Filmmaker gets going on epic franchise with old Chinese novel

Updated 2017-06-08 11:57:57 China Daily
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Director Wuershan is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy. Photos provided to China Daily

Director Wuershan is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy. Photos provided to China Daily

The man behind the hits Painted Skin: The Resurrection and Mojin: The Lost Legend, ethnic Mongolian director Wuershan recently unveiled his plan to make the Fengshen trilogy.

The 45-year-old filmmaker says he hopes this will be China's own fantasy franchise like The Lord of the Rings.

Adapted from Fengshen Yanyi (Creation of the Gods), a 16th-century novel, the trilogy will begin filming in 2018 and be released over 2020-22, producers of the films said in Beijing in May.

The budget will be around 3 billion yuan (1 million), the most expensive Chinese film project in history.

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Producer Bill Kong is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy.

Producer Bill Kong is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy.

Loosely based on the history of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC), the novel revolves around Zhou, the dynasty's last king who killed people just to please his favorite concubine. But the tale, penned more than 1,000 years later by Xu Zhonglin, is a mix of mythology, folklore and real history.

Wuershan says he got the idea for the trilogy in 2001 after watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

"I have been thinking about how the Chinese can make such a masterpiece," says Wuershan.

He felt that Fengshen Yanyi-with more than 360 heavenly creatures in it-would be good option for a feature franchise.

Wuershan shot to fame after his directorial debut, Soap Opera (2004), which won international awards at festivals in South Korea and Switzerland.

His second feature, The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman, raised his ranking further as he won the best new director award at Taiwan's Golden Horse festival in 2001.

After Painted Skin: The Resurrection broke domestic box-office records in 2012, his image as a successful commercial director with a bold style was sealed. With Mojin: The Lost Legend, a tomb-raiding tale of special effects in 2015, some film critics started to call him the "new hope of Chinese blockbusters".

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Art director Douglas Hans Smith is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy.

Art director Douglas Hans Smith is among the three major figures behind the upcoming Fengshen trilogy.

Wuershan says he decided to devote himself to mass entertainment a decade ago and has been preparing for the Fengshen trilogy over the past four years.

"I hope young audiences in China will have their superheroes through this Chinese tale," he says.

And, he is getting the right kind of help to make that happen: Barrie M. Osborne, producer of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Bill Kong, the producer behind Chinese hits, such as Hero and the Monster Hunt, are producers for the Fengshen trilogy.

Osborne says a successful fantasy tentpole should be romantic and dramatic-elements that can be found in the novel Fengshen Yanyi.

From the Chinese side, the father-daughter duo of scriptwriters Ran Ping and Ran Jianan, who previously worked with Wuershan on the Painted Skin, and Lu Wei, known for penning Farewell My Concubine (1993) and Sino-French coproduction Wolf Totem, are on the team for the upcoming trilogy.

U.S. writer James Schamus, who worked with Ang Lee in his movies, is also part of it.

For visual effects, Timmy Yip, who won an Oscar in art direction for Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), is going to work on the Fengshen trilogy alongside Douglas Hans Smith, the co-winner of the best visual-effects Oscar for sci-fi film Independence Day (1996).

"This movie has challenges as big as any serious movies that have been done. I'm honored to be part of it," says Smith.

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