With its staggering budget, huge international crew and a stellar cast, Chinese fantasy epic Asura has ambitions to rival any Hollywood blockbuster, Xu Fan reports.
Asura is set in a fictional world, and more than 1,800 crew members from 35 countries worked on the bigbudget Chinese production. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
With a staggering budget of 750 million yuan (US$113.5 million) and an international crew of 1,800 industry professionals gathered from 35 countries, the upcoming fantasy epic Asura is now the most hotly anticipated blockbuster of China's competitive summer season.
On Twitter-like Sina Weibo, a barometer for popularity, posts about the film had racked up 390 million views by Tuesday. Nearly 1,800 articles on public WeChat accounts, a mainstream news medium, had garnered 1.22 million clicks in the past three months.
The movie will hit Chinese theaters on July 13.
Rooted in Buddhist mythology, the film is set in a fictional world ruled by six regimes, including the titular realm ruled by a greedy, three-headed king (also named Asura) who hatches a scheme to invade Tian (heaven), a sacred land and a symbol of goodness and truth, before colonizing the universe.
A hundred years after the king failed in a bloody war against Tian, which saw him lose one of his heads, a young herdsman - played by 19-year-old actor Wu Lei - not only turns out to be the reincarnation of the lost head but, more importantly, the hero chosen to rescue the world.
Tony Leung Ka-fai, four-time best actor winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and veteran Hong Kong actress Carina Lau Kar-ling, star as the heads representing desire and strategy, respectively, while Wu stars as the head symbolizing insight.
(PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Producers reveal that they had to develop a specific program to "graft" the heads of Lau and Wu onto the neck of Leung to digitally create the character of Asura, who has three personalities.
"It's a very imaginative movie. We wanted the film to raise confidence in our own culture and train more domestic talent," says Yang Hongtao, chairman of Ningxia Film Group, one of the film's financers who is known for producing the hit franchise Painted Skin, a fantasy tale about a fox spirit that transforms into a beautiful woman.
Director Zhang Peng reveals the crew built a 1,500-square-meter set installed with six giant LED screens to visualize Tian, the fictional wonderland mainly consisting of light and shadow.
For the producers, the movie is an ambitious project which they hope will raise the bar for the Chinese film industry.
Over the past decade, China has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in its movie market, propelling it to become the world's second largest market in terms of annual global box-office takings, and home to the highest number of cinema screens of any country in the world.
But it has been a long-held regret that the country's film industry still lags far behind Hollywood.
With the belief that big-budget movies with heavy visual effects are the most bankable genre to help China expand into overseas markets, homegrown filmmakers continue to gravitate toward investing in these kinds of productions.
Following The Monkey King 3, which was released in February, and Animal World, which came out at the end of June, Asura is the latest epic to exemplify these efforts.
Major stars of the 141-minute Asura pose for cameras. The film contains around 2,400 special-effects scenes and was shot on 30 soundstages covering an area of over 80,000 square meters. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
With around 2,400 special-effects scenes, the 141-minute Asura was shot on 30 soundstages covering an entire area of more than 80,000 square meters.
American actor Matthew Knowles, who stars as Rawa, the biggest and strongest warrior of the rebel force in the film, recalls he was stunned when he first walked into a film set in North China's Hebei province in 2016.
"It blew me away. I had never seen any film anywhere near this kind of scale. After talking to the director, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this film - which looks set to be a milestone in Chinese cinema," says Knowles.
The movie features a number of spectacular vistas and bizarre creatures. For instance, the ruthless Asura king invents a gruesome torture device to split the captured resistance fighters into half, where one half transforms into a giant dragonfly-like creature and the other turns into a "slave", with no head or heart.
"The flying creatures are called remnants. We (the characters of rebel troops) call them with whistles and they come to pick us up and carry us into battle," Knowles explains further.
Unlike most Chinese fantasy films, most of the warriors and villagers in Asura are played by foreign actors. Speaking about the international cast, Knowles thinks it symbolizes the norm for the movie world.
"There are people of all colors and races. Asura is a Mandarin-speaking world instead of an English one. All the characters speak Mandarin well. I think it is a breakthrough for a Chinese film to have such an international mindset," adds Knowles, who studied at the Beijing Film Academy in 2013 and speaks Mandarin fluently.
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