Detecting a winning formula

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The detective duo in Detective Chinatown 3, played by Wang Baoqiang (front, left) and Liu Haoran, are invited to try and solve a locked-room mystery in Japan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

With a stunning 10-day box-office haul surpassing 4 billion yuan ($619.2 million), the long-awaited Detective Chinatown 3, directed by former actor Chen Sicheng, has become a hot topic among moviegoers since Spring Festival.

The franchise follows the adventures of a detective duo comprising an uncle and his nephew, played by actors Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran, respectively, as they travel the world looking to solve a series of mysteries, from Bangkok in the first film to New York in the second installment and now Tokyo.

The newly released third chapter sees the pair being invited to try and solve a tricky case, in which murder is committed in a locked room, despite several witnesses supposedly watching the door of the room from the outside. The suspect and the victim are both heads of separate Japanese gangs. As the detectives probe more into the case to figure out who the culprit actually is, an unexpected tale about the tragic lives of war orphans and their offspring unfolds.

"The movie features anti-war sentiment," Chen, the director, says in a promotional video for the film.

He notes that although it's been a long time since the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), what it left behind still affects the lives of many people.

"I just want to show the long-term, harmful impact of wars on us as people," he says.

A symposium was held recently to gather scholars, film experts and critics to comment on this latest installment in the series.

Wu Yajun, director of the department of film and TV art at the Central Academy of Drama, said at the event that the movie tries to cater to the mass-market, as a variety of age groups will see in it cultural elements with which they are familiar.

For instance, the plot revolves around the investigation and solving of a locked-room mystery, a genre which is popular among young fans of crime fiction.

The movie also presents a cosplay show where the audience can see characters from Calabash Brothers, Saint Seiya, Chibi Maruko-chan and other Chinese or Japanese animations that are ingrained in the childhood memories of the post-1990s generation, he says.

Older audience members, such as those born after 1970, can also discern an air of nostalgia from seeing some iconic Japanese stars in the latest Chinese detective movie, including Tomokazu Miura and Honami Suzuki, known to Chinese fans for their roles in the runaway hit Akai Giwaku, and the 1991 TV series Tokyo Love Story, respectively.

"These icons of yesteryear help to recall the beautiful memories of many middle-aged audience members," says Wu, adding that the movie's producers have a clear understanding of the demands of moviegoers.

Yin Hong, vice-chairman of China Film Association, pointed out that franchises like The Fast and the Furious, James Bond, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other renowned films have laid the foundation of the thriving Hollywood business and fueled its sustainable development.

"Their continuity somehow meets the emotional needs of the audience," he says.

As more characters and clues emerge in Detective Chinatown 3, two opposing camps, the good and the evil, have been gradually forming to shape a "cinematic detective universe" in a Chinese style. A larger picture of stories that fits in with people's common values will unfold, he adds.

"China's film industry is also exploring the creation of its own film IP as it matures, and the Detective Chinatown franchise is an important step in that exploration," he says, adding that the popularity of the franchise has also been enhanced by a 12-episode online series of the same title, which has gained 7.5 points out of 10 on the review site Douban, considered a barometer of domestic popularity.

"I hope the franchise will give a well-rounded portrayal of Chinese detectives, grow into a carrier of the wisdom, lifestyles and values of Chinese people and become a successful IP for Chinese-style detective films."

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