Zhou Xun on red carpet
Zhou Xun received "Best actress" award
Interview after Zhou Xun received "Best actress" award
Clip on Sohu, Sina - credit: cpy @ zhouxun.tv
Re-up: mylove @ zhouxun.chungta.com
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Zhou Xun on red carpet
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Actress Zhou Xun celebrated her 35th birthday on Sunday by winning the Best Actress award at the Golden Rooster Film Festival in Nanchang, capital city of east China's Jiangxi province, the New Express reports.
Zhou's contract agency, Huayi Bros., threw a big birthday party for her in suburban Nanchang on early Sunday morning just after the awards ceremony ended. The celebration marked Zhou's birthday as well as the six awards won by the company's artists and productions.
Famous directors, actors and actresses including Huang Jianxin, Zhang Hanyu, Deng Chao, Sun Li, Ren Quan and Dong Xuan attended the party hosted by actor-director Zhang Guoli.
As the celebrities posed for a group photo, fireworks exploded for more than 10 minutes. Zhou was onstage addressing the guests when her mobile phone rang. Upon the request of the host, she held her phone in front of the microphone so all could hear her boyfriend, real estate heir Wang Shuo, wish her a happy birthday.
HONG KONG -- Extravagantly produced to exude an abundance of period elegance, danger and intrigue that sparks associations with "Lust, Caution," "The Message" is a '40s Sino-Japanese spy thriller that's replaced lust with torture as the porn. Co-directing with Taiwan's Chen Kuo-fu ("Double Vision"), who also supplies the elaborate screenplay, China's Gao Qunshu turns his craft at mounting suspense from events set in a tight space and time frame (exemplified by his bomb-detonation thriller "Old Fish") to a more psychological rather than situation-driven level.
Although showy visual effects and cinematography strain the moviemaking, these bells and whistles were designed to impress the target mainland audience, who gave their seal of approval by filling cinemas on opening National Day weekend.
Overseas audiences may feel ambushed by the flurry of characters and historical facts that the film rushes through, although essentially the set-up is a variation on an Agatha Christie whodunnit. In 1942, five personnel in the intelligence unit of Wang Jingwei's traitor regime are confined for five days in a villa in the suburbs of Beijing. Three of them are central figures: Morse code expert Ningyu (Lee Bingbing), mailroom staffer Xiaomeng and army captain Wu Jinguo (Zhang Hanyu). One of them is an infiltrator code-named Phantom.
To unmask Phantom's identity, Japanese colonel Takeda (Huang Xiaoming) and his collaborator Wang play the suspects off each other, crushing them mentally and physically with cruel means. Phantom must be equally ruthless to survive and get a message out to resistance leader Magnum.
The mind games, not particularly subtle, are effectively twisted, but the torture scenes are what this film will be remembered for. They are choreographed to abet imagination of unspeakable pain and horror without showing anything really graphic (thus getting around censorship). The sensational array of instruments and methods makes "Hostel" and "Martyrs" seem like one-trick ponies. This rarefied depiction of torture as a sophisticated art form makes one shudder more at the sick minds behind it.
Of the three central figures, Zhou and Li perform with the expressive grace of silent movie heroines. Even as a coquettish rich girl, Zhou hints at inner depth. As the less worldly Ningyu, Li displays poise where one expects hysteria when navigating perilous situations. The male leads don't stand up to them. Huang is especially wooden, and squanders the chance to develop a role already attributed with complex motives. It also is awkward to see Zhang play a collaborator with the same upstanding dignity as the Communist officer in "The Assembly."
Some of the production's heaviest investments are its most glaring aspects, like the CGI overkill, and the ostentatious cinematography by Jake Pollock. The villa is never framed without the fly-cam swooping and fluttering around it, making it look like one of those those haunted castles in Roger Corman movies. Even when the female leads are having a tete-a-tete, the camera swivels and sweeps around them so much you want to shoo it away so as concentrate on the ensemble acting.
Venue: Pusan International Film Festival -- Closing film
Sales: Huayi Brothers Media Corporation Ltd.
Production: Huayi Brothers Media Corporation Ltd, Shanghai Film Group Corp.
Cast: Zhou Xun, Li Bingbing, Zhang Hanyu, Huang Xiaoming, Su Youpeng
Directors: Gao Qunshu, Chen Kuo-fu
Screenwriter: Chen Kuo-fu
Based on the novel by: Mai Jia
Producer: Wang Zhongjun
Executive producer: Feng Xiaogang
Director of photography: Jake Pollock
Production designer: Xiao Haihang
Art director-costume designer: Tim Yip
Music: Michiru Oshima
Editor: Xiao Yang
No rating, 120 minutes
Golden Age Hollywood meets Chinese period melodrama in "The Message," a full-bore WWII spy whodunit that plays like an Asian cross between "Clue" and "Now, Voyager." Laden with homages to classic Warner Bros. dramas and tips of the hat to mystery writers like Agatha Christie, this star-laden monster-mash will prove too rich a mixture for most Western palates. But for those prepared to go the distance (and fans of popular Asian cinema), it's an exhilarating, intensely cinematic ride. The reportedly $7 million pic swamped Chinese theaters Sept. 30 and took a hefty $10 million in its opening weekend.
Script by Taiwanese writer-director Chen Kuo-fu ("Double Vision," "The Personals"), who co-helmed with bright mainland Chinese talent Gao Qunshu ("Tokyo Trial," "Old Fish"), is liberally adapted from the 2007 Mai Jia novel that formed the last in a trilogy of stories about WWII code-breakers. Aside from its star-heavy cast and fine production values, the pic undoubtedly benefited locally from Mai's recent fame with a successful TV adaptation of the second book in the trilogy.
Opening reel -- which starts with an aerial swoop-down on October 1942 Nanjing, where the invading Japanese have set up a puppet Chinese government to draw support away from the official KMT one -- contains a mass of information and character introductions that's hard to digest on a first viewing. In short order, a puppet-government lackey (Duan Yihong) is shot by a female rebel (Liu Weiwei), who's later caught and tortured for info.
Col. Takeda (Huang Xiaoming) discovers there's a rebel mole inside his own counterinsurgency center. The mole could be one of five people, all of whom he invites to a remote mansion in the mountains for what becomes a classic locked-room whodunit.
The suspects are cool but foxy decoding department head Li Ningyu (Li Bingbing), the best code-breaker in the business; administrative officer Gu Xiaomeng (Zhou Xun), a spoiled rich girl who arrives with a massive hangover; military office section chief Wu Zhiguo (Zhang Hanyu), a tough, battle-scarred soldier; officer Bai Xiaonian (Taiwan's Alec Su), a flamboyant homosexual; and section chief Jin Shenguo (comedian Ying Da), a bluff, portly vet.
The host of the meeting is Commissioner Wang (Wang Zhiwen), a half-psychotic Chinese turncoat. But it's Takeda who's the real host, telling the five suspects that no one is leaving until the mole, codenamed Phantom, is unmasked.
The subsequent hour, entirely set in the European-style baronial residence and its adjoining torture chamber, is a classic potboiler mystery-thriller, as the suspects quarrel, scheme and are picked off one by one by Takeda. Labyrinthine plot is both clever and highly unlikely, but realism is hardly the issue in what is basically an old-fashioned multistar vehicle in which the thesps strut their stuff.
Pic is billed locally as China's first wartime spy movie, which is not exactly true. But it's certainly the first done in such a lavish style, and with so many cross-cultural cinematic references.
Some auds may be troubled by the copious torture sequences, which, though they rely more on suggestion than graphic visuals, are especially squirm-inducing in the case of the women. Their dramatic overdrive harks back to a whole tradition in Chinese cinema (both mainland and offshore) of Japanese nasties doing horrid things to Chinese patriots.
The petite Zhou brings her usual gravel-voiced vampiness to the character of Gu, but Li, as the cool codebreaker, quietly trumps her in the acting stakes. Hot new star Huang, speaking slightly accented Mandarin, is excellent as the sadistic, increasingly desperate Takeda, while the experienced Zhang and Wang face off among the older male players.
CG effects, done in China, are smoothly showy, deliberately evoking a '30s/'40s look, and costuming by Hong Kong ace Tim Yip ("Red Cliff," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and Wu Baoling is as rich as the score by Michiru Oshima and lensing by Taiwan-based Jake Pollock ("Yang Yang").
Reportedly, Gao handled most of the actual direction while Chen focused more on script and producer duties. Pic has no overriding visual style, swinging between sweeping crane shots and handheld closeups -- disappointing, given the rich production design, but adding to the film's restless energy.
Huayi has promised a three-hour version on DVD, which could help to fill in some of the backstories -- including that of Gu's lover (Natori Masayuki), only referenced in some confusing flashbacks. Chinese title literally translates as "The Sound of the Wind," but also means "rumors" or "information."
Camera (color, widescreen), Jake Pollock; editor, Xiao Yang; music, Michiru Oshima; art director, Xiao Haihang; costume designers, Tim Yip, Wu Baoling; sound (Dolby Digital), Wang Danrong; visual effects, Wonder Star VFX; visual effects supervisor, Hu Xuan; assistant director, Zhang Lidong. Reviewed at Megabox 8, Beijing, Oct. 6, 2009. (Also in Pusan Film Festival -- closer.) Running time: 114 MIN.
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By Jonathan Landreth
Oct 9, 2009
BEIJING -- "The Message," a period Sino-Japanese spy thriller starring actress Zhou Xun, earned 150 million yuan (US$22 million) in its first 10 days in Chinese theaters, independent film production company Huayi Bros Pictures said Friday.
Released across China on 2,000 screens on Sept. 29 after a 13-city press tour, "The Message" will close the ongoing Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea on Oct. 16.
The film, co-directed by Taiwan screenwriter Chen Kuo-fu ("Double Vision") and China's Gao Qunshu and made for $10 million, will be distributed in Taiwan by Disney and the Emperor Group in Hong Kong.
Set in Japanese-occupied Nanjing during WWII, "The Message" also has sold to Skycity in New Zealand, to Pt. Teguh Bakti Mandiri in Indonesia, to Scorpio East Pictures for Singapore and Malaysia, and to an as yet named distributor in Thailand, Huayi said.
Zhou previously starred in the 2008 hit "Painted Skin" and is best known outside Asia for her roles in films such as "The Emperor and the Assassin," (1998), "Suzhou River" (2000) and "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" (2002).
"The Message" also stars Zhang Hanyu, the male lead in the 2007 PIFF opener "Assembly," also from Huayi, actress Li Bingbing ("The Forbidden Kingdom") and actor Huang Xiaoming ("The Sniper").
The Message (Feng Sheng) topped the coveted national holiday week, with 150 million RMB (22 USD) which is really, really high to the point of raising eyebrows. Either way, the film has done what Hua Yi has out to do – be a blockbuster, and showcase some of its finest actors, which has been accomplished with both main actresses nabbing Golden Horse nods. Actor Huang Xiaoming also got to show off his improvement singing, by performing the theme song live rather impressively (though not enough for me to want another album from him). Li Bingbing and Alec Su look like they’re enjoying the performance too.
Meanwhile together with The Founding of a Republic’s high returns, this has become the higest grossing weekend in Chinese box office history, and Founding of a Republic broke the 360 million yuan mark.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Nominations for the 46th Taiwan Golden Horse film awards were released in Taibei Xihua Hotel on Wednesday, October 7th 2009. Due to the role Gu Xiao Meng in the movie "The Message" Zhou Xun is nominated for "Best actress". "It is very good that many island actors are nominated this year. "The Message" is a wholehearted movie. I was fortunate to be accepted. Many thanks to director who gave me this role. The prcocess of filming is baptism of body and mind for me. Thanks to Taiwanese audiences who continue to support to me. Thanks to everybody" said Zhou Xun after the nomination list had been announced.
"The Message" also received 6 nominations: Best actress (Zhou Xun and Li Bing Bing), Best Screenplay Adaption (Chen Kuo-Fu & Zhang Jialu), Best Visual Effects (Hu Xuan & Xiao Yang), Best Art Direction (Shi Haiying & Yang Haoyu)and Best Makeup & Costume Design (Ye Jingtian).
The movie "The Equation of love and death" received 2 nominations: Best Original Film Score (Dou Wei & Bi Xiao Di) and Best Supporting Actor (Zhang Han Yu).
Awards ceremony will be held on November 28th in Taipei.
E-trans: mylove @ zhouxun.chungta.com
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
11:37 September 30 2009
The Message, a thriller based on Mai Jia's novel of the same name, is set to dominate the Chinese box office during the National Day golden week. Directed by Gao Qunshu (The Tokyo Trial) and Chen Kuo-fu (The Personals), The Message has a star-studded cast including Zhou Xun (Painted Skin), Li Bingbing (The Forbidden Kingdom), Zhang Hanyu (Look for a Star) and Huang Xiaoming (The Sniper).
Touted in the media as "one of China's best commercial films," The Message tells the story of a Japanese official and the puppet government attempting to find an undercover agent among five suspects during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. The film is dedicated to the 60th anniversary of New China and those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
"I will not reveal anything about the plot," laughed Li Bingbing, who plays one of the suspects, "it will totally kill half the fun of watching this thriller."
The crew signed a confidentiality agreement during shooting. "Chen, who also wrote the script, kept changing it. We did not even know how the film would end halfway through shooting," Zhou Xun told the Global Times.
Zhou said that she hopes the audience will get involved in guessing who the undercover agent is, which is the best part of watching the thriller. "You probably won't get it right. Chen's script is really smart," she added with a triumphant smile.
Zhou said that the biggest challenge for her was that the directors asked her to act naturally. "We had to forget about being actresses and completely devote ourselves to the roles."
Such devotion is best reflected in the film's climax, a 13-minute scene that Li and Zhou shot in one take. Zhou said Li's performance amazed her. "As Li had always been quiet and precise, I did not expect such a strong outburst of emotion from her. I had to put myself more into my role to match her."
"The secret is that I drank some alcohol before shooting," Li confessed. She said that she seldom drank before, but she was told to forget about herself completely.
"Zhou and I were both so devoted to our roles that I could not feel the cameras and crew around us, we were immersed in the scene, just the two of us."
"Few actors get the opportunity to perform in a one-take scene with such length. I'm really lucky and I enjoyed the process," Li added.
Li also shot her first nude scene. She chose not to use a stand-in because she wanted to deliver a strong performance.
"Still, it was my first time to be half naked on screen, I of course had my worries and concerns," Li said. "Luckily when the cameras started to roll I forgot about my concerns and simply went with how my character should feel and react. Besides, Huang is really professional. Acting with him was comfortable, even though he had to strip my clothes off."
Zhou commented that working with two directors was beneficial. "Chen and Gao shared the same understandings about this film, but they looked at and communicated with me about my acting with different approaches, which helped me create the role more completely."
Zhou said that Chen focused more on the script while Gao was more involved in the shooting process and Chen is more strict and solemn than Gao. "But they are both good at making actors feel at ease and performing to their best potential."
"They knew exactly how to shoot the film and understood every role deeply," commented Li. She said that the two directors gave her valuable feedback.
The relationship between Zhou and Li is complicated in the film. "I'm her supervisor at work, but we are also close, like sisters," Li explained, "but at the same time, we keep our secrets from each other." Zhou added that media speculation about their characters becoming intimate was untrue.
As two of China's leading actresses and signed by the same agency, Zhou and Li's relationship also appears complicated in real life. There have often been rumors in the media about the two being on bad terms. Li clarified them by saying that Zhou was like her younger sister.
"We were not so close before because we are both busy and have little time to get along," she added. Li said this film gave them more time to get to know each other. "She even cooked sweet soup with pears when she found out that I was not sleeping well."
Stars of espionage thriller The Message Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing prove that besides their beauty, they have the acting abilities to boot
October 02, 2009
She has received one of the highest compliments a director can shower on acast member.
In a recent interview with Chinese news portal Sohu.com, Chen Kuo-fu, the director of espionage thriller The Message, told reporters: 'When it comes to acting, Zhou Xun is in a league of her own, she's an alien from another planet, simply incomparable to the other ordinary actors out there.'
Indeed, the 32-year-old Chinese actress has proven herself to be one flexible chameleon on the silver screen.
From a cabaret singer in the musical, Perhaps Love (2005), to a lovelorn girl pining for her prince in The Banquet (2006), to a fiery mob lady in arthouse action flick Ming Ming (2006), she has turned in natural, convincing performances.
In The Message, set against the backdrop of a 1940s Japanese-controlled China, Zhou Xun plays a mailroom staff member of the Japanese-backed Anti-Communist Command.
She and her squad mates become the main targets of torture of the Japanese Imperial Army, when they are suspected of being moles for the Chinese resistance movement.
'The most difficult part about playing Gu Xiaomeng (her character) is the fact that she's terribly repressed,' said Zhou Xun, in an e-mail interview with The New Paper.
'She is very careful about revealing her true self and is always secretly making plans.
'I had to play her with subtlety and it was only towards the end that her emotions explode.'
Liking your character is the first step to portraying her well.
Zhou Xun loves the inner strength Gu Xiaomeng possesses, but admits that in real life, she is a different person altogether.
'Xiaomeng's thoughts and feelings are too complicated,' she said.
'Beneath her sunny exterior, there's an intricate maze in her heart. As for me, off screen, I'm actually simpler and definitely less rational than her.'
After filming The Message, Zhou Xun has come to admire the men and women who lived through the war.
'A few characters in the film never fail to put nation before self, they have no qualms giving up their lives for their country. It's an amazing act of selflessness.'
Prior to working on The Message, Zhou Xun was last seen as a kooky lab researcher in director Tsui Hark's comedy All About Women (2008).
Was the change from laugh-out-loud comedy to heavy, dramatic material too hard to handle?
'Both films were challenging. I had never done comedy before All About Women, so it wasn't easy at first. I had to learn how to laugh in different ways,' said the two-time Hong Kong Film Awards winner.
She bagged Best Actress for Perhaps Love in 2005, and Best Supporting Actress a year later for her role in The Banquet.
'There was a year's break in between the two movies, so coming onto the set of The Message, I had already adjusted my emotional state.'
The serious actress then brushed away the much talked-about scene in The Message, where she attempts to distract a security guard in her sexy nightwear.
'People bring that up because it grabs their attention, but I don't feel it's so important that I should keep talking about it,' she said.
'We shouldn't put our focus on that scene alone. The film is more than that.'
There is something about movies which help people like this reviewer to learn more about history. The bombing of Pearl Harbour? Thank you, Michael Bay. The rise and fall of Eva Peron? Thank you, Alan Parker. And closer to home, the legacy of the Soong Sisters? Thank you, Mabel Cheung. And that is why, whenever a war espionage film like this one comes along, this reviewer would deem it the perfect opportunity to beef up his limited knowledge of what happened in the past. Fictional or not, pictures like this allow viewers to get a peek of what it was like to live in that era, where everyone seemed more patriotic and less self centered.
Directors Chen Kuo-fu (Double Vision) and Gao Qunshu (The Tokyo Trial) transport viewers back some 70 years back to Nanking during the terrible times of World War II. It was a time when dangerous spies lurk round every corner, and you had no idea who to trust. The film’s limelight falls on a group of suspects gathered in a mansion by a Japanese spy chief. One by one these suspects are eliminated, but the essential member of this patriotic group must send out a crucial message at all means while protecting his (or her?) true identity. What ensues is a drama which develops itself finely like a game of Cluedo, where the mastermind of the game must hide his (or her?) true intentions behind the torturous proceedings in the grand captive ground.
Based on a novel, Chen wrote the screenplay for this “cat and mouse” game which engagingly provides a glimpse for today’s audiences of what it means to feel nationalistic pride in the past. It does evoke that sense of devotion and loyalty, and makes you wonder whether a local film can stir up the same feeling? While this doubt’s answers lies in the vast differences in culture and history, one cannot overlook the impressive production values of this film boasting Feng Xiaogang’s (If You Are The One) name as its executive producer.
The two hour movie manages to bring together some credible names to create an authentic look for the movie. Jake Pollock (Yang Yang)’s lush cinematography enhances the intricate costume design by Tim Yip (Red Cliff). The comfortable pacing of the editing, the well executed soundscape and the entrancing production design will mesmerize viewers from beginning to end.
And thankfully, the storytelling does not disappoint too. The gradual build up of the plot culminates in a finale which may be arguably predictable, but works well for a film of this genre. Credit goes to the spot on cast, all of whom shine in their own character. There is Zhang Hanyu (Assembly) as a long suffering militarist, Huang Xiaoming (Sniper) as the Japanese soldier, Alec Su (L-O-V-E) as a lieutenant and Li Bingbing (The Forbidden Kingdom). Zhang and Huang exudes charisma in their pain inflicted roles, Su creates quite a show with his portrayal of an effeminate officer and Li makes viewers feel her agony with a unique aura of quietness. There is nothing to fault with the acting, as it is with Zhou Xun’s (Perhaps Love) code breaker character. Effortlessly moving through the film with her distinctive allure, she is no doubt one of the greatest movie actresses of our time.
There is something about movies which help people like this reviewer to learn more about history. And despite being a fictional thriller, this finely made production has left this reviewer wondering what it was like to live in a time when you lived for your country.
by John Li
THE MESSAGE is the kind of old-school wartime spy thriller that Hollywood doesn't really make anymore. VALKYRIE came close and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was a different beast entirely, but their sights seem firmly set on Iraq these days. China, however, in the midst of celebrating 60 glorious years of the People's Republic, has had a slew of films in recent years exploring that period from the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War until the founding of the PRC. Some films, like the excellent CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, chose to play it very straight, whereas THE MESSAGE is far more interested in entertaining its audience than tugging on their heartstrings. It's one part WHERE EAGLE'S DARE, one part LUST, CAUTION (remember the scenes that didn't include Tony Leung's balls), with a dash of RESERVOIR DOGS and...something with interrogation in it.
It's 1942 and under Japanese occupation the Chinese political system is in total disarray, with politicians and other powerful leaders flip-flopping between Chiang Kai Shek's increasingly unpopular KMT and the Japanese-installed puppet government in Nanjing, under Premier Wang Jingwei. The government is doing all it can to lure reliable comrades away from the KMT, but is paranoid of increasing numbers of spies within its ranks relaying both their movements, and those of the Japanese military, to terrorist cells operating throughout the country.
After smearing a poor girl in beef paste and literally setting the dogs on her, a leak is revealed coming directly from the counter conspiracy offices in Nanjing. Ambitious young Japanese officer Takeda (Huang Xiaoming from THE SNIPER) sends a dummy message through the office. When that information appears in a coded message this narrows down the spy, known as the Phantom, to one of five possible suspects, who are all rounded up and shipped out to an isolated castle for interrogation. The five suspects include stenographer Gu (Zhou Xun), codebreaker Li (Li Bing Bing), Councilor Jin (Ying Da), Captain Wu (Zhang Hanyu) and Colonel Bai (Alec Su). Over the next five days they are observed, manipulated and tortured as Takeda and his cronies hope to extract the identity of the Phantom, and the whereabouts of terrorist leader, Magnum.
For the most part THE MESSAGE is rip roaring good fun, keeping the drama moving along at a cracking pace anchored by half a dozen or more solidly convincing performances. Zhou Xun's Gu is the spoilt party girl, who clearly has a knack for manipulation, while Li is a far more fragile and delicate creature. Zhang Hanyu keeps war hero Wu teetering between ferociously loyal and just plain ferocious, with an axe to grind for Gu. Alec Su brings a few moments of comic relief to the proceedings as the overtly camp Bai, while Ying Da's bumbling Councilor Jin is mostly there just to make up the numbers.
There are no big action set pieces in THE MESSAGE, but plenty of tense and occasionally brutal confrontations. It looks fantastic, with excellent costume work and set design that is almost to be expected from a Mainland production these days. One can't help but compare this film to the newly released FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, a film set at a similar time, and also light on action. Where that film felt dull, preachy and contrived, THE MESSAGE simply entertains through those classical cinematic traits of a good story, told well by more than competent storytellers.
Where the film loses points is in some of its secondary directorial flourishes. Some of the stylistic choices - in terms of musical cues or visual aesthetics - are totally at odds with the tone and mood of the rest of the film. The directors - Gao Qunshu (TOKYO TRIAL) and Chen Kuofu (DOUBLE VISION) - use over-cranked swirling aerial shots, split screen montages and frequent bizarre CGI vignettes of, for example, a telegram's electrical charge pulsing down cables, as if part of a David Fincher movie. At these moments, THE MESSAGE feels like a trailer, rather than an actual feature, and a trailer to a completely different film at that. However, once locations and situations have been established and the film is allowed to recommence its storytelling, THE MESSAGE is directed in a very assured manner - bringing tension to interrogations, brutality to the torture sequences and sympathy for the characters.
Narratively, things do get a little ridiculous at times. It should be conceded that in real life, these five suspects would have been simply rounded up and shot, rather than put through this elaborate five-day stand-off, but the performances and the drama win through, providing a genuinely entertaining experience even as you laugh at the occasionally preposterous nature of the plot.
For those anticipating Lu Chuan's epic Nanking movie City of Life and Death which will premiere this week, you might also want to check out The Message, now playing in cinemas and also set during the turbulent days of the Sino-Japanese war in China in the early 40s. While Lu Chuan's film tried to portray history through an objective lens, lending to it a documentary-like feel, The Message showed how Chinese cinema has grown to tap upon those dark days to create what would be an extremely well made tale of espionage, with insurgents and spies working effortlessly to bring misery to their Japanese occupiers.
Based upon the novel by Jia Mai, which Chen Kuo-fu has adapted the screenplay and shared directorial responsibilities with Gan Qunshu, The Message is a top notch tale of bluff versus bluff and dwindling trust, where a group of Counter-Insurgency Chinese troopers got called into a mansion for close interrogation, because one of them, codenamed The Phantom, is supposedly working for the resistance. It's curious times because you have the puppet Chinese government and their troops, the Japanese officers seeking to weed out traitors, and the resistance who have so far struck plenty of fear amongst the Japanese ranks because of their Basterds-like brutality, which the opening few minutes would let you have a taste of.
In essence it's a process of elimination, and while it is engaging on many levels - the story, the "whodunnit", the opulent and richly designed sets and costumes, swooping camerawork that will leave you breathless and that pulsating musical score, it somehow felt a little dragged out in its mid-section as it lingered on playing everything out in relative sequential order, and looked as if it's headed for a very straight-forward espionage tale in smoking out the spy amongst their midst, with some ingenuity of scheming, counter-scheming and baiting involved of course.
It's also because we tend to equate the biggest stars here, Zhou Xun and Li Bing Bing, as probably the most highly suspicious, and as the story continue to develop along that line, which is why the film had this unfair sense of familiarity going against it, which doesn't do justice to the film. What more, the inter-titles that frequently appear, continue to provide one clue too many as to whether the Japanese have got their man, or not. And that's probably the reason why some films work a lot better when it's a bunch of competent unknowns so that star power (naturally to attract an audience) doesn't factor in manipulating you.
However, it is the finale arc that elevated this film with its satisfying conclusion of the dangerous environment that resistance fighters often put themselves into. History has its fair share of tales on bravery and heroism, and I'm game to see a lot more of such war/espionage films coming out of the Chinese mainland, especially those with a solid story backed by excellent production values such as this one. If through films one can exorcise demons of the past, often through some form of escapism and fantasy, then perhaps the time has come for Chinese cinema to do just that, and to wow audiences around the world as well with universal themes.
The Message clearly is that it's highly recommended, and Hollywood better watch out!
Thursday, October 01, 2009
At the Tuesday movie gala for upcoming blockbuster movie, The Message, Chinese actress Zhou Xun graciously admitted that she is currently in love with the son of a millionaire, Wang Shuo. This is the first time the actress publicly acknowledged her ongoing romance with Wang. Zhou smiled as she shared about a present she received from him during a charity auction.
A few days ago, Wang secretly placed bids in a Beijing charity auction through a phone with the help of Hong Kong actor, Jaycee Chan. He won the S$3.88-million bid of a palace-model donated by Jackie Chan. As Zhou was also present at the charity event, Chan surprised her and presented Zhou with the gift from Wang.
Earlier in June this year, Zhou publicly announced her split with ex-boyfriend-cum-stylist, Lee Da-chi. She was soon rumoured to be with the son of a wealthy tycoon businessman who is also the stepson of Chinese actress, Wang Yan.
According to media reports, Chan was said to be the matchmaker between Zhou and Wang. Said to be currently cohabitating together, the Rolls-Royce that Zhou commutes in is speculated to be a gift from her generous boyfriend.