HKMDB Daily News

May 19, 2013

American Dreams in China (Variety review)

American Dreams in China

5/18/2013
Maggie Lee

An aspirational drama about how three deadbeat college chums built a business empire by teaching English, Peter Chan Ho-sun’s “American Dreams in China” is attractively packaged and moderately enjoyable, but nonetheless comes across as ersatz and indulgently retro. On one level, this wry look at entrepreneurial drive and the toll it takes on friendship can be viewed as the Chinese version of “The Social Network.” However, notwithstanding some insight into China’s love-hate sentiments toward the U.S., Peter Chan Ho-sun’s account of the country’s three-decade rags-to-riches history is so obviously drawn from his own coming-of-age in ’80s Hong Kong that the film lacks a contempo pulse.

With new president Xi Jinping’s political slogan “Chinese Dream” becoming a global media catchphrase, some China watchers in the West may pay attention to how the film’s commercial dreams translate Stateside. Local B.O. has been strong so far, with opening-day returns totaling $3 million.

Born in Hong Kong and educated in Thailand and the U.S., Chan captured the zeitgeist of Hong Kong at the cusp of its handover in 1997′s “Comrades, Almost a Love Story,” and he again juxtaposes his characters’ rising fortunes with landmark historical events here. Yet his perspective on China remains that of an outsider, observing without much genuine personal experience or affection.

It begins in 1985, during China’s national study-abroad craze, a time when undergraduates are infatuated with America and believe it’s their only hope of a good future. Three close buddies at Beijing’s prestigious Yanjing U. — Cheng Dongqing (Huang Xiaoming), Wang Yang (Tong Dawei) and Meng Xiaojun (Deng Chao) — have comical yet fateful interviews with U.S. immigration officials. Naive country boy Cheng’s visa applications are repeatedly rejected; cinephile/ladykiller Wang foregoes his application to stay home with his American g.f., Lucy (Claire Quirk); and golden boy Meng coasts through his interview and takes off for New York, hoping to land on the cover of Time magazine.

Cheng sleepwalks through a college post teaching English, while his high-flying g.f., Su Mei (supermodel Du Juan, exquisitely unapproachable), gets the coveted visa. When he’s fired for moonlighting as a private tutor, Cheng starts coaching students for their SAT and GRE exams. Eventually he reunites and teams up with Wang and Meng, and their out-of-the-box yet accessible English-teaching curriculum becomes a lucrative national franchise called New Dream. Yet success also breeds dissent, and their partnership is endangered when Meng insists on getting their company publicly listed, against Cheng’s wishes.

“American Dreams in China” marks Chan’s return to contempo character drama following a string of historical blockbusters he either directed (“The Warlords,” “Dragon”) or produced (“Bodyguards and Assassins,” “The Guillotines”). In a manner reminiscent of his cheesy, breezy 1993 dramedy “Tom, Dick and Hairy,” an undue proportion of “Dreams” is set on campus, where the characters bond over their shared zeal for learning English (Cheng recites from not one but several editions of English dictionaries), a zeal fueled by everyone’s urgent belief that English opens doors to untold opportunities in an age of economic reform.

While mainland scribes Zhou Zhiyong and Zhang Ji provide cheeky, period-specific colloquial dialogue, the weak chemistry and considerable age difference among the leads are all too apparent; their relationships exude neither convincing camaraderie nor the giddy excitement of youth. Even the romantic interludes are flimsily drawn, and there’s a missed opportunity in the case of Wang and Lucy’s affair, as the film fails to explore East-West cultural exchange in a more intimate context.

The film’s second half gets racier with an eye-opening, almost fairy-tale-like take on how ad-hoc ideas in China can spin off into national enterprises, if catering to the right market. Intentionally or not, the subject has a real-life model in education mogul Li Yang, whose unconventional methods of mixing English lessons with self-help philosophy and strident nationalism were captured in Sixth Generation helmer Zhang Yuan’s 2003 docu “Crazy English.” Even the way Cheng, Wang and Meng exploit their individual histories in the classroom have roots in Li’s own larger-than-life personality and teaching strategies.

Chan could have attempted a more flamboyant and satirical approach; instead, each of his characters has an earnest personal vision, making their growing conflict more dramatically engaging as the story progresses. This is in keeping with the paradigm shift observed here: from striving to master English in order to find success overseas, to seeing the lingua franca as a means to level the global economic playing field.

As in “The Social Network,” legal proceedings frame the drama, as New Dream is sued by U.S. educational authorities for helping Chinese students cheat on entry exams. It’s here that Chan succumbs to crowd pleasing tactics, devising a jingoistic climax for the protags to score a victory against their American plaintiffs, who are presented as stereotypically arrogant, self-interested and prejudiced.

As the nebbishy loser crowned “Godfather of Foreign Study,” despite having never gone abroad, Chinese heartthrob Huang (“The Guillotines,” “The Last Tycoon”) gives a likable if superficial performance as the story’s most human character, falling short on gravitas even as his Cheng gains in moral stature and confidence. Tong (“The Flowers of War”) offers the most subdued presence, but also the most solid, and Deng (“Assembly”) is adequate in an often unflattering role. The real problem is that none of the thesps can pronounce intelligible English to save his life.

Christopher Doyle’s mellow lensing doesn’t leave any stylistic impression, while the art direction and costumes are so meticulous as to look artificial, rather than recreating the mood of changing times. Overall, tech credits are pro; the original title means “Chinese Partners.”

Reviewed at Olympian City, Hong Kong, May 8, 2013. Running time: 110 MIN. Original title: “Zhongguo hehuoren”
Production
(Hong Kong-China) An Edko Films (in Hong Kong)/China Film Group Co. (in China) release of a China Film Group, We Pictures presentation of a We Pictures production in association with Stellar Mega Films, Media Asia Film Prod., Yunnan Film Group, Edko Films, Beijing Jiu Yang Sheng He Science and Technology. (International sales: We Distribution, Hong Kong.) Produced by Peter Ho-sun Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-chun. General Executive producer, Han Xiaoli. Co-executive producers, Qin Hong, Peter Lam, Zhang Lun, Bill Kong, Ma Ku-ho.
Crew
Directed by Peter Chan Ho-sun. Screenplay, Zhou Zhiyong, Zhang Ji, Aubrey Lam. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Christopher Doyle; editor, Qiao Yang; music, Peter Kam; Sun Li; costume designer, Dora Ng; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1).
With
Huang Xiaoming, Deng Chao, Tong Dawei, Du Juan, Daniel Berkey, Claire Quirk, Wang Zhen. (Mandarin, English dialogue)
Variety

May 18, 2013

Americian Dreams in China (Hollywood Reporter review)

Americian Dreams in China

5/17/2013 by Elizabeth Kerr

Veteran Hong Kong director Peter Chan returns with a familiar rags to riches story spanning 30 years and beginning in 1980s China.

Ever since he burst onto the Hong Kong film scene in 1994 with He’s a Woman She’s a Man and later Comrades: Almost a Love Story, producer-director Peter Chan has been one of the industry’s most identifiable voices. While not as issue-driven as Herman Yau or possessed of Johnnie To’s urban cool, the more romantic Chan has been a constant in an industry in flux. Chan’s latest film, American Dreams in China, is a carefully modulated and calculated film by a veteran with an eye firmly toward cracking the burgeoning mainland cinema market, which he started dabbling in back in 2005 with the romantic musical Perhaps Love.

It also embodies what everyone was concerned about when it was learned Iron Man 3 would bend to Chinese media rules and regulations and include four specially produced minutes—and tailoring creativity for special markets in general. American Dreams is a film purely for Chinese audiences, but how it plays there remains to be seen. It strokes the right egos and sends the right messages, but whether that’s enough to make it a hit is anyone’s guess. Mainland audiences aren’t quite that easy to “speak” to, as the negative reaction to the bonus material in the aforementioned Iron Man attests. More to the point they won’t be pandered to.

American Dreams in China has little in the way of marketability outside Mainland China. Though Chan’s name is likely to generate interest in overseas festivals, its pedestrian filmmaking (you would never know Christopher Doyle was cinematographer) and heavy handedness with its subject matter could keep it out of more than a few. Limited release in Asia could come on the back of regional familiarity with ubiquitous cram schools and language centers.

The film begins during the period of sweeping economic reforms in China in the 1980s. The bookish farm boy Cheng Dongqing (Huang Xiaoming, Ip Man 2), the ambitious, self-assured Meng Xiaojun (Deng Chao, The Four) and the slightly flaky, poetic Wang Yang (Tong Dawei, Lost in Beijing, Red Cliff), are three friends studying at university in Beijing and simultaneously prepping for American visa interviews. Wang is the first to be granted one but forfeits it to stay with his Western girlfriend, and Cheng is repeatedly denied one. Only Meng actually gets a study visa, and as he’s leaving he tells his friends he has no intention of returning to China.

The film then heads into standard rags to riches territory, following Cheng and Wang as they build a massively successful school, New Dream, from the ashes of Cheng’s misfortune (his girlfriend got a visa too, and Cheng lost his university teaching job for tutoring on the side) and Wang’s innate ability to connect with students, often through Hollywood movies. Across the Pacific, Meng is having little success living the America dream and is reduced to bussing tables to makes ends meet. Despondent, he goes home and joins his friends at New Dream. And as films like this go, the trio’s relationship frays, fractures and finally reforms under the weight of the men’s disparate goals and motivations.

American Dreams spans almost 30 years, so while all this is happening, Chan inserts references to major moments in contemporary Chinese history into the story: Beijing’s first KFC in 1992 becomes Cheng’s first classroom; the 1999 bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade sees the trio forced to defend themselves against angry mob charges of being traitors for running an English (meaning American) school; New Dream really enters the competitive big leagues around the same time Beijing is awarded the Olympic Games in 2000. Conspicuous in its absence is the Tiananmen Square protests/massacre of 1989.

Chan has managed some pithy observations about the perceptions commonly held among Chinese of Americans and vice versa, but take away the revisionist history and the preaching, however, and American Dreams is simply another quasi-coming-of-age story (albeit about adults) who see their bond tested by power, money and ambition. That it is allegedly based on a true story (of the Beijing New Oriental School) doesn’t make it any more interesting; the language education industry doesn’t exactly reek of thrilling corporate espionage and there are countless equally amazing business success stories in the new China, though admittedly not one quite as widely known. And the film’s lingering whiff of propaganda adds a bit of texture to the film, but in the end it’s not didactic enough to be a (more engaging) polemic. Chan has played down almost everything.

So it comes down to how compelling Huang, Deng and Tong are and how well their dynamic carries the story. Tong fares best as the sensitive guy stuck in the middle of an increasingly hostile relationship between his friends. The moderator is often the weak link, but Tong does a respectable job of conveying frustration and weariness. Huang and Deng have less luck though. Huang’s transformation from mealy-mouthed “loser” to board room tyrant doesn’t quite ring true, and Deng’s insecurity masked as arrogance make him shrill and demanding, not complex.

To’s Drug War and Leung Lok-man and Luk Kim-ching’s Cold War proved filmmakers could adhere to China’s rules and still make a film with a voice, however subtle. American Dreams in China proves Chan has a handle on what he needs to do to get a coveted Mainland release, but it also hints at a one or the other creative process.

Producer: Peter Chan, Jojo Hui
Director: Peter Chan
Cast: Huang Xiaoming, Deng Chao, Tong Dawei, Du Juan, Wang Zhen
Screenwriter: Zhou Zhiyong, Zhang Ji
Executive producer: Han Sanping
Director of Photography: Christopher Doyle
Production Designer: Sun Li
Music: Peter Kam
Costume designer: Dora Ng
Editor: Qiao Yang
Sales: We Pictures
Production company: China Film Co., We Pictures, Stellar Mega, Media Asia, Yunnan Film Group, Edko Films
No rating, 110minutes
THR

November 1, 2011

November 1, 2011 [HKMDB Daily News]

FBA: Village Roadshow Asia announces first titles

ZHANG Ziyi-starring My Lucky Star and Stephen CHOW-directed Journey To The West have been unveiled as the first two films to emerge from the new Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia company.

CRI: Xu Jinglei’s ‘Dear Enemy’ Eyes New Year Season

The inspiration behind “Dear Enemy” comes from Xu’s discontent with her previous piece “Go Lala Go!”, after she decided that she could do better in the genre of workplace romance…In order to ensure the quality of the film, Xu has cut out half of the commercials.

CF: Production on Chopstick Brothers’ New Project Wraps Up

The Chopstick Brothers, including Wang Taili and Xiao Yang, are an up-and-coming duo in the filmmaking industry. Normally, they fully participate in their films by writing scripts, directing, singing and acting by themselves. Their first musical flick “Memoirs of Male Geisha” launched online in 2007, caused a great sensation among netizens and made a name for the duo.

CF: Fan Bingbing Shows her Strong Side in her First Micro Film

CF: ’Lost in Panic Cruise’ Released New Promotional Posters

The company behind the movie, “Lost in Panic Cruise”, starring Alec Su and Yang Kun, recently released new promotional materials including posters that feature the depths of space. The blockbuster ‘Lost in Panic Cruise’ has already made 10 million yuan since its opening on October the 27th.

CF: New Trailer of “A Big Deal” Released

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all made guest appearances

(Sina)

CF: Jin Sha to Star in “Lemon”

In reference to her involvement in the movie, Jin revealed that she is very excited, as she likes the director’s previous works, such as “Red River” and “The Road” which were considered arthouse films.

Poster for “Cold Steel”, opening Dec. 2

Tony Leung Ka-Fai costars with Song Jia, Peter Ho, Mickey He (Sina)

Raymond Yip’s “Blood Stained Shoes” opens early next year. The horror-thriller features Ruby Lin, Mo Xiaoqi (Monica Mok) and Kara Hui.

(Sina)

More posters for “Starry Starry Night” featuring Xu Jiao and Lin Huimin

(Sina)

Huang Xiaoming is described as looking like a werewolf in these stills for Andrew Lau’s “The Guillotines”.

He plays a mad man.

Huang Xiaoming

(Sina)

Sun Honglei and Duan Yihong play rivals for the heart of Li Bingbing in “Yes, I Do”

Sun Honglei, Duan Yihong

September 30, 2011

September 30, 2011 [HKMDB Daily News]

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , — dleedlee @ 4:45 pm

WSJ: A Revolutionary Role for Jackie Chan

‘Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’

Eileen Chang’s works are roses with thorns for filmmakers.

CF: Snake Meets Sorcerer

The original legend mostly focuses on Bai and Xu’s doomed romance but the latest version brings Fahai (Jet Li) to the foreground.

In 2010, Zhang Yuan: Unspoiled Brats was exhibited at Ullens Center for Contemporary Arts in Beijing and the namesake film was completed in 2011. The film focuses on the life of China’s youths in Beijing and the exhibition portrayed the life stories of young Chinese. Over 200 young people applied for major characters in Zhang’s work, and finally ten got the chance to tell their stories in pictures.

Poster for Lu Chuan’s The Last Supper

Filming will complete at the end of October after extending the five month shoot. Liu Ye publicly stated that there is no time limit for the film and scheduled no other films for the rest of the year. Daniel Wu and Chang Chen expressed full support and stood behind the director. Lu Chuan’s demand for detail and texture required many sets to be (re)built(?). (Sina)

Yao Chen watches as Huang Xiaoming get eyedrops prior to the ceremony launching Chen Kaige’s new film, an adaptation of a Japanese fantasy story of a monk set in the Tang Dynasty. Huang recently suffered sudden eye problems while working on Andrew Lau’s The Guillotines.

(Sina)

Boiling water?

Carina Lau and Richie Jen film a TV program to promote water conservation in northwest China (Sina)

TaipeiTimes: Pop Stop

Shu Qi on Lee Hom: He’s really just my good friend (MSN)

MSN: Karen Mok to wed tomorrow

CRI: Karen Mok Releases Photos with Fiance

Karen Mok in Florence

Sketch of wedding shoes (Sina)

MSN: Selina Jen’s wedding to go on despite grandfather’s death

Yang Mi mistaken as Fan Bingbing

[Not surprising, given her Fan-like assault at the Milan fashion shows]

Zhou Xun’s naked photos found

July 23, 2010

July 23, 2010

The Jade and The Pearl posters

(formerly The Emerald and The Pearl)

Film opens July 30. (21cn)

Maggie Q is Nikita, on the CW (Xinhua)

THR: China, Singapore sign co-pro agreement (SARFT)

Joins New Zealand, France and Australia. The deal covers theatrical feature films and telemovies, across live-action, animation and documentaries. Qualifying films made under the agreement will be eligible for funding and incentives as do productions in their home country, and will similarly qualify as domestic films under censorship regimes in each nation.

FBA: Love to open HK Summer festival

Ann Hui’s All About Love has been set as the opening film of the month long Summer International Film Festival (11 Aug-13 Sept), organised by the Hong Kong Internationals Film Festival Society.

Aftershock - review (hk.asia-city)

Gigi Leung - interview (hk.asia-city)

Wind Blast (aka Fierce West Wind), Good New/Bad News Dept: Very positive internal studio screening has Huayi Brothers projecting over 200 million yuan box office has led to the decision to delay the scheduled September release and hold off for a Lunar New Year slot. Huayi CEO Wang Zhonglei called it an unprecedented genre of Chinese film. Calling it Mainland China’s first gangster-action film with aspects of Hong Kong gangster thriller, he expects it to kick off a new wave of cops and robbers action films.

Duan Yihong

Francis Ng

Ni Dahong

Four marshals, each with a different talent (Sina)

More Bruce Lee, My Brother publicity stills

Aarif Lee, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Christy Chung

(Sina)

Irene Wan Pik-Ha

Irene Wan Pik-Ha is recovering from conjunctivitis after completing a fragrance ad. She hasbeen working on two films recently, The Drunkard with Chang Chen’s father, Chang Kuo-Chu, and Struggle (Loan Sharks) shot in Malaysia with Sam Lee and Eddie Peng. The Drunkard is based on a novel by Liu Yichang who also wrote the novella behind Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love. (Xinhua)

Qiao Zhenyu - Love in Disguise

Qiao Zhenyu plays Wang Leehom’s love rival

(Sina)

Kelly Chen’s selling mooncakes!

Mid-Autumn Festival is coming!

This is the fourth year that Kelly has endorsed the Maxim brand.

(Sina)(Xinhua)

Huang Xiaoming - plastic surgery or not?

From 1998 TV series

2003

2010

(Xinhua)

SG: Carina Lau gives up on having a child

SG: Michelle Yeoh happily in love

September 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

Fan Bingbing will turn the table in an adaptation of Three Smiles/Flirting Scholar when she becomes the pursuer instead of the pursued. Guo Degang directs the Lunar New Year comedy.(Sina.com)

Simon Yam makes a pair of shoes for Sandra Ng to promote their new film Echoes of the Rainbow (lit.1969 A Space Odyssey) in which Simon plays a shoemaker. However, he only had time to make one shoe.

Simon Yam

Sandra Ng

(Sina.com)

Jiang Wenli

Jiang Wenli’s Lan is screening in competition at the Pusan International Film Festival. Jiang wrote, directed and produced the film. (cri.cn)

Bottom Line: Dated drama of growing pains during the Cultural Revolution enhanced by superb elderly role.

Hot Summer Days

Chinese romantic comedy is company’s first China pic

Set during a summer of record-breaking temperatures, “Days” tells six intertwined stories of love.

Screen Daily: ox, STAR, Huayi Brothers line up China rom-com Hot Summer Days

Huayi Brothers president James Wang said: “Huayi Brothers highly values the partnership with Fox. We admire Fox’s courage and decision in going into a mainstream romantic comedy. With a superb story, high production values and star-studded cast from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Hot Summer Days will sure become the hottest movie for the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day period.”

Zhou Xun - The Message

Huang Xiaoming brought his camera on set and acted the paparazzi to help the actors decompress and release suppressed emotions from the tension of the film shoot. Huang, Feng Xiaogang and Zhang Jizhong purchase shares and became majority shareholders in the recent Huayi Brothers IPO. (Sina.com)

Anthony Wong and Michelle Ye in Secrets of Yang Kwai Fai (Sina.com)

According to the company’s prospectus, top director Feng Xiaogang holds about 2.88 million shares, or 2.3 percent of the total current shares. Pop star Huang Xiaoming is also an owner, with 1.8 million shares.

The full interview, translated below, touches on the films that China Film Group has produced, and on the investments that Han Sanping has made, good and bad, including Crazy Stone (疯狂的石头) and Mobile (手机), to the hundred million productions such as Red Cliff (赤壁) and Hero (英雄)…

September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009 - The Message

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , , , — dleedlee @ 3:18 am

Li Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming

Li Bingbing will film her first nude scene for The Message. She spoke frankly that she had no experience with this and that it will be a huge challenge. The director wanted her to film it and she agreed that a substitute would not have the desired effect. The scene with Huang Xiaoming is harder than her rape scene and requires cruelty and humiliation. Huang plays a Japanese secret service chief who uses a variety of torture to extract confessions [Remember the Taiwan poster?].  (Sina.com)

Zhou Xun

Li Bingbing

Li Bingbing, Zhou Xun

Zhang Hanyu

Alec Su

Ying Da

Wang Zhiwen

Zhou Xun

Huang Xiaoming

Yesterday, in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the first 30 minutes of the The Message was screened to the media and a preview audience. The movie revolves around Takeda (Huang Xiaoming) who is given 5 days to uncover ‘Lao Gui’ an anti-Japanese spy in the puppet army’s headquarters. There are 5 suspects under house arrest. He undertakes various methods of torture to discover who it is. (CRI.cn) (CRI.cn)

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