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.
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
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.
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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.