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Thursday, December 07, 2017, 17:40
Humor in uniform
By Xu Fan
Thursday, December 07, 2017, 17:40 By Xu Fan

French filmmaker Dany Boon hopes his new comedy about a female police trainee, who earns a place on an all-male elite force, will tickle the Chinese audience. Xu Fan reports.

Dany Boon will see his fifth directorial feature, Raid Dingue, hit Chinese theaters on Friday. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Dany Boon may find it easy to make cinema audiences laugh, but the French comedy superstar has a past that might sound sad to most people.

The 51-year-old actor-director was born in Armentieres, a small town in northern France, which he describes as "a very poor neighborhood".

"My parents were poor and isolated, because my grandparents who I barely knew disagreed with their marriage. My mother had me when she was 19 (at that time births were uncommon before the age of 21). She felt lonely and lost. She was so sad," recalls Boon, in a recent telephone interview with China Daily.

I decided when I was around 8 years old, I would do anything I could to make her (his mother) laugh and be happy

Dany Boon, actor-director

"I decided when I was around 8 years old, I would do anything I could to make her laugh and be happy. I got lucky. It worked. She thought I was fun," adds the director, speaking from a hotel in the French city of Strasbourg, on the border with Germany.

His childhood wish ushered in the beginning of a decadeslong effort to become one of the most successful comedians in France.

His 2008 comedy hit Welcome to the Sticks sold up to 20 million tickets to top the all-time domestic box-office charts of French cinema, closely followed by James Cameron's 1997 disaster romance Titanic, France's best-selling movie of all time.

Since then, his directorial movies Nothing to Declare (2011) and Superchondriac (2014) both surpassed 5 million admissions, the bench mark for blockbusters enjoyed by French moviegoers.

His latest and fifth directorial feature, Raid Dingue, will arrive in Chinese mainland theaters on Friday.

The movie centers on an accident-prone trainee, who is striving to become the first woman in the previous all-male French elite police tactical unit known as RAID.

Created in 1985, RAID is an elite special forces unit of the French National Police tasked with defending the country in real life.

Speaking about the 105-minute comedy, Boon says he had the idea to make a police-themed movie a long time ago.

"But I needed a new idea, something modern," says the director, who also co-written the story with Sarah Kaminsky.

Originally conceiving the protagonist as a male character, Boon hesitated from doing so over concerns that the storyline would prove too similar to some earlier classics. He finally changed the concept for the film after meeting French actress Alice Pol, who starred in Boon's comedy Superchondriac.

French actor-director Boon with actress Alice Pol, who stars as the female police trainee in the upcoming film Raid Dingue, in which he plays a role as well. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Describing Pol as "funny and clumsy", Boon tailored the leading role for her, believing she can become "the little rock in the police team shoe".

In the movie, Pol plays a trainee named Johanna Pasquali, the daughter of the French interior minister who dreams of becoming a hero. She frequently causes trouble, from accidentally injuring the president to unintentionally leaking information to terrorists. But her determination and courage finally wins praise from those who once underestimated her.

To get firsthand details, Boon trained with RAID operatives for six months, building up his muscle mass and losing around 12 kilograms in the process.

He was with them when several deadly terrorist attacks took place in Europe, he says.

"They are amazing heroes, saving lives and protecting our freedom. They are so courageous and at the same time so humble. They deserved not only a successful comedy but also a true story about their bravery," says Boon.

With a keen interest in Chinese cinema, Boon reels off a dozen names, from action giants Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and award-winning directors Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee, to star comedians Ge You and Stephen Chow.

"In a certain way, I've been influenced by Chan's movies. I've loved him since I was a child. He is one of the best at mixing action with comedy," Boon observes.

A surprise: His favorite Chinese movie is the art-house drama starring Li Baotian Courthouse on Horseback (released with the title The Last Travel of Judge Feng in France), a serious tale about a judge in his 50s dealing with legal disputes in the mountainous villages of Yunnan province. The movie is even less well-known among Chinese moviegoers.

Earlier this year, his movie Raid Dingue held its international premiere at the 7th Beijing International Film Festival. Boon attended many of the screenings, and was seen taking photos of Chinese audiences in fits of laughter.

"Laughter is very important in your (Chinese) culture. I'd love to work with Chinese filmmakers. What we need is to find the right project and write a great screenplay that could please both Chinese and French audiences," he says.

Yet to encounter such an opportunity, Boon continues to focus on more familiar territory: by exploring the humor arising from family conflicts inspired by real-life situations.

His next movie is about a successful Parisian designer who is ashamed about his childhood, and his simple, proletarian family from northern France.

"He lies and pretends to be an orphan, until his mother goes to Paris to celebrate her 80th birthday followed by the whole family. It's due to be released in Europe in February," says the director.

Speaking about Hollywood, the powerful rival that seems to concern most Chinese filmmakers, Boon says his French counterparts are less influenced by the United States.

"We have a rich and diversified film industry in France, with a great system of financing. The big blockbusters pay a special tax to help finance smaller, independent productions, so moviegoers in France are used to being able to choose from different types of movies," he explains.

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