New movie celebrates a Chinese cultural icon
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.