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

December 6, 2011

December 6, 2011 [HKMDB Daily News]

China Lion Announces its Chinese New Year Slate and 2-for-1 Tickets (North America)

CRI: ’The Great Magician’ Coming out on Jan. 12

Previous reports indicated the film would cooperate with Tsui Hark’s “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, also produced by Bona Film Group, to go head-to-head against Zhang Yimou’s Oscar-hopeful “The Flowers of War”.

CF: The Flowers of War’ Brings Forward its Release Date

“The Flowers of War” was supposed to go head-to-head against “Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate.”

A spokesperson for Bona provided the press with a clever if not all too revealing answer, stating that, “There is a possibility for us to bring forward the date too; the final decision will be announced at the premiere ceremony of our film on December 12 in Beijing.”

Stills of Huang Haibo in “The Flowers of War”. He plays a Chinese soldier who disagrees with the military orders of Tong Dawei.

Huang Haibo

Tong Dawei plays Captain Li

Qin Hao plays one of the Chinese soldiers

Qin Hao - 7th from right (without a helmet)

Qin Hao

Qin Hao - 3rd from right

1st on right

(Sina)23

Stephen Chow has reportedly abandoned his plans to film “Tai Chi” next year citing unhappiness with his script. Instead, he will film a 3D version of “Little Mermaid” and begin casting for a lead actress soon. (Sina)

“The director of “Kung Fu Hustle”, Stephen Chow is also remaking it in Chinese.”

The original film will be released in mainland China next week. About 900 prints of the film have also been sent overseas, making it the biggest Bollywood release outside of India.

Li Yuchun’s new long-haired look for Peter Chan’s “The Guillotines” (Sina)

New “Great Wall, My Love” poster

Tong Dawei and Cherrie Ying star in the romantic road movie

Emily Liu Yi-Ming directed the Taiwan made film

(Sina)2

Posters for Kevin Chu Yen-Ping’s “Perfect Two” feature Vic Chou and Little Bin

Yang Mi will sing the theme song as well as act in Chu Yen-Ping’s romantic comedy “Perfect Two”. Yang Mi plays the single mother of Little Bin, with a cast that also includes Vic Chou, Vivian Hsu, Ella Chen (of S.H.E.), Tao Zeru and Ding Sha Sha. The “family New Year comedy” opens January 23.

Yang Mi

CF: ”Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate” Trio in Esquire Magazine

Chen Kun, Guey Lunmei and Mavis Fan, cast members of director Tsui Hark’s soon-to-be-released 3D costume action flick “Flying Swords of the Dragon Gate,” posed for a photo shoot for Hong Kong’s Esquire Magazine in promoting their new movie. The film is slated for release on December 16.

(Sina)

CF: Final Promotional Trailer of “The Allure of Tears” out

The production company of the sensational film “The Allure of Tears” released the movie’s final promotional trailer on December 6, featuring the third story “The Third Drop of Tears.” The film consists of three separate stories, respectively entitled “The First Drop of Tears,” “The Second Drop of Tears” and “The Third Drop of Tears.” Directed by Barbara Wong and starring an all-star cast with Zhou Dongyu, Gigi Leung, Richie Ren, Joe Chan, “The Allure of Tears” is scheduled to open in national cinemas on December 22.

Directed by and stars Xu Jinglei, with other stars including Stanley Huang, Christy Chung and Gigi Leung, the film will hit cinemas on the 23rd of December during the Christmas holiday slot.

CF: Top Chinese Films of the Season

All my old HK friends are now in Beijing: Carina Lau, Cherie Chung and Kenny Bee attend a watch brand event.

Carina Lau, Cherie Chung

Kenny Bee, Carina, Cherie

(Xinhua)

MSN: Eason Chan denies divorce rumour

When a Hong Kong magazine asked him if he was ready to divorce his wife at the post-concert celebration party, Eason lost his temper and asked the reporter to “buzz off”.

Powered by WordPress