Director: Ning Hao (2006)
An angry motorist is yelling at two breathless and hapless drivers who have unsuccessfully chased their runaway mini van down a hill trying to stop it from smashing into a BMW. "Look what you did to my Bie Mo Wo ('don't touch me')."
It's just one of the hilarious lines from the low-budget movie Crazy Stone that's fast becoming a comic classic for its savvy dialogue that is even entering the everyday Chinese lexicon. Bei Mo Wo, when said quickly, sounds like BMW.
The stone in Crazy Stone is a precious piece of jade found in a financially floundering factory. The boss decides to auction the gem so he can pay outstanding wages and that's where the mad cap comedy begins.
Spiked with sad sack characters the ingenious plot has two sets of robbers trying to rip off the jade stone that is being protected by a duo of down-on-their-luck security guards.
Throughout the film the original stone which is on display in a glass showcase gets switched for a fake so many times the robbers, guards and even the audience lose track of which is real.
While most Chinese mainland films fail to recover their costs at the box office, Crazy Stone, with a budget of just 3 million yuan (US$375,000), has raked in more than 21.2 million yuan (US$2.65 million) since its June 30 premiere, according to the film's distributor Warner China Film HG Corporation.
At a time when a few Chinese films such as The Promise are getting international backing and finally being made with decent, Hollywood-sized budgets, Crazy Stone has trumped them all. The tiny-budget film has not only earned a small fortune, it has won the hearts of critics and audiences. While The Promise, which cost tens of million US dollars., was widely panned here, Crazy Stone is giving new hope to up-coming film makers and audiences.
"The audience has been avoiding going to cinemas on the Chinese mainland. They don't watch domestic films. They love Hollywood products. As director, it's my mission to invite them back to the theater," Ning Hao, the 29-year-old director told a recent conference.
"Crazy Stone is a dark horse in Chinese domestic film industry, " said Chen Ruibin, assistant manager of Beijing Capital Times Square Cinema.
It does seem Crazy Stone came out of nowhere to lead the pack. The producers struggled financial to finish the project and had no budget to promote the film.
"Few came to watch the movie in the first week but it seems they all told their friends to come and watch it. It's a phenomenon that hasn't been seen in the domestic film industry for a long time."
While China's big budget movies usually dominate theater screens and entertainment news, Crazy Stone is unique for a couple of reasons.
"It's an unexpected success for a low-budget film with no major stars to fill the cinemas," said Shi Chuan, a professor with Shanghai Film and Television Technology College in Shanghai University.
"It's attracted an audience by having true-life characters. A lot of domestic films are too far from real life and don't win the audience's heart," said Shi.
Hong Kong investor Andy Lau, one of China's top movie stars, helped finish Crazy Stone by pumping much needed cash into the project through his Asia New Director Project. Even he's surprised by the film's success.
"It's like when your parents arrange a blind date for you," said Lau describing the dread of such a situation. "But when you arrive, you discover your date is a beautiful film star."
Crazy Stone, for all its madcap chaos, entertaining plot twists and quirky dialogue, has become a hit, says the young director, because the audience can relate to personalities in the film.
"The characters in my film are grassroots people. They are clever, hard working and scrupulous. They have their own belief and logic, but they are also worthy of being mocked," Ning said.
After the surprise success of Crazy Stone, Ning Hao is now in pre-production on his next-Crazy Race Car which is being back by Warner China Film HG Corporation.
"We choose Ning Hao because we appreciate the great humor and personality in his products," Ellen R. Eliasoph, Vice President of Warner China Film HG Corporation, told China Features.
"Ning will be allowed ultimate freedom in creating his next film and the budget will be finalized only after the script is finished," Eliasoph said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 1, 2006)