Beijing tycoon wants
to beat Hollywood
at its own game
With Empires of the Deep, a Chinese tycoon is making the boldest effort yet to establish his country as a moviemaking powerhouse. And even a refusal from Sharon Stone or Monica Bellucci cannot stop him. The movie features Greek warriors, pirates, and mermaids that kill men during sex, including a sultry Bond girl who plays the mermaid queen. Most of the actors are American, and the cameras use 3-D technology.
But this potential blockbuster, Empires Of The Deep, is not another fantasy dreamed up by Hollywood. It is being conceived and shot north of Beijing on the world’s largest studio set. The producer has thought is as an ambitious cocktail – with more than a flavour of Avatar, Gladiator and Pirates Of The Caribbean, shaken and stirred in a Chinese hot pot . This project is the vision of a film-obsessed real estate magnate, Jon Jiang. It is also the boldest effort yet to establish China as a global moviemaking powerhouse, producing English-language spectacles to rival those of Hollywood. The producers say the budget for Empires is £65 million – less than Hollywood juggernauts, but the biggest ever for a Chinese movie. The actors come from the United States, Brazil, France, Japan and elsewhere, its director’s hail from Canada and the United States, and the script, written by Jiang, has gone through 40 drafts with the help of 10 Hollywood screenwriters. There is however a risk that Empires, scheduled for a summer 2011 release, could become China’s biggest cinematic flop. “My idea is to make movies on the biggest scale there is,” said Jiang, who was listed by Forbes in 2002 as one of China’s richest men. “I want to distribute movies to 160 countries. I want it to be epic,” he explains, quoted by Entertainment Weekly. Jiang has no prior filmmaking experience but said he had watched 4,000 movies. He compares himself not to Chinese art house filmmakers like Zhang Yimou, but to George Lucas, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, the titans of Hollywood fantasia. “I’m an international producer,” he said. “I don’t want to make Chinese movies. I don’t know the Chinese way of storytelling. I don’t know how movies are made in China.”
To help open international markets, the producers are hiring foreign talent, including lots of relatively little-known American actors. The biggest star, as the mermaid queen, is Olga Kurylenko, the Ukrainian actress who appeared in the last James Bond movie. Jiang had originally wanted Monica Bellucci or Sharon Stone, but they said no.
A real hindrance to the Chinese film industry is the government, which tries to exercise strict censorship on major projects and insists on conformity to Communist Party sensibilities. On Empires, officials insisted that the movie include more Chinese elements, so the producers had to add a race of dragon people and cast a major Chinese actor, Hu Jun, as a dragon lord. Those scenes are expected to appear only in the version released in China.
Weekend box-office makes Toy Story summer champ
Toy Story 3 has broken US records with its weekend debut. The G-rated movie starring everyone’s favorite Pixar characters Buzz Lightyear and Cowboy Woody grossed an estimated $109 million, earning the status of Pixar’s highest-grossing opening weekend ever. It helped that Toy Story 3 bowed in more than 2,000 3-D locations, a number that accounted more than 50 percent of its gross. The story is far different for the only other new wide release, Jonah Hex. In fact, the western blockbuster starring Josh Brolin was rejected by audiences, grossing a paltry $5 million for an eighth place finish at the box office. It will likely go down as the biggest disappointment of the summer, one that’s surely not going to help the careers of either Brolin or costar Megan Fox. Audiences gave it a C+ as indicated by CinemaScore.
Second place for the weekend went to The Karate Kid, which held up pretty well considering the competition for family audiences from Toy Story 3. The PG-rated remake earned an estimated $29 million for the three days, bringing its 10-day total to $106 million. Shrek Forever After took the fifth place in the derby, earning another $5.5 million, raising its cume to almost $223 million. The film fell off over 65 percent for the weekend, an expected drop considering the direct effect of Toy Story 3. Prince of Persia held in surprisingly well its fourth weekend in theatres.
Beijing tycoon wants