New movie cel­e­brates a Chi­nese cul­tural icon

China Daily (Canada) - - TORONTO - By XU­FAN xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The works ofQiGong (1912-2005) have long been the tar­get of forgery, but dur­ing his life­time, the Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy master seemed to not mind the fakes much.

“They write bet­ter than me,” he once joked about one such forger, and even for­gave the act, think­ing the per­son did it for a liv­ing.

This anec­dote is part of TheCal­lig­ra­phy Master, a movie on Qi’s mid­dle age and later years, which will hit main­land cine­mas on Thurs­day.

As one of China’s most pres­ti­gious cal­lig­ra­phers and a renowned ink pain­ter, art con­nois­seur and teacher, Qi has in­flu­enced­many gen­er­a­tions.

In a homage to his con­tri­bu­tion to the arts and cul­ture, the movie de­buts on Sept 10, when China cel­e­brates Teach­ers’ Day. In 1991 Qi had ini­ti­ated a schol­ar­ship to sup­port poorer stu­dents at Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity.

Qi had wit­nessed tur­bu­lent times from the days of the Re­pub­lic ofChina (1912-49) up to the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion”(1966-76). But he never gave up on his artis­tic pur­suits, even in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. His tal­ent turned him into a cul­tural icon in the 1980s.

“Qi was treated un­fairly by the then-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies for most of his life. This cul­ti­vated his per­son­al­ity of tol­er­ance and gen­eros­ity,” says chief di­rec­tor Ding Yin­nan.

The 78-year-old is known for his bi­o­graph­i­cal movies based on his­tor­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties, such as Deng Xiaop­ing (2003) and Zhou En­lai (1992), which topped that year’s box of­fice.

“Af­ter so many years of di­rect­ing movieson­po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, I wanted to make a switch. Chi­nese in­tel­lec­tu­als of the 1930s are at­trac­tive sub­jects for their up­right per­son­al­i­ties,” says Ding.

But in the world’s sec­ond-largest movie mar­ket with 618 do­mes­tic ti­tles last year, biopics re­main a genre that draws lim­ited in­ter­est from in­vestors.

The Cal­lig­ra­phy Master, for in­stance, took three years to raise money, and the script was re­vised eight times. In­stead of find­ing in­vest­ment from bankers or online com­pa­nies, Ding per­suaded some famed cal­lig­ra­phers to do­nate their art­works and sold these by pro­mot­ing them to col­lec­tors.

Zhang Shao­gang, a pop­u­lar TV host who plays the role of a mid­dleaged Qi in the movie, says it may help au­di­ences es­cape busy mod­ern life and re­lax a bit.

Ding Zhen, one of the di­rec­tors of the film, says: “It’s a re­strained and com­par­a­tively slow-paced movie. We are not push­ing to dra­ma­tize Qi’s life, as he was mild-tem­pered and easily for­gave those who harmed him.”

Although a media preview on Sun­day was met with ap­plause, the crew still re­mains con­cerned about the mar­ket po­ten­tial of such biopic pro­duc­tions.

Zhang says most trade an­a­lysts he con­tacted ap­peared pes­simistic about The Cal­lig­ra­phyMaster’s boxof­fice prospects. Such ap­pre­hen­sions come amid the China re­lease of Hol­ly­wood block­buster Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble— RogueNa­tion onTues­day, and sev­eral up­com­ing home­grown big-bud­get movies.

“We hope the au­di­ence can get close toQi’s mind and soul, and look back at their own lives,” says Ding Yin­nan. “Qi rep­re­sents the Chi­nese moral spirit to pro­tect the coun­try’s tra­di­tional cul­ture, which de­serves re­spect and re­mem­brance.”

Some scholars also gave the movie pos­i­tive re­views.

Yin Hong, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Ts­inghua School of Jour­nal­ism, be­lieves the char­ac­ters, three ac­tors play­ing Qi at dif­fer­ent ages, make the master cal­lig­ra­pher look life­like on screen.

“The movie shows the Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy of life,” Yin says.

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