Director tries hand at sci-fi to inspire children

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 17, 2022
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Director Chen Sicheng and his "Mozart" alien character pose for a photo at the premiere of "Mozart from Space" in Beijing, July 12, 2022. [Photo courtesy of Dark Horse]

With his new sci-fi comedy, Chinese director Chen Sicheng hopes to inspire children to follow their dreams.

"Mozart from Space," which hit Chinese theaters on July 15, tells the story of a failed rockstar father (played by comedian Huang Bo) who tries to push his son (played by Rong Zishan) to become a pianist. However, his son loves astronomy more than piano training, and the two constantly argue about it. Then one day, an alien from the future comes to the Earth and projects his spirit into a panda-like doll (later named "Mozart") to accompany, help, and protect the son while interacting with his friends and fighting a brainwashed local cult.

Chen said he was inspired to make children's films by his 6-year-old son, who also attended the premiere on July 12.

"I watched the Chinese sci-fi film 'Wonder Boy' (1988) when I was young. The scenes in that film wowed and excited us in the school auditorium despite the simple special effects at that time. Knowing a scene, a score, a line, or an image will have a lingering impact on children's minds and shape their future is exciting. I hope my film can do the same for a new generation of teenagers. I hope they will still remember Mozart and this film many years in the future," Chen said. 

The friendship between the boy and the alien was also inspired by "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" by Steven Spielberg, "The Terminator" by James Cameron, "CJ7" by Stephen Chow, and the worldwide renowned Japanese animated franchise "Doraemon." In addition, Chen wanted to explore and rethink some of the Chinese family relationships, the education, especially the gap between generations, and how parents force youngsters to do things they don't want in their life.

"Everyone has their individual thinking and their own course of life," he stressed.

A poster of "Mozart from Space." [Image courtesy of As One Production]

Regarding the image of the alien in the film, Chen said the panda is a universal image to represent China, but he didn't want it to be a typical panda. His black and white color also refers to the black and white keys on the piano, while the designers also based its image on Chen's son because he had told them his son was the cutest creature in his mind. The name "Mozart" was inspired by the legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his music on the Golden Records carried by NASA's Voyager space probes.

To animate the doll, the director revealed they adopted the most advanced motion capture technologies for the first time in China's filmmaking. There were about 2,000 visual effects shots made for the film.

The children's sci-fi movie explores further the difference and integration of arts and science, and the alien comes from a planet where the creatures live their lives on the power of music. The film brings beautiful music to the audience as Chen stuffed many elements into it, including Mozart's music, Andrea Ross' cover of "Moon River," and a surprise cameo of internationally renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang. "I like these classic pieces, and I believe classical music is destined to have great power," he said.

Having made China's juggernaut film franchise "Detective Chinatown," which grossed 8.74 billion yuan in the Chinese market, and making films in various foreign and exotic places for years, Chen finally returned home to make a film in China's capital city of Beijing. He admitted he's a fan of IMAX technology and believes the IMAX camera is the most advanced in the world to capture the most imagery information in every shot.

"I have a deep love for Beijing, and I wanted to capture the best and most beautiful scenes of the city by using the IMAX camera," he said. "Mozart from Space" presents the Great Wall and other landmarks and cityscapes in wonderous forms. One particularly stunning scene involves a flying 100-meter-long LEGO boat across the city in the sky. 

Maintaining childlike innocence at heart, Chen said he is not so sure about this film's performance in the market. Very few films in the children's sci-fi genre are produced nowadays; most are small-budget. Meanwhile, video games and short video apps occupy teenagers' interests. But he thinks his big-budget venture was worth the risk to attract a young audience back to the cinema and revisit it on various platforms in the future. 

"We must keep our imaginations, keep looking up to the starry sky, and inspire the young generation to think independently. I also want to make Chinese I.P. for kids to remember, rather than seeing foreign I.P. images like Ultraman and Jurassic World dominate their childhoods," he added.

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