Jackie Chan

Hollywood East

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2008, 12:00am

It may not have won over many film critics, but Jackie Chan and Jet Li's first collaboration, The Forbidden Kingdom, has achieved its aim. The family-orientated adventure raked in more than US$21 million last week for top spot at the American box office on its first week out.

Do you know what that means? More period martial arts films full of mythical mumbo-jumbo and Chinese pseudo-legends, most of which will be devoid of any contemporary relevance.

Excited by the prospect? I'd rather drink spoiled soy bean milk and listen to Cantonese opera on my iPod. That's how tired I am of the genre, with period sets, feudal themes and mediocre Canto-pop stars slicing entire armies, suspended from Yuen Wo-ping wires.

It's not the first time I've railed against the surfeit of swords and silk epics. I lament the fact every Hong Kong and China producer now is looking for another mega-epic. Chan and Li's diluted Monkey King fable hitting Hollywood pay dirt will just encourage every Zhang Yimou-wannabe to throw a robe on more Asian stars and transport them back to a time and place that never was.

While scoring big overseas, they also get to cosy up to Beijing officials with an apolitical blockbuster. Best of all, it's a formula any hack can piece together. In fact, you just need a few ready-made elements, then you can pitch to Andy Lau Tak-wah or Zhang Ziyi and scam an overseas investor.

The Forbidden Kingdom was different because it was in English and targeted mainly at children in Idaho, but the same rules apply for the China market. First, you need a poetic yet powerful title. Something with warlords, assassins, emperors (or empresses) and references to kingdoms will do.

You can't get away with something too soft, such as Hero. Even Zhang Yimou had to resort to pulpy English titles such as Curse of the Golden Flower and House of Flying Daggers. In another instance, The Banquet was released on video with the florid title of Legend of the Black Scorpion.

As an exercise, come up with your own Chinese epic names: Lord of the Jade Empire, Rise of the Black Warrior, Temple of the Dowager Army ... ad nauseam.

Next, hire a writer. Obviously, it must be set ages ago - preferably in a desert part of China. The more bleak and desolate the area, the more stunning it'll look on screen. Your crew and cast might have to endure unbearably harsh conditions to work there, but they won't mind. The Gobi is particularly popular. Then, be sure to exploit the scenery with battle scenes in which hundreds, if not thousands, of extras wage war.

For eye candy you'll need a lead actress with long, silky hair - thus help secure some sponsorship money from a shampoo line. Any other girl characters are unnecessary, unless you want to dress a hot one in S&M villain gear. Remember, it's all about the bloodthirsty action - war, rebellions, uprisings, mad marauding as the result of jealousy over a woman. Investors love that stuff.

Humour is unnecessary because jokes hadn't been invented in China at that time. Actually, a sense of humour is still not overly encouraged in mainland society.

As for the plot, well, who cares? Just make it some sort of vague, obscure, historical tale of emperors, warlords or military rulers so any dramatic resemblance to the mainland's totalitarian government is strictly coincidental. Actually, if it's really confusing the French will consider it art and put it in competition at Cannes.

Mostly, though, you want to make an ancient martial-arts adventure because nothing else will be approved under the paranoid gaze of China's State Administration for Radio, Film and Television. In its bid to make sure everything about the country is presented in a positive light, this body is making sure nothing other than such epics are being approved for filming.

Anything that can be construed as sensitive or reflecting badly on Chinese people is an automatic no-no. Apparently, nothing involving sex, violence or bad people ever happens in contemporary Chinese society; such things only take place in some mythic Middle Kingdom of the movies.

It's too bad, because the kind of movie I really want to see made in this part of the world is Harold And Kumar Enter the Dragon.