When Heyi Pictures said it was adapting the web sensation, Surprise! into a feature film, the online video firm Youku Tudou, wheeled out the big guns to back the project.
Among those at a high-profile event in downtown Beijing last week were Han Han, the best-selling author who made his directorial debut last year with The Continent, and who it was announced will be the forthcoming film’s production designer (he’ll handle everything from soundtrack to screenplay).
Producing is Huang Jianxin, who co-directed the propaganda epic The Founding of a Republic and produced Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain.
In the director’s chair is Yi Zhenxing, aka Joy Show, who cut his teeth on short online films. Also present at the launch was Wang Sicong, son of Dalian Wanda’s chairman Wang Jianlin (though why he was there, and his role, was less clear).
Surprise! is based on a series of short online comedies, which follows the adventures of a character called Wang Dachui as he navigates though various modern-day and classical situations. It has had over two billion cumulative video views since its 2013 debut on the web.
In the Chinese industry’s ever intensifying search for content, web dramas and online reality shows are proving fertile ground for movie and TV projects.
Heyi Pictures has already developed a movie called Old Boys: Way of the Dragon from a streamed comedy produced by Xiao Yang and Wang Taili, or the Chopsticks Brothers, which earned more than $32 million and yielded the song ‘ Little Apple’ that became ubiquitous in China last summer, winning 1.4 billion clicks.
Heyi Pictures CEO Allen Zhu said he is keen to lift the quality of the content by enlisting top talent.
“By bringing Huang and Han on board, we are giving the existing intellectual property more content to make it fuller, to give it a longer life over time,” said Zhu.
“The addition of these two will enrich the movie. Huang will be the producer, taking his experiences from Taking of Tiger Mountain to our movie, while Han Han, as art director, will contribute to the scripting, to improve the fun, the music and the logic. He is a representative of Chinese youth and he will bring this spirit to the film,” said Zhu.
Other Heyi projects include Let’s Get Married, based on a Chinese TV series from 2013 that topped ratings that year, along with You’ve Got to Have a Dream, What if it Comes True?, adapted from a top-selling comic book that has a huge following on weibo. (So much so that its title was used by Alibaba CEO Jack Ma as the name of a speech he gave ahead of Alibaba’s IPO last year.)
Not everyone likes the approach of using short films or adaptations of reality TV shows to make films.
“If this trend goes on, no movie producers will invest in any serious films by filmmakers,” director Feng Xiaogang grumbled back in February when the box office was dominated by Running Man, a spin-off of a popular local reality TV show, based on a Korean format.
“A film that takes a couple of days to make earns hundreds of millions of yuan at the box office, which disheartens filmmakers. Will any other people bother making a good film?” the director asked, when speaking on the TV show Hidden Energy.
Other senior movie people agreed, including He Ping, the director and former secretary general of the China Film Directors Guild, who tweeted: “This is a very serious issue and the problem is getting more serious. The directors’ guild must give voice to our criticism and inform the SAPPRFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television) that directors can’t lose their professionalism in silence.”
Since the beginning of 2014, Heyi Pictures – and its previous incarnation at Youku Tudou – have co-produced 15 titles, collecting over $690 million at the Chinese box office.
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