China's Top Rocker Cui Jian Set to Get 3D Concert Film

Cui Jian - Live Concert - 2010
AFP/Getty Images

Producer of "U2 3D" to bring Chinese rocker's symphonic show to life.

BEIJING – A 3D concert film and documentary on Cui Jian, China’s godfather of rock’n’roll, is nearing completion with editing help from the executive producer of U2 3D, the pioneering title in the budding genre of three-dimensional films celebrating great musicians.

Tentatively titled Stereo Symphony On the New Long March, the roughly 75-minute film will feature footage shot around two New Year’s 2010 concerts Cui gave in December at Beijing’s outdoor Workers' Stadium cut together with interviews with the rock legend and his fans.

Cui, who turns 50 in August, wrote songs such as Nothing to my Name and A Piece of Red Cloth, which both became anthems for many Chinese born before 1980, whose childhoods were poor and whose college years marked by turmoil when Beijing’s one-party government suppressed a pro-democracy movement in 1989.

“This won’t just be a ‘docu-concert.’ We’re trying to show the world that Cui Jian is just like a lot of Chinese, people who are resilient in the face of great challenges,” producer Bai Qiang, a technology and Internet entrepreneur and CEO of the film production start up 3D China, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Cui, who grew up in Beijing as the trumpet-playing son of ethnic Korean musicians and dancers, was accompanied in the December concerts by a 100-piece symphony orchestra on a multi-tiered stage that Bai says amplifies the film’s 3D effects.
Bai, a lifelong Cui fan, produced the film for just 5 million yuan ($761,000) with help from Cui himself, who declined money up front in exchange for a promise of any profits from the film.

South Korean 3D company Ocean Mango, whose homemade rigs were used to carry the 11 Sony EX cameras used in the three-day shoot, also donated its services against a promise of a share of any profits.

Editing help came from Michael Peyser, one of the lead 3D advisors on the 3ality’s 2008 experimental film U2 3D, which cost $15 million to make and grossed nearly $25 million.

“The Chinese 3D production sector will grow from this as more and more skilled workers learn and create for themselves. That growth in knowledge is coming fast,” said Peyser, who teaches film at the University of Southern California. “The involvement and creativity of Cui Jian will shine through and help open audiences all over China to 3D.”

The premium charged for 3D tickets to see movies on China’s rapidly growing number of screens – numbering only 6,200 nationwide by the end of December -- helped to swell the nation’s box office receipts 64 percent in 2010 to $1.5 billion.  The U.S. box office gross was nearly eight times larger in the same period from tickets sold to showings on 40,000 screens.

Bai hopes to have the Cui Jian documentary ready for release in June with help from a veteran private sector film distributor who is now working for one of China’s most active state-run film studios. She also happens to be a big Cui Jian fan.

To gather more historic footage for the documentary, Bai says he will talk with veteran Cui fan Victor Huey, a Chinese-American from New York City who has captured Cui in concert on film and video for the last 25 years and says he’s working on a film of his own.

“CJ is more than just a rocker,” Bai said. “He’s greater than U2. He’s somebody who, like so many of us, had to strive really hard to find our dreams, and who, just like a lot of us, got into trouble along the way. But we survived.”

During several periods in his career, China’s Communist Party barred Cui from public performance, perhaps because some of his lyrics were thought to provoke a questioning of authority. During one of those periods, in 1997, Cui defiantly played a summer concert on the grounds of the French Embassy School. Chinese fans climbed the walls to get in and join expatriate fans bewildered by the risk they were willing to take to see Cui play live.

The new film also will include interviews with Cui and his fans, one of whom, Zheng Xinlong, the owner of a Japanese restaurant in downtown Beijing, has for years been performing Cui Jian cover songs for small groups as a hobby, Bai said.

“We want to show the old and young can love Cui Jian. Chinese from the post-’80 and post-’90 group of kids will get this film, too.  We hope the 3D will help draw their interest,” Bai said.

That could be a challenge. Because of Chinese authorities’ historical wariness of individual expression in the audience at rock concerts, especially those held in the capital, the footage of a rather subdued Cui audience, huddled against the winter cold in big, stifling jackets, has proven hard to work with, Bai said.

“One young fan in the VIP section kept jumping up and shouting and security pushed him down into this seat,” Bai said, adding that it might be hard to include footage of that incident and get it past film censors.

Bai also will release a 3D Blu-ray DVD of the film, trying to appeal to members of China’s newly wealthy upper middle class, people who are roughly the same age as Cui Jian himself.

“We think this film will capture that nothing that’s happened in the last 30 years has changed Cui Jian’s spirit,” Bai said. “We can all relate to that.”