Culture\Film and TV

Family drama brings warmth

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-18 07:14

A Chinese remake of Japanese master Yoji Yamada's comedy is banking on its script to draw viewers. Xu Fan reports.

Lili Marleen is a Germany song that was popular during World War II. But when actor-turned-director Huang Lei heard it, he decided it would be part of his directorial debut, What a Wonderful Family.

In the movie's last scene, an antique radio airs the song in an empty room.

"The song resonates with me," says Huang.

The song, which evokes the emotions of missing home and love, was popular in countries on both sides of the divide during the war.

In the movie, the "battle" is triggered by a grandmother, whose move to seek a divorce sees the once harmonious family - three generations living under one roof - descend into chaos.

Family drama brings warmth

Huang's movie, which is a remake of Japanese master Yoji Yamada's 2016 light comedy What a Wonderful Family, opened simultaneously in the Chinese mainland, North America, Australia and New Zealand on May 11. It will open later in Japan.

The Hong Kong-based studio Edko Films is one of the film's producers. Edko Films was behind the overseas distribution of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero, two of the highest-grossing Chinese films of all time in North America.

The Japanese movie was screened in China at last year's Shanghai International Film Festival, and the enthusiastic local response was what that prompted producer Gu Xiaodong to consider a Chinese version of the film.

Another reason that led Gu to think about the venture is that Yamada has many Chinese fans, thanks to his Tora-san films and the award-winning The Yellow Handkerchief.

Yamada, in a long career, has won a number of awards, including four best picture prizes from the Japanese Academy Awards.

So, Gu purchased the film rights and persuaded Huang to direct the movie, as he believed that only Huang, who has starred in dozens of family-themed productions, could capture the nuances of a family drama.

Huang, who shot to fame with Chen Kaige's art-house drama Life on a String in 1991, has acted in a number of TV series, movies and stage plays, besides reality shows.

He is also a singer, a writer, founder of a culinary startup and a popular teacher at Beijing Film Academy.

Asked why he waited so long to direct his first film, Huang, 46, says: "I wrote my first movie script at age 30, but the timing was not right then."

The script was, however, turned into Sishui Nianhua (Time Passes Like Flowing Water), a 23-episode TV series, which he directed.

Later, Huang directed several other TV series. The turning point, to be a film director, finally came thanks to Gu.

"When I was a student at Beijing Film Academy, Yamada was one of my favorite foreign directors. So, I feel honored to remake his film," Huang says.

"Besides, I am a middle-aged man now. Time has given me knowledge, making me better understand the joys and sorrows of life.

"Sometimes, when a couple have been married for many years, a husband may take all what his wife has done for him for granted. He becomes indifferent," he says.

In the movie, Huang plays the role of the eldest son who works for a foreign enterprise, and speaks Chinese with a smattering of English words.

The cast also features Taiwan veteran Lee Li-chun and mainland actresses Hai Qing and Sun Li.

Huang says despite the fact that the film does not feature big stars, the veterans as well as the tale will attract viewers.

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Family drama brings warmth

 Family drama brings warmth

Huang Lei's movie, What a Wonderful Family, centering on a three-generation family, is a rare small-budget Chinese film to be released abroad. Photos Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 05/18/2017 page19)

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