming, but it will still be nice to try.”

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