Tag: China

Zhang Yimou defends controversial casting of Matt Damon in The Great Wall

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Director rejects accusations of whitewashing, claiming the fantasy adventure is ‘deeply rooted in Chinese culture’

Zhang Yimou defends controversial casting of Matt Damon in The Great Wall
‘Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor’ … director Zhang Yimou on the controversy over his new film The Great Wall. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

Director Zhang Yimou has stood by his decision to cast Matt Damon as the lead role in his new film The Great Wall, after some critics claimed it amounted to a “whitewashing”.

The film-maker, whose credits include Hero and House of Flying Daggers, has responded to the negative reception of the film’s trailer last week. “In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested,” he said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.”

The big-budget period epic features Damon as a soldier in ancient China battling evil creatures. Constance Wu, star of sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, tweeted that the film perpetuates the “racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world”.

Yimou is keen to address the misconception that the film rewrites history and positions Damon as a saviour of the Chinese people. “Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” he said. “Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them – the other four are all Chinese.”

He claims that he would never “cast a film in a way that was untrue” to his artistic vision.

The Great Wall is an American-Chinese co-production with an estimated budget of about $140m (£106m) and will be released in December in China before a national release in 2017.

Matt Damon and The Great Wall: the latest targets of whitewashing on film

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The Jason Bourne star battles monsters in the trailer for China’s most expensive film, causing online commentators to ask why a white man is playing the lead

Matt Damon and The Great Wall: the latest targets of whitewashing on film
Matt Damon: whitewashing the great wall? Photograph: Supplied

Earlier this year, the Hollywood remake of classic Japanese anime Ghost in Shell caused controversy by casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, as did Marvel’s Doctor Strange for signing up Tilda Swinton to play a character depicted as Tibetan in the comics. Now, the forthcoming blockbuster The Great Wall finds itself embroiled in the same type of whitewashing controversy, for casting Matt Damon in a film depicting an epic battle on the titular Chinese structure.

The Great Wall is the first English-language film directed by Zhang Yimou, who made House of Flying Daggers and Hero, and the most expensive production completed in China, with a budget of $150m. A Chinese/American co-production, its diverse cast includes Willem Dafoe, Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal, Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau and Turkish actor Numan Acar. But it’s Damon’s participation – as what appears to be the film’s lead in the first trailer, which debuted on Thursday – that courted immediate criticism.

The trailer sets up the basic plot of Yimou’s fantasy epic. Set over 1,000 years ago in China, The Great Wall imagines a mythical past where an elite force fight to defend humanity from giant dragons trying to breach the 5,500-mile stone structure erected by several dynasties’ worth of soldiers and slaves. Damon’s mercenary soldier, sporting ancient Chinese war gear, is the only character who speaks in the trailer, growling in voiceover: “I was born into battle. I fought greed and gods. This is the war I’ve seen worth fighting for.”

The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato wrote that the Jason Bourne star looks to be portraying a typical white savior archetype, recalling Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans, Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves, and many other examples.

A number of Twitter users were quick to voice their concerns, with one saying: “At what point do you think the people who made The Great Wall going to realize casting Matt Damon as a lead was a mistake?” Another called the trailer “#whitewashing at its finest.”

Before the teaser’s debut, Yimou told Entertainment Weekly that The Great Wall is “first and foremost, an English-language film, and a Hollywood blockbuster”.

“What I really want is to bring Chinese color and cultural background to the worldwide audience through a film language that they are familiar with,” he added. “We are using Hollywood film-making to introduce Chinese culture.”

On casting Damon, Yimou said he feels “very fortunate” to have worked with the actor. “He is very creative and smart and contributed so much to the dialog,” he said about the Oscar winner.

Damon, meanwhile, remains a major draw in China: his last film, The Martian, performed exceedingly well in the world’s second-largest film market.

The Great Wall is also not the first Chinese production fronted by a white star: Christian Bale led the 2011 war drama The Flowers of War; Adrien Brody and John Cusack faced off alongside Jackie Chan in 2015’s Dragon Blade; while Joseph Fiennes recently stopped by the Cannes film festival to tout his performance in China’s unofficial sequel to Chariots of Fire.

This spring’s big-budget flop Gods of Egypt faced a similar backlash for featuring a predominantly white cast, as did Ridley Scott’s 2014 biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, for the same reason.

The Great Wall opens 17 February 2017.

Ghostbusters in line for China ban due to supernatural theme

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Despite Sony renaming film ‘Super Power Dare-to-Die Team’ for China, censorship laws prohibiting promotion of cults and superstitions look set to scupper its chances of release


Ghostbusters in line for China ban due to supernatural theme
Chinese burn … Kristen Wiig in Ghostbusters, which may never be released in China due to its spooky content. Photograph: Allstar/Sony Pictures

Ghostbusters is unlikely to be let loose in China due to its supernatural themes, according to Variety.

Paul Feig’s reboot stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon as the spectre-smashing quartet. It has not yet been screened for Chinese censors, but Variety’s source suggests it is likely to be snared by rules banning films that prohibit the promotion of “cults and superstitions”. Studio Sony have attempted to sway the censors by renaming the film. If it were released in China it would be called “Super Power Dare-to-Die Team”.

Under China’s censorship laws any films suggesting the existence of the supernatural can be banned from distribution. Exceptions are made for ghost stories based on Chinese mythology or films in which the supernatural is explained by a realistic rationale (eg drug use or dream sequence). Among the films that have fallen foul of the ruling in the past is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror starring Tom Hiddleston.

China runs a quota on the number of American films allowed into the country, yet Chinese audiences have often offered a lifeline for US productions that struggled at home. Warcraft, Duncan Jones’s adaptation of the popular video game, bombed in the US, but dominated the Chinese box office chart last month. Known locally as “World of Magic Beasts”, it made more than half of its $430.1 m revenue in China.

Feig’s comedy is expected to face a tough time at the US box office this week, with analysts expecting it to take a maximum of $50m (from a reported $144m budget) in its opening weekend. The film, which has received generally good reviews, has been hit by a wave of criticism from those who are annoyed at the idea of female Ghostbusters.

Sony has so far not commented, though Deadline reports a source has said the film has not yet been officially submitted to China Film Group, the state-owned organisation that operates imported films.

Ellen DeGeneres and BuzzFeed planning film about China's Brother Orange

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In 2015, the story of a stolen iPhone went viral and led to a friendship forged on China’s Twitter. Now, the Finding Dory star is working on a film about it

Ellen DeGeneres and BuzzFeed planning film about China's Brother Orange
The future’s orange … Ellen DeGeneres. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres and BuzzFeed are working together on a film inspired by a series of articles about a stolen mobile phone, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Brother Orange will take its cue from BuzzFeed editor Matt Stopera’s online response to having his iPhone stolen in 2014. When mysterious pictures started appearing in his photostream a year after the theft – most notably of a Chinese man in front of an orange tree – Stopera’s story went viral on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. Stopera then travelled to the Chinese city of Meizhou to meet “Brother Orange”, becoming something of a celebrity in China in the process. Brother Orange subsequently came to the US for a reciprocal visit, and the pair appeared on DeGeneres’s talkshow.

DeGeneres and Stopera will act as executive producers for the planned feature, which will tell the story of “an unlikely, accidental friendship that transcended cultural divides”. The project will be produced by BuzzFeed’s film development arm alongside Flagship Entertainment, a joint venture between Warner Bros and China Media Capital, which aims to make films that will appeal to the Chinese market.

China 'bans Lady Gaga' after Dalai Lama meeting

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Communist party’s propaganda department reportedly issues ‘important instruction’ blocking singer’s entire repertoire from mainland

Lady Gaga has reportedly been added to a list of hostile foreign forces banned by China’s Communist party after she met with the Dalai Lama to discuss yoga.

The American pop singer, who has sold more than 27m albums, met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader on Sunday before a conference in Indianapolis.

A video of the 19-minute encounter – in which the pair pondered issues such as meditation, mental health and how to detoxify humanity – was posted on the singer’s Facebook account.

The meeting sparked an angry reaction from Beijing, which has attacked the spiritual leader as a “wolf in monk’s robes”.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in March 1959, insists he is merely seeking greater autonomy from Chinese rule for Tibetans.

But China’s rulers consider him a separatist who they claim is conspiring to split the Himalayan region from China in order to establish theocratic rule there.

Following Lady Gaga’s meeting, the Communist party’s mysterious propaganda department issued “an important instruction” banning her entire repertoire from mainland China, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily reported on Monday.

Chinese websites and media organisations were ordered to stop uploading or distributing her songs in a sign of Beijing’s irritation, the newspaper said.

The propaganda department also issued orders for party-controlled news outlets such as state broadcaster CCTV and newspapers the People’s Daily and the Global Times to condemn the meeting.

Asked by a foreign reporter whether the tête-à-tête would create a “bad romance” between Beijing and Lady Gaga, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry initially hinted that he was not familiar with the pop star’s Grammy-winning back catalogue. “Who?” Hong Lei said when asked for Beijing’s view on the singer’s meeting.

Hong went on to condemn the Dalai Lama’s global campaigning.

“The purpose of his visits and activities in other countries is just to promote his proposal for Tibetan independence,” the spokesperson said, according to AP. “We hope that people from the international community can be fully aware of his true colours and nature.”

All mention of the Lady Gaga controversy appeared to have been purged from the official transcript of that press conference.

On Tuesday afternoon it was still possible to download Poker Face and Bad Romance on China’s QQ Music and NetEase Cloud Music players. But a report about the Dalai Lama’s meeting with Lady Gaga appeared to have been deleted from the NetEase website.

China has previously banned artists and groups such as Maroon 5, Bjork and Oasis from performing in the country after they met with the Dalai Lama or spoke out in favour of him or Tibetan independence.

Experts suggested the American singer would have gone into her meeting with the spiritual leader with her eyes wide open as to the consequences.

“Lady Gaga knew how Beijing would react,” Bill Bishop, who runs the Sinocism newsletter, wrote on Twitter. “Good for her to show some courage, unlike most celebrities who are scared of bullying Beijing now.”

Lady Gaga, whose career has survived previous bans in China, has yet to respond to China’s reported ban of her work.

During her meeting with the Dalai Lama she said: “We have to cool the system down. It’s about less heat, more cooling, more relaxation but also [being] thoughtful and strategic.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron urge people to eat less meat

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Terminator actor and director fronting a new campaign to try and curb animal product consumption, endorsing initiatives in China to reduce meat eating by 50%

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron urge people to eat less meat
Hasta la vista, meat … Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron on the shoot of their PSA. Photograph: WildAid

More than two decades since the first, gut-crunching Terminator movie, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger have collaborated again on a campaign encouraging people to cut down on the amount of meat they eat.

Spearheaded by WildAid, the drive has American and Chinese audiences in its crosshairs, and endorses efforts by the latter government to reduce the population’s meat consumption by 50%.

“You have to respect that,” says Cameron in backstage footage from the shoot. “That’s a leadership position.” The director, whose off-screen ecological activism has been detected in the plots of films such as Avatar, said he’d been stirred into action after clocking his own hypocrisy.

“How can I call myself an environmentalist when I’m contributing to environmental degradation by what I eat?”

Speaking alongside Cameron, Schwarzenegger reports health benefits of cutting down his meat and dairy intake on the advice of doctors. “I’m slowly getting off meat,” he says, “and I tell you: I feel fantastic.”

The video, which is part of a wider strategy including billboards and online pledges, features Schwarzenegger staggering through a ravaged landscape presumably destroyed in part by the carbon emissions of the livestock industry.

“Less meat, less heat, more life,” concludes the actor in the film, who also states that the notion meat is needed for muscle strength is incorrect.

The campaign makes curious contrast with a video released earlier this week, fronted by Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, lobbying for an end to the torture and slaughter of some 10,000 dogs in the far east as part of an annual food festival.

Jackie Chan: Warcraft's success in China scares Americans

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Jackie Chan says fantasy adventure’s £156m gross during its first week will cause an influx of Chinese-language blockbusters

Jackie Chan: Warcraft's success in China scares Americans
‘People from all over the world who study film will learn Chinese’ … Jackie Chan. Photograph: VCG via Getty Images

Jackie Chan thinks the success in China of video game adaptation Warcraft: The Beginning could lead to an increase in homegrown blockbusters.

The $160m (£113m) film, which grossed a mere $24.4m in the US its opening weekend, surprised analysts with $156m at the Chinese box office from its first five days in cinemas.

Speaking this weekend at the Shanghai film festival, Chan said the result will worry Hollywood execs. “Warcraft made 600m yuan [£64m] in two days. This has scared the Americans. If we can make a film that earns 10bn [£1bn], then people from all over the world who study film will learn Chinese, instead of us learning English.”

The annual gross of China’s box office is expected to surpass North America, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The popularity of blockbusters in China and financing from companies there have influenced both where some blockbusters are filmed and who stars in them. Transformers: Age of Extinction, for example, was partly funded by the China Movie Channel, which led to Li Bingbing joining the cast and part of the film being set in Hong Kong. Iron Man 3, meanwhile, added footage for Chinese audiences that included the Chinese actor Fan Bingbing.

A sequel to Pacific Rim, which underperformed in the US, was greenlit after it became a hit in China. Pacific Rim and Warcraft were produced by Legendary Pictures, which the Chinese company Dalian Wanda Group bought in January for a reported $3.5bn.