China celebrates 60th birthday, Hollywood style
Mon, Sep 28, 2009

BEIJING, China - China is going Hollywood for the communist state's 60th birthday.

Dozens of films, TV mini-series and shows are hitting screen and stage, with a sweeping all-star epic taking the country by storm.

"Jianguo Daye" (The Founding of a Republic) is hard to miss.

The film, which cost 30 million yuan (S$6.2 million) to make, is on a record 1,700 screens nationwide and Tinseltown-style ads are everywhere.

More than 170 of China's most beloved actors and directors - Zhang Ziyi, Chen Kaige, Jet Li and Jackie Chan, to name a few - lent their skills to the project, which was the brainchild of the king of Chinese cinema, Han Sanping.

While revolutionary leader Mao Zedong is the star of the film - and of most of the other TV shows and stage productions - the theme of "Jianguo Daye", as China battles current day economic crisis and social unrest, is national unity.

The two-hour blockbuster tells the story of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - a coalition of "democratic" parties, artists, scientists and intellectuals who voted to create the People's Republic.

Han - the boss of China Film, the country's biggest movie producer and distributor - says he has created a new style of propaganda film, in which Mao and Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek are more realistic, human characters.

In one scene, we see Mao, the "Great Helmsman" himself, completely drunk after a major battlefield victory.

While the film may draw older moviegoers wanting to relive the events of 1949, the stars have been recruited to lure younger viewers like 21-year-old student Fu Qiang, who raved about the film after a recent screening in Beijing.

"Every person in China should see this film," he said.

"The most important thing is not the star power, really - even if that helps bring in the money. This film will boost a feeling of patriotism in China. Plus, it's a great way to celebrate National Day."

Wang Yu, a retiree in her 60s, said the film was "truly authentic".

"It shows how the revolution in China came to pass - it started out weak and gained strength - and explains the time when the Communist Party rallied the people to liberate the country," she said.

Controversial artist Ai Weiwei, whose work is often censured by the communist government, sees the film differently - as yet another piece of blatant propaganda by a regime that has hardly changed in six decades.

He suggested the stars - who were not paid for their work - had been pressured or felt obliged to take part, as otherwise "they knew they would miss out on future opportunities".

"The director (Han) is a very powerful man in the film industry. This nation has become more and more like a crime family - the Mafiosi control everything and so they can either make you or break you," he told AFP in an interview.

No matter what the politics behind getting the film made, it is sure to be a massive hit.

Luisa Prudentino, an expert on Chinese cinema, says the "Jianguo Daye" formula will be the model for future propaganda films.

"This allows the authorities to counter Hollywood's growing influence here by making blockbuster films that make money while also getting their message across to the masses in a more glamorous way," she said.

The other major production on offer is "Road to Revival", a two-and-a-half-hour Broadway-style musical that takes the audience on a journey from the Opium Wars to the present day, glorifying the re-emergence of China as a world power.

State television"s main channel has also "gone red" with "Jiefang" (Liberation), a 50-part mini-series that tells the story of Mao's victory over the Nationalists, complete with bloody battle scenes.

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