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.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

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.

Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­

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