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Chinese Director Chen Kaige Vows to Redeem Audiences

"I've been always considering the market, which is the base of film makers," said Chen Kaige, director of the 1993's Oscar-nominated Farewell My Concubine, before his heavily anticipated The Promise makes its global debut on December 15.


It was seemingly his reply to the criticism that Chen has been indulged in the metaphysical expression in his films, neglecting audiences.


Although Chen is a flagship director in China, some of his works - including the Life On A String, Temptress Moon and The Emperor and the Assassin - have received box office failure for their incoherent expressions, critics say.


"I want to let the media and audiences know me better by The Promise. I'm not just a metaphysical director who pays much attention to philosophy and can but also shoot 'artistic films' with profound meanings," said Chen.


Chen made The Promise in 1,090 days, trekking for nearly 10,120 kilometers, at a cost of 340 million yuan (about US$42 million), so far the largest budget film in China.


The Promise has secured the only qualification from the Chinese government for vying for the 78th Oscar nomination representing the Chinese mainland, before it was shown in the southwestern city of Chengdu for a week in October to meet Academy Awards eligibility rules.


Chen said it is a "commercial blockbuster," which is targeted to the box office victory.


Many commercial elements - including love, war, conspiracy and hi-tech audio-visual effect - were used in the film, he said.


The movie also boasts an international cast of Asian superstars, including the Republic of Korea's Jang Dong-gun, Hiroyuki Sanada of The Last Samurai, and Hong Kong stars Nicholas Tse and Cecilia Cheung. Academy Award winner Peter Pau of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon provided the cinematography, which is also a magnet to audiences, Chen said.


"Audiences will not enter the cinemas if you fail to entertain them without such commercial elements, which is a rule every director must abide by," he said, "They need entertainment rather than profound meanings or philosophic ideas after an all-day hard work."


In fact, most Chinese films made every year have no chance to be watched by audiences in cinemas. China made 212 films in 2004, while most of them have not experienced the tests of audiences.


As though China's box office revenue hit 1.5 billion yuan (about US$183 million) in 2004, up 60 percent over the previous year, it was still too small in proportion to the country's national economy, Chen said.


"I think many Chinese audiences are not interested in home-grown films, as most of them lack recreational elements," he said.


"Most graduates of the film academies in China consider themselves as would-be artists, and this concept hinders their development," Chen said, "Many directors shoot films just for winning awards, but there's only one Palme d'Or a year."


"Michael Bay, however, was originally a commercial director without the concept of 'what is art,' but he gives the strongest and most exciting audio-visual joy to the audiences. He has no burden of being a would-be artist," he said.


In fact, Chen's words epitomized his own experience.


Chen took home the Palme d'Or and the International Critics Prize at Cannes by the tragic love movie Farewell My Concubine released in 1993, which also gave him a good box office result.


The film was also voted as the most popular Chinese film of the century in Hong Kong in a poll co-organised by the Henderson ArtReach in March this year.


His other works, except Together (2002), including Life On A String (1991), Temptress Moon (1996) and The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) and Killing Me Softly (2002) in English, all came up against box office failures in China.


Chen said he hopes to reap a favorable box office result this time.


He and his assistants have made high-profile promotion activities for The Promise, including developing an array of film's byproducts - a computer game, a book, stamps, toys, a documentary film and a blog website.


According to Chen, 470 copies of the film have been distributed, a new high in China, and the box office revenue of pre-selling tickets has reached 14 million yuan (about US$1.75 million).


"I have much confidence in the film," he said, "The Promise, like Farewell My Concubine, combines commerce and art."


"The Promise, fraught with eastern ambience, is about fate," Chen said, "The signification of life represented by the falling flowers, a common image in Chinese classical poems, is the profound thoughts, or humanity. They naturally exit in the film and can be sensed by those who need them."


(Xinhua News Agency December 10, 2005)

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