Writer dons di­rec­tor’s hat to turn novella into movie

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - ByWANG KAI­HAO

An­other writer has cho­sen to step into the boom­ing film mar­ket. This time, it is Han Dong, a 55-year-old poet and nov­el­ist based in­Nan­jing, cap­i­tal of Jiangsu prov­ince.

He re­cently an­nounced in Bei­jing that shoot­ing of his di­rec­to­rial de­but will be­gin next week.

As a new­comer to the in­dus­try, he is lucky to have Jia Zhangke, an art-house film veteran best known for the award-win­ning Still Life, back­ing him as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

The screen­play for the up­com­ing film ZaiMa­tou (On the Pier) is adapted from Han’s 1998 novella of the same name, which de­picts po­ets’ disputes with hooligans with a touch of black hu­mor.

“It was not only me. Oth­ers, too, wanted to turn the novella into a movie af­ter they read it,” says Jia.

“I even found a Ger­man pro­ducer who was pre­pared to fund the film. But he went bank­rupt be­fore the shoot­ing be­gan.”

But Han says: “I had three choices: To main­tain my fame as a poet, to re­tire, or to try some­thing new.

“I pre­ferred the third op­tion. A per­son to­day can ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent things within a life­time.

“I am walk­ing on thin But I have con­fi­dence.”

Han first gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a pi­o­neer in the 1980s’ po­etry move­ment with his ex­plo­ration of po­etry the­ory. Then, he ad­vo­cated the im­por­tance of be­ing col­lo­quial in po­etry. Af­ter 2000, he switched his fo­cus to nov­els.

Though Han’s only pre­vi­ous link with cin­ema was be­ing a guest star in films, in­clud­ing Jia’s A Touch of Sin in 2013, Jia does not con­sider his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence as an im­ped­i­ment.

Jia says:“Han is good at cap­tur­ing triv­ial­mo­mentsin daily ice. life with a po­etic touch.

“His un­re­al­is­tic por­tray­als in his novel­las are unique among Chi­nese au­thors, and the style is re­ally good for film adap­ta­tion.”

But Han’s foray into di­rect­ing has not been smooth.

The film was to be shot in Huang­shi, Hubei prov­ince, be­cause he wanted a ter­race on the bank of theYangtze River as his lo­ca­tion, but the ter­race was re­cently by flood­wa­ters.

As for how Jia came to be as­so­ci­ated with the film, he says that in 2010 he launched his Wings Project to sup­port promis­ing newdi­rec­tors.

Orig­i­nally, it had seven film­mak­ers from China and over­seas. Han is the eighth one.

Mean­while, the 2013 nos­tal­gic art-house film Me­mories Look at Me, di­rected by Song in­un­dated Fang as part of Jia’s project, was the low­est-gross­ing film among all pub­licly screened films on theChi­nese main­land that year.

This was largely due to lim­ited screen­ing op­tions and the ab­sence of pro­mo­tion.

The movie earned only 2,000 yuan ($302) at the box of­fice.

But de­spite this poor show­ing by that film, Jia’s project still has in­vestors.

Yang Lei, the vice-pres­i­dent of Alibaba Pic­tures, af­fil­i­ated to in­ter­net colos­sus Alibaba Group, which is a co-in­vestor in Han’s film, says: “In a film mar­ket filled with peo­ple think­ing only of how to make money, such ‘au­thor films’ give us an­other di­rec­tion to fol­low.

“For these films, mar­ket per­for­mance is not the pri­or­ity.

“We want to give enough space to these film­mak­ers to ex­press them­selves as an­other voice in Chi­nese cin­ema.”

Han’s film is sched­uled to be re­leased next year.

“I think with Ka­t­rina there’s a lot of stuff. This was a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen, and it will hap­pen again in Amer­ica.”

Simp­son cred­its se­ries cre­ator and writer Ryan Mur­phy with the idea of tack­ling Ka­t­rina in sea­son two. But Simp­son says he and his pro­duc­ing part­ner Nina Jacobson had long been fas­ci­nated with the idea of a story about the topic.

“There were crimes that hap­pened dur­ing Ka­t­rina. Mur­ders, rapes, you know, and there’s also the crime of us not res­cu­ing these peo­ple and not be­ing pre­pared to take care ofNewOr­leans,’’ he says.

Simp­son also says the pro­duc­tion team was care­ful to not pick an­other court­room drama.

“We don’t want to re­peat our­selves, and that’s part of the thing. We did the crime of the cen­tury. We like to de­fine crime broadly. ... I love true crime, but I just don’t love one kind. We’ll prob­a­bly some­day pick maybe some­thing along the lines of a less fa­mous case that has great, juicy stuff. We’d like to tell the story of in­jus­tice. We wish we hadMak­ing aMur­derer or Se­rial ... but, you

Di­rec­tor Ryan Mur­phy

ThePeo­plev.O.J.Simp­son: Amer­i­canCrimeS­tory.

(top) and ac­tress Sarah Paul­son of

know, those (top­ics) have been done. We’re ex­plor­ing lots of for­mats through­out his­tory.’’

As for source ma­te­rial on Ka­t­rina, Simp­son says they “have a book” they’re work­ing off but also em­ploy a re­searcher help­ing to gather in­for­ma­tion.

Simp­son adds that once the scripts are more con­crete, they will know which roles they have to cast. But they would like to tap from the Peo­ple v. O.J. if they can.

“We’d like to use as many ac­tors as we can. It’s gonna be sub­ject to avail­abil­ity whether we have the right roles. You know, cer­tainly Ster­ling (K. Brown), (John) Tra­volta, Sarah (Paul­son), Cuba (Good­ing, Jr.). We’d like to fig­ure out if there are roles for them.’’

He wouldn’t con­firm a char­ac­ter of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, who was named in much of the crit­i­cism about Ka­t­rina. But Simp­son said: “The peo­ple that you’d imag­ine are prob­a­bly gonna be in it, and then peo­ple that you don’t know will also be in it.”


Au­thor Han Dong (left) will make his di­rec­to­rial de­but among projects launched by Jia Zhangke (right).

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