Banking on help from Hollywood
The makers of an animation film about a Tibetan mastiff pup— produced with an international crew— hope to make a global splash with the movie. Xu Fan reports.
Zheng Jun, one of China’s rockers from the mid-1990s, says he’s now an “animation expert”. Sitting cross-legged on a sofa, a smiling Zheng looks an unlikely rocker.
But he was once a big name in Chinese rock ’n’ roll.
The 49-year-old has written and sung a host of songs, which can still be heard inChina’s karaoke rooms.
Then, filmmaking — a surprising shift after more than two decades in music — caught his fancy seven years ago.
Zheng, along with a few friends, then decided to adapt his first graphic novel, Tibetan Rock Dog, into a big-screen animation film in 2009.
The film titled Rock Dog is about a Tibetan mastiff pup, whose family has guarded a sheep village for generations.
But the pup, ignoring its father’s wish that it take up the family profession, embarks on a journey to a metropolis to pursue his musical dream.
The 3-D animation film, which is set for a national release on July 8, has two versions, unusual for a Chinesefinanced animation movie.
The English version features voiceovers by Luke Wilson and Eddie Izzard, while the Mandarin one has crosstalk performer Guo Degang and his son Guo Qilin.
To make the movie, the producers first flew to the United States to recruit Hollywood talent, which would make the movie the first fullyChinese-financed animation film to be outsourced to an American crew.
Explaining why he went to Hollywood, Zheng tells China Daily: “Hollywood has talent from across the world. With their genius, they can turn an idea into a universal story.”
After hiring the crew, Zheng frequently flew to the US for meetings with the Hollywood team, most of whom once worked in Disney or Pixar programs.
“It was the most challenging and difficult thing I’ddone,” he says of the meetings.
“The rules of the game in China and theUS are radically different,” he says, explaining that while most of China’s showbiz players rely on personal relationships to getwork done, in Hollywood everything is done through contracts.
So, with no precedents to follow, Zheng says they initially “wasted” a lot of time and money people.
Besides, the first American scriptwriter, whom Zheng declined to identify, was difficult to work with.
“He (the scriptwriter) on finding the right couldn’t understand why the protagonist had to be a Tibetan mastiff, which for me represented certain values. He wanted to know why it could not be any dog,” Zheng says.
The clashes extended to other areas as well. In a tale with Asian values, the good guy repays evil with goodness despite being betrayed or harmed. That concept left the American scriptwriter bewildered and finally led to the termination of the contract.
Zheng says the experience with the scriptwriter taught him a lesson and he finally put his hopes in Ash Brannon, the co-director of Toy Story 2, who was nominated for a 2007 Oscar for Surf’s Up.
Brannon, who had originally joined the crew as a story artist, was picked to direct the film after he fell in love with the story, foreign media outlets reported.
During this period, China’s entertainment giant Huayi Brothers joined the other investors to back the movie.
Zheng says the movie, which he ranks at eight out of 10, fulfills his dream of telling an Eastern story using the Hollywood style.
“A lot of puns and the narration make it a very Hollywood kind of film,” he says.
As he plays with a stuffed toy replica of the rock-star cat, a major star in the movie, Zheng says: “This (film) in some senses represents my recognition of West pop culture. This (cat) character is based on big rock stars that I’ve adored,” he says, adding it can even be seen as homage to his idols.
“It (the cat) is cool, talented, and awesome. But it’s also selfish and makes use of everyone it can exploit.”
Claiming the cat mirrors a part of himself, he says thepup is a better version of the bad boy that he once was.
“The dog is kind-hearted, simple and sincere. And it still trusts those who’ve cheated it. This is very oriental.”
So will the film work with Western audiences?
While the movie’s overseas release dates — which will be after the film debuts in the mainland — have yet to be confirmed, Zheng believes its Hollywood celebrity cast will make it easier for the film to find space in foreign markets, long dominated by Hollywood.
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