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My Interview With Amber Chen of China's sohu.com


The wonders of sohu.com, China's biggest entertainment web portal.

Earlier this week, I had the great privilege and pleasure of being interviewed by Amber Chen on the topic of Hollywood screenwriting, for China's biggest entertainment web portal, sohu.com (they have the Chinese rights to Breaking Bad and House of Cards, just to give a sense of their scale).

Our interview wound up stretching over two sessions over two days, and covered a lot of ground - from the nuts and bolts of script development to how the Hollywood studios have changed since 2008, which saw both the conclusion of the Writer's Guild strike of late 2007 and the beginning of the worldwide economic meltdown, known in the US as the Great Recession, not to mention a rapidly changing landscape of entertainment distribution platforms, including streaming and downloads.


Chinese movie star Zhao Wei's immensely successful directorial debut, So Young.

For me, it was also a chance to discuss the state of the Chinese film industry - which is now the second biggest market in the world after the US, and will undoubtedly eclipse it in coming years.

I was particularly interested to talk about Chinese actress and movie star Zhao Wei's directorial debut, So Young, which I have blogged about on at least four occasions, and which has proven an astonishing success in China - currently sitting at No. 2 in the Chinese box office Top 10 for 2013, with a take of $114,710,000.

The film appeals in large part to a generation of young Chinese moviegoers who grew up in the 1990s. In addition to its source material, Xin Yi Wu's bestselling novel, To Our Youth That Is Fading Away (alternatively known as To Our Eventual Lost Youth), Zhao Wei's film is also based on her own personal college experience in the 1990s.






Two images from Guo Jingming's film, Tiny Times.

This led Amber to compare So Young, which she likes, with Gou Jimgming's highly successful film, based on his own bestselling novel, Tiny Times, about which Amber has reservations.

While So Young focuses on the 1990s generation, which grew up with China's gradual maturing as an economic force, Tiny Times is for the generation that came after - and focuses on young women ("princesses," Amber called them) whose lives have been defined by cell phones, social networking and China's growing urban materialism.

I have yet to see it, but apparently it lacks any real perspective or irony, and is certainly not a Chinese Heathers or the equivalent of Sofia Coppola's wonderful films about surface and youth.



Wong Kar-wai's exquisite In The Mood For Love.

Inevitably, Amber and I also talked about the truly great Chinese directors, whose work has influenced me and has crossed borders and barriers worldwide.

Wong Kar-wai is a particular favorite - his In The Mood For Love is one of the most sublime movies I have ever seen - and Zhangke Jia, whose films - especially The World - capture a grittier, more contemporary China than we usually see.

Ang Lee, whom we talked about at length, transcends any cultural or genre pigeonholing, having proved himself the master of everything from gay domestic comedy in The Wedding Banquet, extraordinary romance and groundbreaking martial arts action in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, deep, repressed emotion in Brokeback Mountain, and fabulous (in the truest sense of the word) storytelling in his remarkable Life of Pi - the only film in 3D that has fully convinced me of the medium's potential to really contribute to the moviegoing experience. 

He has also, of course, collected a clutch of Oscars (including two as Best Director for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi) for himself and his collaborators along the way.



Ang Lee's remarkable Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, starring Zhang Ziyi.

I also talked about my own ambitions to work within the Chinese film industry, writing films both with Chinese content set in the US, and hopefully movies set in China. 

With Hollywood looking increasingly to China to provide a major part of box office returns - and with special Chinese editions of tentpole movies such as Iron Man 3 in release - we discussed the time it might take for Hollywood to grasp the subtleties of Chinese culture and tradition. The longer I have been married into a Chinese family, the more complex China often seems!

It was a great pleasure being interviewed by Amber, whose knowledge of cinema is extensive and well-rounded, and I look forward to the interview appearing on sohu.com...in Mandarin, of course.

Many thanks to Iris Xu Liu, LA correspondent of sohu.com, for setting up the interview.



sohu.com

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