SCI-FI SAGA WITH A LO­CAL TWIST

The film, based on Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Steve Al­ten’s 1997 novel is about a China-led re­search pro­gram that en­coun­ters un­known crea­tures in the Mar­i­ana Trench. Xu Fan re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

If Chi­nese fans feel dis­ap­pointed to­day that all the he­roes in Hol­ly­wood sci-fi block­busters are West­ern faces, change is at hand. Now, thanks to China’s fast-grow­ing film mar­ket, the coun­try with a short his­tory of sci-fi nov­els is be­com­ing a piv­otal part of the fu­tur­is­tic world.

Re­cently, on a rainy morn­ing in Auck­land, New Zealand, China Daily — among the first batch of Chi­nese me­dia — was in­vited to the sets of Meg, a huge-budget sci-fi tent­pole.

On show was a bloody replica of a mega­lodon’s head, two huge tanks meant for wa­ter scenes and sev­eral trans­par­ent “caves” made to counter attacks from killer sharks. It was like an ad­ven­tur­ous journey to ex­plore an un­known un­der­wa­ter world.

The mega­lodon may not be as fa­mous as di­nosaurs, but is the largest known ma­rine preda­tor, and lived around 23 to 2.6 mil­lion years ago.

A mas­sive and an­cient cousin of the great white shark, the mega­lodon could tear a Tyran­nosaurus rex apart in sec­onds.

So, how does this re­late to China? Well, a year from now, au­di­ences on the main­land will get to see the pre­his­toric crea­ture on the big screen in a story that is closely linked with the coun­try.

The up­com­ing big ac­tion film, jointly pro­duced by Grav­ity Pic­tures, a divi­sion of China Me­dia Capital, Flag­ship Entertainment and Warner Bros, will be re­leased across China dur­ing the 2018 Spring Fes­ti­val, which falls on Feb 16, and will open in North Amer­ica on March 2, 2018.

The film’s story, based on Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Steve Al­ten’s 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Ter­ror, cen­ters on a China-led re­search project that dis- cov­ers mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures in the Mar­i­ana Trench — the deep­est known part of the world’s oceans.

A for­mer US Navy deep­wa­ter diver, played by Bri­tish actor Ja­son Statham, then teams up with a Chi­nese sci­en­tist, played by ac­tress Li Bing­bing, to res­cue the trapped crew, but ac­ci­den­tally re­leases a pre­his­toric crea­ture that en­dan­gers swim­mers along the Chi­nese coast.

Speak­ing about the film, di­rec­tor Jon Turteltaub, says: “I was sent the script in De­cem­ber last year. To me, it is a very new idea but an old­fash­ioned movie.

“I think all old-fash­ioned movies are the best movies. I like build­ing sto­ries on the great movies that I have seen in the past.”

The di­rec­tor is known for his Na­tional Treasure films.

In­ter­est­ingly, it seems that the au­thor of the book on which the film is based also thinks like the film’s di­rec­tor.

In an in­ter­view ear­lier this year, Al­ten said the idea for his New York Times’ best-seller came from a mag­a­zine cover fea­tur­ing the Ma­rina Trench and Steven Spiel­berg’s 1975 thriller Jaws.

As for how the movie came about, the story started around seven years ago, when Amer­i­can pro­ducer Belle Avery pur­chased the novel’s copy­right and started her journey to raise money. She struck gold in China.

She met with success in 2014, when she took a fos­silized mega­lodon tooth to visit Wayne Jiang, the Chi­nese ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Grav­ity Pic­tures.

Later the film got an­other in­vest­ment from Warner Bros, mak­ing it a Sino-US co­pro­duc­tion.

Re­veal­ing her vi­sion for the movie, Avery says: “We want to make the film to have true Chi­nese el­e­ments, so we can ex­pose the rest of the world to what is hap­pen­ing in China right now.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues are a high­light of the story.

As Turteltaub, the di­rec­tor, says: “This film goes to the heart of our fas­ci­na­tion with the planet, about the mys­ter­ies, about what came be­fore us … Our fu­ture is about the sur­vival of the ocean, so we need to know what’s go­ing on (in the ocean).”

Sep­a­rately, what is a mat­ter of “sur­vival” for Chi­nese ac­tress Li Bing­bing is learn­ing to cope with the English ac­cents on the film’s sets.

“I have been as alert as a rab­bit on the sets. When some­one speaks, I am alert and I try to fol­low what they are say­ing,” says the A-lister, who be­gan to learn English only at 36.

Known to be a dili­gent learner, Li, now 43, is among the few Chi­nese main­land ac­tresses who can speak English flu­ently.

Re­call­ing her prepa­ra­tions for the film, the ac­tress says she had to mem­o­rize all the lines, in­clud­ing di­a­logues of other char­ac­ters.

“It would be seem un­nat­u­ral if you tried to speak a for­eign lan­guage while men­tally trans­lat­ing it, while act­ing,” she says.

The same prob­lem also af­flicted Win­ston Chao, the vet­eran Tai­wan actor who grabbed in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion with Ang Lee’s 1993 film The Wed­ding Ban­quet.

Chao, who plays a lead sci­en­tist and Li’s fa­ther in the

I think all old-fash­ioned movies are the best movies. I like build­ing sto­ries on the great movies that I have seen in the past.” Jon Turteltaub, di­rec­tor

Meg.

film, says he had stud­ied Amer­i­can ac­cents as well as div­ing be­fore the film­ing started.

Wa­ter wasn’t a chal­lenge for Statham, who’s a for­mer com­pet­i­tive diver.

Statham did most of the ac­tion scenes fea­tur­ing a ship un­der at­tack from the killer crea­ture him­self.

But the emo­tional parts were a bit dif­fi­cult for the ac­tion star.

“In a movie, you usu­ally pray for good chem­istry. It’s noth­ing that you can re­ally pre­pare for,” says Statham, speak­ing about his in­ter­ac­tions with Li.

Shooting in New Zealand just fin­ished. It is now be­ing shot in South China’s Hainan prov­ince.

Jiang says film tar­gets a global au­di­ence — not ex­clu­sively China.

“China’s home mar­ket may be mas­sive,” he says.

It has seen an av­er­age growth rate of over 30 per­cent year-on-year over the past half decade.

“But if we want to spread our cul­ture abroad, we must work with Hol­ly­wood,” says the film­maker, who has many years of ex­pe­ri­ence do­ing ex­actly that.

Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Bri­tish actor Ja­son Statham and Chi­nese ac­tress Li Bing­bing will star as a for­mer US Navy deep­wa­ter diver and a Chi­nese sci­en­tist in

Di­rec­tor Jon Turteltaub (cen­ter) with crew mem­bers at the shooting scene.

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