'Detective Chinatown 3' director digs Michael Jackson song

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 19, 2021
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"Detective Chinatown 3" director Chen Sicheng has revealed that he paid a hefty licensing fee for an iconic Michael Jackson song to put at end of the film. The movie had made a staggering $575 million by Thursday at China's box offices.

Director Chen Sicheng speaks at the premiere event of "Detective Chinatown 3" in Beijing, Jan. 14, 2020. Later, its Spring Festival 2020 release was canceled and the film was delayed for a year. [Photo/VCG]

The song Chen paid for was "Heal the World," from Jackson's 1991 "Dangerous" album, one of the best-selling albums of all time having sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. The humanitarian song has been popular among Chinese listeners for years due to its beautiful melody and connotations.

Chen wanted a song to deliver a message of world harmony during the ending scene when he was writing the screenplay, and someone suggested "Heal the World." He listened to it repeatedly during the creative process and felt strongly that the song was the right choice.

"We felt really good about the song, but we thought it would be difficult to get the license. I never dreamed of really getting this song, and Michael Jackson's estate is very strict about using his music," he said to film critic Tan Fei in an interview published on Thursday. 

Through Sony/ATV Music Publishing (Beijing) and Sony Music Entertainment China, Chen sent over his full screenplay to the Jackson estate for them to determine whether the film was appropriate for the song. "At last, they decided 'Detective Chinatown 3' could use the song."

Chen hesitated. "The price of the licensing fee was so high that, in China, a small budget commercial film could be made for the same cost. Therefore, we tried other different songs to fill that part of the film, but they never worked. The emotional vibe of 'Heal the World' perfectly fit the film."

Pop icon Michael Jackson with children in Sun City, South Africa, Jan. 1, 1998. [File photo/VCG]

Finally, Chen decided to pay for the song. "There was no other suitable replacement. This was it. I think the era of Michael Jackson was a special historical period. You could really feel something like a global community coming together during that time. It felt like a time when humans could unite in an unprecedented way. But in recent years, music has divided, interests have divided, and people are pursuing individualization and entertainment in the internet era. There are fewer and fewer great songs to reflect the entire human race."

The end scenes of "Detective Chinatown 3" shows Chinese, Japanese and Thai detectives enjoying fireworks on a Tokyo bridge after working together to solve a case. Under the fireworks, the director shot many people of different races and nationalities who were present, laughing and enjoying the fireworks, celebrating peace and love.

"These people in film were not our actors, but real tourists from all over the world. They came together in harmony, like a big global family," Chen revealed. Chinese audiences have applauded Chen for this part of the film which has been said to elevate the spiritual level of the film. 

"Detective Chinatown 3" was originally set for release during last year's Spring Festival, but due to the sudden COVID-19 outbreak, theaters were shut down for months, and Chen had to delay the film to this year. 

"At that time when the film was made, I never imagined there would be the coronavirus. So, when I look back in hindsight, the song has a different meaning now," he added. "No other songs could replace this song and its meaning. Although Michael is not here anymore, he will always be a great artist. I felt honored to have my film interact with his song like this."

"Heal the World" is not the only classic song in Chen's soundtrack. "Mama Do You Remember" (a.k.a. "Straw Hat") by Joe Yamanaka, originally from Japanese film "Proof of The Man," Teresa Teng's "Don't Pick the Roadside Flowers," Johnny Yip's "The Great Wall Never Falls Down" and Andy Lau's "Kung Hei Fat Choy" also feature in the movie. Besides the hilarious detective story, Chen added a lot of nostalgic elements to the film, including the casting of veteran Japanese actor Tomokazu Miura ("Akai Giwaku") and actress Honami Suzuki ("Tokyo Love Story").

A poster promoting "Detective Chinatown 3." [Image courtesy of IMAX China]

"Detective Chinatown 3" launched as the most-anticipated Chinese New Year release. The film made 1 billion yuan in presales alone and within three days after its debut, had grossed nearly 2.6 billion yuan, the equivalent of $398 million -- not only making it the biggest opener in Chinese film history but also the biggest ever single opening weekend for a film in a single market, overtaking "Avengers: Endgame" total of $357 million in the North American market in April 2019.

But the director remains worried about the Chinese cultural industry. "We have been a big cultural country since ancient times. Nowadays, we have internet giants like Tencent and Alibaba Group, high-tech enterprises like Huawei, and many other Chinese companies in the world's top 500 companies. But we are too far behind in the cultural sector. Disney has a market cap of hundreds of billions of dollars, but the market value of all our film companies in China is less than 6% of Disney."

He continued, "What kind of story should we tell Chinese audiences? How can we enrich China's film industrialization? How can we create our stories well enough so that more foreign audiences can accept them too? I think our generation bears a big responsibility, and if we do not advance, we will be left behind."

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