Source: China Daily Published: 2017-9-14
When director Guan Hu announced that his latest movie, Ba Bai (Eight Hundred Heroes), will kick off shooting in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on Saturday, he was with Hollywood talent working on it.
Glenn Boswell, known for his work in The Matrix movies and Titanic, is the battle-scenes director for the Chinese film and Tim Crosbie, from The Lord of Rings movies, is its visual effects director.
The movie financed by the Chinese entertainment giant Huayi Brothers retells Kuomintang lieutenant colonel Xie Jinyuan`s story. He led a regiment of 400 fighters to defend the Shanghai Sihang Warehouse in 1937, a pivotal chapter in the history of China`s resistance to Japanese aggression.
In the past, the revolutionary stories or military movies hardly used non-Chinese mainland filmmakers, let alone foreigners.
And for most Chinese born between 1970s and `80s, such movies are often unappealing because of their boring storytelling about historical incidents. But such movies have seen huge changes over the past decade, thanks to the fast expansion of China`s movie industry.
The projects to exemplify the transformation include Sky Hunter, actor-turned director Li Chen`s directorial debut, which will open across the country on Sept 30.
The movie about the Chinese Air Force has some members on its production team from Hollywood. The most famous names are Hans Zimmer, an Oscar-winning composer from Christopher Nolan`s Dunkirk, and the visual effects artist Nathan McGuinness from Black Hawk Down (2001) and Pearl Harbor (2001).
For some industry watchers, the transformation has emerged from the groundbreaking use of star power in The Founding of a Republic.
Unlike previous such movies, which recruited unknown actors, this movie about the early history of New China cast more than 100 A-list performers, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi, in cameo roles.
The movie quickly gripped attention of people who were not interested in political stories and became the highest-grossing domestic title in 2009.
Encouraged by the success brought on by star power, The Founding of a Republic had two follow-ups: Beginning of the Great Revival (2011) casting 108 stars and The Founding of an Army (2017) with more than 40 pop idols.
Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, says The Founding of a Republic is a successful commercial exploration of the zhu xuan lyu sentiment in movies, which invigorate national spirit and pride.
He says the genre concept was raised by a Chinese official in 1987, as movie regulators then hoped the domestic movie market could have some films to publicize mainstream values.
Such movies were clearly different back then, but the boundary has been blurred in recent years.
Hong Kong filmmakers have been invited to join such projects for their action scenes or visual spectacles.
Following Tsui Hark`s The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014), Dante Lam directed Operation Mekong (2016) and Andrew Lau directed The Founding of an Army (2017).
The celebrated Hong Kong filmmakers, who have established an image in the West, have given the Communist heroes a more human side on screen in suspense-filled plots.
Yu Dong, founder and CEO of the Beijing-based Bona Film Group, is one of the pioneers who boosted Hong Kong filmmakers` involvement with typical Chinese mainstream movies.
The Taking of Tiger Mountain, Operation Mekong and The Founding of an Army were all produced by Bona, which will have a new entry titled as Operation Red Sea, based on China`s evacuation of civilians from strife-torn Yemen in 2015.
The movie is also directed by Lam, the 52-year-old Hong Kong director known for his fancy of real action sequences.
Lam said in earlier interviews that he would depict Chinese navy men as cool heroes to appeal to youngsters.
Yu says such movies are attractive to audiences for their values, which showcase loyalty, persistence, honesty and the pursuit of freedom and equality.
He attributes the change to the Chinese movie industry`s rapid development, which took off from an annual output less than 100 features in 2001 to more than 770 in 2016.
He also says the popularity of such movies as The Founding of an Army and Wolf Warrior 2, a Special Force-themed tale that is now the highest-grossing movie in China of all time, proves Chinese moviegoers welcome stories of patriotism and heroism.
Zuo Heng, a researcher with China Film Art Research Center, says Hong Kong filmmakers have more experience than their mainland counterparts in making such movies more interesting.
Besides, the content in such movies is also seeing an expansion.
Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based industry watcher, gives the instances of two new movies of this year－martial arts star Zhao Wenzhuo`s God of War, and veteran actor Liu Peiqi`s The War of Loong.
God of War chronicles 16th-century general Qi Jiguang`s battles against Japanese pirates, while The War of Loong recounts the Chinese general Feng Zicai`s fight against French forces during the Sino-French War in 1885.
"The heroes are no longer just Communist Party members. The timing has been expanded as well. The change is a good indication of progress in the Chinese movie industry," he says.
Zhang Yiwu is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.