Derek Yee’s lat­est movie is made with ex­tras

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINESE TRAIN PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD - By XU­FAN xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

At a time when most movie pro­duc­ers seem to trust only celebri­ties to pull in box-of­fice bucks, Hong Kong direc­tor Derek Yee has made a big-bud­get movie with, and about, a rel­a­tively un­known cast.

I Am Some­body is the story of “ex­tras”, or grass­roots per­form­ers who strug­gle to find a foothold in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

The 58-year-old vet­eran direc­tor — who’s be­hind sev­eral hits, such as Triple Tap and Pro­tege — wrote on his Si­naWeibo ac­count, the Chi­nese equiv­a­lent of Twit­ter, that in­spi­ra­tion for the movie came to him in Au­gust 2012. He was in Heng­dian in East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince, where the coun­try’s largest film shoot­ing lot is lo­cated.

“It’s a weird town ... My in­stinct told me it should be recorded,” he says.

He says he was also fas­ci­nated by the viewof the movie town, where sky­scrapers and an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture co­ex­ist. Some West­ern me­dia de­scribe it as “China’s Hol­ly­wood”.

Ev­ery day, Heng­dian wit­nesses hun­dreds of ex­tras— most of whom are good­look­ing, young and dili­gent, and dream of ris­ing to star­dom — play­ing war corpses, maids and other back­ground roles. They are mostly with­out screen names and lines in movies, and earn an av­er­age daily wage of around 30 yuan ($5) to hang out on set for hours.

Yee de­cided to make a movie about th­ese peo­ple, who are la­beled “heng­piao”, or Heng­dian drifters, re­fer­ring to peo­ple who take long jour­neys from their home­towns to seek op­por­tu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing the la­bor union of Heng­dian Film Stu­dio, more than 2,000 back­ground ac­tors and ac­tresses have been listed, though in­dus­try in­sid­ers say the ac­tual much big­ger.

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing nearly 300 ex­tras, Yee, who wrote and di­rected the film, found a clear thread.

“Some­times I re­ally think I could be a fea­tures jour­nal­ist, as my habit to pre­pare a new movie is to in­ter­view a lot of rel­e­vant peo­ple to get close to re­al­ity,” saysYee, who pre­vi­ously spent eight years re­search­ing drug-smug­gling for Pro­tege.

He ex­tracted the most dra­matic sto­ries from the in­ter­views and turned them into the plot.

Yee, who has been in the in­dus­try for 40 years, then found­for the first­timethathe had a newjob— teach­ing act­ing skills to his cast mem­bers.

“Most of the young ac­tors have limited ed­u­ca­tion. Some even failed to fin­ish their pri­mary school,” says Yee.

One scene called for an ar­gu­ment be­tween sev­eral ac­tors, but they turned it into a real fight.

The other big chal­lenge was to per­suade in­vestors. It was dif­fi­cult to find a ma­jor film stu­dio to show in­ter­est in a project with many scenes fea­tur­ing bomb­ing, gun bat­tles and an­cient life, with­out a sin­gle A-list ac­tor or actress to play the lead roles. I Am Some­body has sto­ries of a palace con­spir­acy, World War II and other themes.

Chi­nese kung fu star Jackie Chan had re­port­edly tried to per­suade Yee to give up on the idea of self-fi­nanc­ing the movie, but the direc­tor fi­nally man­aged to do so.

“It will be def­i­nitely a block­buster. No wor­ries,” Yu Dong, CEO of Bona Film Group, the movie’s dis­trib­u­tor, re­cently told re­porters at a me­dia event.

Yee jokes that he would have no choice but to “sell the rest of his life” to ma­jor film stu­dios, if his lat­est movie suf­fers a big box-of­fice loss.

I Am Some­body will be re­leased on July 3.

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