Kung Fu Confucius

2009-04-22 09:43:22 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Xie Tingting

The challenge of playing Confucius is rather like taking on the role of Socrates or Moses.

"He is the right person for the character who has many layers and characteristics," she said in an earlier interview, citing his "Crouching Tiger" and other performances.

"In addition to martial arts, Chow has demonstrated his refinement and thoughtfulness," she said.

It is reported that before Chow was cast, the producers had approached distinguished TV and stage actor Pu Cunxin. Pu reportedly turned it down because of script problems, saying Hu's film portrays the sage as a "kung fu master".

Director Hu has defended the film's action and romantic elements, saying that Confucius was not only a moral teacher and scholar who only knew how to read and preach. In her eyes, the thinker represents a totality of humor, action, romance and rationality.

"Confucius was a living, vibrant person," Hu says. "He once directed a battle. His disciples Zilu and Ranyou were swordsmen and archers of the highest caliber. You can find all of this in reliable history texts."

One thing is certain: Chow's international fame is expected to help the global market for the movie.

Ensuring good box office drives many filmmakers, and other upcoming productions have generated controversy for their casting of celebrities in key roles.

Tian Liang, former Olympic 10-meter platform diving champion, has been cast as model soldier Lei Feng (1940-62) in a TV series. Lei was celebrated for his selflessness and devotion to serving the people.

After leaving the Chinese national diving team in 2007, Tian became a TV actor. His work has not been impressive. News of the casting has drawn an angry response from netizens and Lei's old comrades. Tian says he will portray the hero for free.

A netizen called "Jane01" says, "Tian is a good diver. But he has totally different life background and experiences compared with Lei Feng. Besides, he is a pop star now. If he performs Lei Feng, many people will misinterpret Lei."

Tian's enormous media exposure, particularly his luxury wedding ceremony, has fueled concerns about his suitability for the role, since Lei actually kept a low profile.

A similar controversy surrounds Jia Yun, an entrepreneur from Zhejiang Province, who has no acting experience but plans to play Chairman Mao Zedong in the film "The First Rule". He is a producer and co-investor in the film, envisioned as the first part of a trilogy.

"It offers me a chance to know more about the great leader," Jia said in an earlier interview. "Before acting, I read a lot of biographies about him."

He also plans to star in "Mao Zedong 1927" and "The Zunyi Meeting".

Also in the spotlight over casting is pop celebrity Ma Tianyu, a finalist of the star-making TV program "My Hero" in 2006. Ma is now playing the young feudal noble Jia Baoyu in a TV drama series based on the late 18th-century literary classic "A Dream of Red Mansions".

Aaron Wang, a professional media critic, says casting celebrities and pop stars is simply an effort to make money -- and controversy fuels box office.

"To attract public interest, some TV and film producers will try anything," Wang says. "Controversial casting can be an effective means of promotion and media hype."

There are, however, a few successful domestic productions whose popularity don't rely on the fame or commercial value of the actors.

Wang Baoqiang, a former construction worker and screen extra, rocketed to stardom after his impressive leading role in "Soldiers Sortie" (2007).

"It is necessary to shift both the public and the producers' attention back to the script," says Professor Liu Haibo, a teacher in film and TV art from Shanghai University. "A good script can nurture talented actors. It is acceptable to see some commercial and entertaining elements, but never too much," he says.

"As for classics or portraits of heroic characters, people need to show respect for them rather than make a parody of their lives, out of commercial motives."

By Xu Wei