- Category: History
- Created on Thursday, 13 May 2010 06:00
- Written by Telegraph
from the Telegraph
Epic film The Founding of a Republic Marks 60 years of Chinese Communism
The star-studded epic charts the ascendancy of Chairman Mao was made by the state-owned China Film Group and is intended as a focal point for anniversary celebrations which will culminate on Oct 1.
With hundreds of stars from China and Hong Kong, including the kung-fu hero Jackie Chan and Jet Li, telling the story of the Communist rise to power in 1949, the film is being tipped as one of the biggest box office hits in the country for years.
In a break from a long tradition of ideologically sound but mind-numbingly dull Party propaganda, the film's producers say they hope the cast-list - as well as the subject matter - will attract in a younger, internet-obsessed generation back to the big screen.
Centred on the exploits of Chairman Mao and his rag-tag band of revolutionaries, the film chronicles the heroic but arduous birth of Communist China through the defeat of the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai–shek in a series of bloody battles between 1945-49.
The £6 million budget for The Founding of a Republic, or Jianguo Daye in Chinese, was kept in check by the fact that many of the film's celebrity cast donated their time for free, dropping onto the set for a few hours at a time to record cameo roles.
Spotting the walk-on parts will require vigilance on the part of the audience. Chan plays an unnamed newspaper reporter who delivers only a handful of lines, while China's best-known international actress, Crouching Tiger star Zhang Ziyi, plays an unidentified apparatchik from the arts world.
Such was the pressure for parts, that some of the biggest names in China's film industry failed to make the final cut - among the casualties was John Woo, the king of Hong Kong action movies, who appeared in the film's trailer, but not the final version.
Longer roles have been filled by lesser known-actors such as Tang Guoqiang, who gives a startlingly life-like performance as Chairman Mao, the avuncular peasant-revolutionary turned statesman who frees China of the imperial and nationalist yokes.
Despite the deep collective scars left by the catastrophes of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, Mao retains a strong measure of popular affection in China, even if the Communist Party is often treated with cynicism by younger people.
While Western historians attribute the death of 60m Chinese to Mao's policies, the "Great Helmsman" still gazes benevolently from banknotes and his perch over Tiananmen Square where a massive military parade will celebrate the Party's achievements next month.
Huang Jianxin, the film's co-director, has said it was unfair to describe The Founding of a Republic as "propaganda", since modern Chinese audience were too sophisticated to swallow a simplistic rendering of history.
"It's impossible to make a propaganda film to win your viewers today," he told the state-run China Daily, although conceded that the galaxy of stars appearing in the film was intended to attract an audience to a subject-matter they might otherwise have shunned.
The film's makers also hope it will contribute to a growing Chinese cinema boom, which, while still tiny compared with the US, saw box office receipts grow by 30 per cent in 2008 to $630 million (£380 million) amid a flurry of cinema construction.
The first viewers who watched the opening public screenings in Beijing on Wednesday appeared almost unanimously enthusiastic about the film as they left the cinema in Wangfujing Street, Beijing's equivalent of London's Oxford Street.
Xu Li, a 22-year-old sales assistant with a wine company who saw the film with her boyfriend, admitted she had been attracted by the 176 movie stars, but said she had also come to learn some history.
"It is somehow a propaganda movie, but we young people are too busy to go through history, and this is an effective and vivid way to reproduce it for young people. Of course, it must be in line with true history," she said.
Asked her opinion of Chairman Mao she said she believed him to be a "great man".
"Without the endeavours of our founders, we young people would not be enjoying our happy life," she added.
For the eldest member of the audience, 86-year-old Guo Wanxue who was present in Tiananmen Square when Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the film was a profound trip down memory lane.
"How could I miss this movie, it helps me to recall that history?" he said, "We can not forget history. So many people scarified their lives for the founding of the republic".
On the subject of Chairman Mao, Mr Guo said that his contribution in defeating the Nationalists "far outweighed his mistakes", reserving his criticism for the corruption that he said had soured the vision of Communist China's founders.
"The thing I hate most is the corrupt officials, they forgot their predecessors who founded the republic," he scolded.