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Russia 27 April 2020 00:00 Persons

Du Liang, a film producer: "I see what a big market we have. Russians and Chinese have."

He is engaged in the release of Russian films in the Chinese market. Du Liang told Olga Bubnova, a TV BRICS correspondent, about the work of producers and marketers in promoting Russian films, why Moving Up was a success in China, but the film with Jackie Chan was not, and explained what it is required to do to win the hearts of Chinese viewers.

Mr. Du, is the sensational release of some Russian films in China the merit of producers and marketers only, or is it something else?

Russian films have not received such success in China yet. I think it's important for Chinese viewers - it's an appropriate theme and an appropriate advertisement so that they feel that Russian cinema is different from that from Hollywood. This is very important for them. Russian cinema elements need to be found and shown to Chinese viewers.

Moving Up was the leader of the Russian release in the Chinese market. You were engaged in this process. Its box sales revenue, in my opinion, was a record of USD 13 million. How did you promote this film? I even know that a special Chinese "mango" was made according to the script of the film. Right?

This is a certain difficulty for us, because there was no successful Russian project in China before Moving Up. All the Chinese companies around me were waiting for an anecdote, that is, they said: "Will you be engaged in the release of this movie, are you crazy?"

If Moving Up had no success, then our company would be closed, and Russian films wouldn't be allowed to China for at least 1.5 years. The situation was like that. It was very dangerous!

We have 600 local Chinese films every year. 600 new films plus Hollywood ones, Indian films plus Japanese and Russian ones. That's why there is such a competition every year. And cinema directors can decide how many screens to provide. The cinema chain gave us some screening time, quite a bit - only 5%. But we showed the film for 2 months, and that had never happened for a Russian film before.

What is that special "mango" that was made specifically for the Russian film?

First we made a music video - AMV, we invited a very famous singer to write a new song for us. And we made a special AMV for the movie. Immediately the Chinese viewers felt that it was not a foreign film, it was their film.

In China, small videos are very popular; they can watch them at home for two hours without a break. We made these little videos, 150 pieces; we just took some elements and frames and added our own frames and animation.

But Moving Up is a sports drama, so why is it such a success with a female audience, and not with a male one?

This is always like that! In fact, it is strange, but it is always so when there are very beautiful men in the film, women always sit and really like to watch it.

But it doesn't sound strange, it sounds normal. That's the secret to success, isn't it?

We just made a try, we got the result that women liked that film more, because they saw the male world in it. They saw what men should be like.
When viewers buy tickets, they need a reason why they buy those particular tickets. What to do to make women buy tickets and watch basketball? We did a lot of advertising so they wouldn't think it was about basketball. It's about love - it's true. It's about life, as I say.

We made the theme in the advertising that the film was not about basketball, but about how to win in one's life. If everyone thought it was about basketball, and foreign basketball, not Chinese one, no one would come to watch it. Right?

But it seems to me that foreign sports dramas are generally well received in China. In 2016, if I am not mistaken, Dangal was released in China — this is an Indian drama, and you have said that with Dangal a new era of Indian cinema began in the Chinese release.

In fact, 90% of sports films in China do have box sales revenue, and I have heard that the same is true in Russia. Dangal is a film, it's not really about sports. Why did it get success in China? This is about the relationship between a father and a daughter, and this is very important! And the same culture, just the same both in China and in India. Because all Chinese parents, just like those in India, want their children to become very famous people. When they can't get success in their life, they want to…

To achieve their ambitions…

Yes! Yes! Yes. We also have the same culture, it's like a Chinese film, they feel the same way. There's nothing to do with sports, really. The film shows a lot of realities of the society. And the Chinese felt that it was about them, they have the same reality.

Now several Indian films are released consistently every year, aren’t they?

Yes. It is very interesting that I have long ago told my partners who were engaged in Indian films that we needed to talk about society. And there is no reality in a big movie. Successful Indian films are all like this, the budget is small, but there is a lot of reality in them, which is probably difficult to show in Chinese films, and when the budget is large.... Indians also shoot with a big budget. Oh-Oh-Oh! Such a great movie, action, or fantastic film, but they do not earn anything in China!

So you can say that the viewers are just tired of movies in which something just happens, but they have nothing to do with it?

Yes. And now the box sales revenues of Indian films are already low because the films are very much alike. The Chinese viewers are already tired. That is. They are very much alike. Yes.

In China in the XX century, they loved Riazanov's films and knew their quotes. Did you have a favorite quote from Riazanov's film?

Sure. As a child, I watched Russian films almost every day. Soviet films were very, very popular.

And jokes were easy for Chinese viewers to understand, because humor is a national trait if you can say so.

Oh no. Riazanov's comedies are still popular, people want to watch them; they are interesting for them to watch. And today, Russian films and comedies are already difficult to understand. I made a try: I showed old Soviet films to young people - Office Affair, Italians in Russia. Everyone really liked it, everyone laughed so much. These young people didn't see them before, and I'm sorry that there was a "golden time" for Russian films in China, but there was no market, right? Now there is market, but the time is not the same as before.

You are engaged in the release of T-34. I've heard that the Russian drama will be shown in China with such a resolution, with such a quality, which is not yet available even in Russia?

Yes, that's it. T-34 is such a great project, and I know that the Chinese viewers love Russian war films. All over the world, I think two countries know how to make good war films — the United States and Russia. I decided to make 3D IMAX in China for T-34, in addition, we will do 4D.

No one has seen such a movie before, as if you sit in a tank and fight, it is very interesting. I watched the latest 3D version before I arrived. I was scared, because it was all so real, like at war! I was involved! Oh dear! The reaction was like that!

When will the film be released?

We have protection for local movies, because you can't show foreign movies on Chinese New Year. So we decided that it would be after Chinese New Year, in March or April.

You call Saint Petersburg your second Homeland, but why did you come here to study? Because you liked Soviet films very much as a child?
  
In fact, there are few good film academies. My father is very clever! He told me: "You know, son, relations between China and Russia will always be good!"- That was his opinion. "And it's hard to communicate with the USA. If you want to go to the United States and England, it will be difficult to communicate there. Do you understand?"

I didn't understand, but I said "Ok: firstly, I love Russian movies, and secondly, if you think so, I will go to St. Petersburg". That is. I came here; I thought it was a great city, a very cultural city. I haven't seen anything like this in China.

You try to unite two countries with your work: China and Russia. You have even held a Chinese-Russian Film Forum and try to promote our cooperation. In general, how difficult is it to get an official co-production in China?

We have a large market. There is enough money; there are no good ideas and specialists. And here, there are good ideas and good specialists. Together, it will be exactly profitable for everyone. But why does it go wrong so many years? Because I think that there is not appropriate team that knows cinema, and knows both languages: Russian and Chinese. It is very important to invite Russian cameramen and team, but it is necessary to have a Chinese screenwriter and director, because they know the Chinese viewers better and understand the Chinese market. There have always been Russian screenwriters and directors, they are good, very professional, but they just don't know the Chinese viewers so well. This is the problem.

Recently, the film with Jackie Chan "failed" both in the Russian and Chinese release. Why did it "fail" in China?

My friends, very close friends experienced it. The guys are suffering a little now. Oh, yes! I was also very much waiting for the result, but it just happened... This story is very difficult for the Chinese. The background of this film is very complex; you need 10-15 minutes to explain to the viewers what it means. And people can't stand it.

Secondly, Jackie Chan and Schwarzenegger needed to be shown more, because they didn't play together, never played together. People are interested in watching them fight, and they do "action", but they are not enough in the film.

The film puts one question: "Who was this film made for - for Russian viewers or for Chinese ones?” I think the problem is that the guys wanted it both for the Chinese and Russians. This is impossible!

And the film failed both in Russia and in China?

Yes, because people here thought it was for the Chinese. And in China, they thought that it was for the Russians. This is quite obvious. This, from a foreign point of view, is not for the Chinese. For example, there is a phrase for Jackie Chan: "Why don't you eat?"

He says that he eats the Sun from the East, which is funny for Chinese viewers. What does it mean? This is not Eastern philosophy; this is some kind of fantasy. If a budget is so large and such actors were invited, and the production is like this... I advise to shoot specifically for China because the market there is very large.

And to sum up, can we say that Russian cinema has a future in China?

I see what a big market we have: both the Chinese and Russians have. I always think if there is a famous actor like Sasha Petrov, Chinese young girls will love him very much, as they love Tom Cruise. Then it will be easier for everyone. Then we can say that Russian cinema has opened the Chinese market, now Moving Up is just the beginning. We don't need to be afraid, we need to work harder and move forward.

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