‘The Promise’ reaches new heights
The words he had for the audience were rather solemn.
“My 1984 film, ‘Yellow Earth,’ was made with only a 350,000 yuan-budget, or $43,000,” Chen said.
“It was during a time in China when there was a very weak moviegoer market. The public thought that it didn’t make sense for filmmakers to want them to pay for something that they wanted a big audience to see ― they were used to free movies under the old system,” he said. “Of course the situation has now changed.”
Still, he continued, the notion persists that moviegoers must be people who are well-heeled, but most now know that in order to help the Chinese film market grow internationally, they must buy tickets to watch Chinese movies.
“And we filmmakers know that movies have to be big-budget ones to attract large audiences,” he said.
He has stayed true to his word. The film he directed this year was very expensive. “The Promise” ended up costing more than $35 million, reputed to be China’s most expensive movie yet.
When it was released in theaters in China, it brought in the largest audience ever, curious to see what Chen was up to.
With a thousand extras and a myriad of CG effects, “The Promise” unfolds as an epic martial arts fantasy that follows the exploits of a princess (Cecilia Cheung) who beguiles several important men. Korean heartthrob Jang Dong-gun appears as an impressive slave who has special powers.
It might be sad news for Chen’s old fans who prefer his less-digital works, such as his previous masterpiece, “Farewell My Concubine.”
But at least Chen has made it very clear that the Chinese film market is growing and he wants it to be focused around expensive adventures.
The JoongAng Ilbo interviewed Chen:
Q. We heard from Jang Dong-gun that he was initially cast in the role of a general. Why did you change his casting to Kunlun?
A. I was very impressed with his performance in the Korean movie “Friends.” If such a good looking actor like Jang played the general it would have been interesting. But I was charmed by his eyes. They were wild, like those of the horses. So I changed my mind.
The film is an epic fantasy. You used a lot of CG in your film.
Actually this was my first time using CG and it was difficult. The communication part was hard. I learned that CG can only be a tool to make a good movie rather than a goal to make one. I did try though to bring out Asian beauty through these techniques.
How did you feel about making a film that involved three Asian countries?
The Asian film market is far behind that of the United States or Europe. From that standpoint, Asian countries have to work together. It was a nice experience. It was just that the production got so huge that there were so many things the director had to deal with. I want to use less CG next time and concentrate on what a director should do.
Despite the fact that your films from the 1980s were praised internationally, Chinese audiences did not pay attention to your work. But they seemed to like your new film, “The Promise.” What has changed over the last two decades?
Good question. Although I won awards abroad, I had no audience in China. But I think I have one now. It’s time for the Chinese movie market to grow through big-budget films. Then younger film directors will be free to make movies in diverse genres.
by Lee Hoo-nam