​'Wolf Warrior 2' producer tries his hand at animation

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 28, 2021
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Zhang Miao, a veteran film producer, told China.org.cn in an exclusive interview that his dream was to make a truly original Chinese animated feature. Now he has succeeded.

Veteran producer Zhang Miao. [Photo provided to China.org.cn]

Zhang's first animated production, "I Am What I Am," is directed by Sun Haipeng and is a heartwarming story about three rural underdog teenagers who try to reshape their destiny by learning China's traditional lion dance. It also acts as a witty tribute to vintage Hong Kong classics, such as Stephen Chow and Jet Li's movies. Since the film's debut on Dec. 17, it has grossed more than 144 million yuan by Sunday and received rave reviews from audiences with a high score of 8.3/10 from more than 150,000 users on China's review aggregator site Douban. Many critics named it 2021's "best animated feature."

Zhang, who is responsible for some of China's highest-grossing films, including "Wolf Warrior 2," "Hi, Mom," "My People, My Homeland," "The Wandering Earth," and "Dying to Survive," approached director Sun in August 2019 with the idea to do an animated project. "To do an original Chinese animated film was my dream, despite being a newbie to this genre. In addition, I wanted to demonstrate the strength of Sun and his team, who are truly the best animation team in China in my opinion."

Given that previously successful Chinese animations have predominantly been those adapted from traditional Chinese mythological icons like the Monkey King and Nezha, as well as animal cartoons for young children such as Boonie Bears, Zhang and Sun wanted to try something different – a realistic story with true-to-life Chinese cultural elements and contemporary fashion. They even consciously avoided regular animation aesthetics influenced by Japanese and American animators, opting instead to create something more original and Chinese. 

A poster of "I Am What I Am." [Image courtesy of Beijing Cheering Times Culture & Entertainment]

The film was made over 24 months, encountering and overcoming various challenges, as varied as how to best capture realistic elements in animation and the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered studio shutdowns. The script was constantly adjusted up until August this year. "But this is a good thing for an animation because you can always adjust and change it for the better," he said.

When the film was finished and the team watched the final cut on screen, all of them applauded. "Sun and his team are amazing. We tried new possibilities in animated film, and I want more people around the world to see and appreciate animators like Sun, who are genius and still working hard to make animated films."

"I Am What I Am" is just one of Zhang's grand and ambitious plans for the future. It is the first production from a film franchise called "Teen Universe," which will include three animated and three live-action features sharing a common coming-of-age theme and inspiring life stories of young Chinese.

Zhang had produced a slew of Chinese blockbusters for Beijing Culture, an entertainment conglomerate. In 2020, he decided to step out of his comfort zone and start a business on his own, launching a brand-new film label called Beijing Cheering Times Culture & Entertainment. As a blockbuster maker, Zhang said an important impetus for him to continue making movies after 21 years is his need to keep innovating across various genres.

"I want to create a 'film label 2.0,' which describes a multi-format and multi-track film and TV business. To tell good Chinese stories, we will find the most fitting ways for each project, be it a movie or an online film or online series. Plus, I will spare no effort to derive long-leg profit other than pursue the best content, which means we will explore merchandise, franchise licensing, live-action offline entertainment, and so on," he told China.org.cn.

Film producer Zhang Miao introduces upcoming film projects at a press event during the Shanghai International Film Festival in Shanghai in June 2021. [Photo courtesy of Beijing Cheering Times Culture & Entertainment]

For China's cultural outstretch abroad, Zhang said, "A Chinese story must be accepted and appreciated by the Chinese audience to the fullest. This is the foundation. "

He added, "We have better opportunities than ever before. The Chinese economy is soaring, which brings cultural confidence. Also, the development of social media can make a film known and discussed all over the world. In previous eras, space-transcending global cultural phenomenon like Michael Jackson were so rare, and we lived in a mostly divided world, with Chinese people unaware of what was trending in other countries and foreign countries also unaware of Chinese people's interests. But now, as the world is connected, we have better and bigger opportunities."

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