'Color' hopes for clean success

Angel Wings production riding on actress Yao Chen

BEIJING -- “Color Me Love,” a Chinese take on “The Devil Wears Prada,” has been approved for release on Oct. 28, said producer Ben Ji, who hopes that newcomer Yao Chen’s “girl next door” image will boost the romantic comedy in a marketplace suffering from scandal fatigue.

In China, where ticket sales are soaring and the audience ever more demanding, gone are the days when a cast of nobodies could catapult a film like “Crazy Stone” into surprise sleeper status. That was so 2005.

Gone, too, are the days when moviegoers -- and China’s 420 million web users -- hold back their public criticism about celebrities. Fairly or not, well-known actresses such as Zhang Ziyi these days risk being dragged through the mud, leaving them with as many detractors as fans.

The 30-year-old Yao, on the other hand -- whose fledgling career took off in 2009 when she starred in the TV spy serial “Lurk” (Qian Fu) -- enjoys a squeaky-clean image. At least for now.

The Fujian native married her actor sweetheart from their days as Beijing Film Academy students. She recently signed with Huayi Brothers talent management, adorns the covers of at least two of China’s current newsstand glossies, and although she’s not yet known on the big screen, she is among the most-followed celebrities on leading microblog, Xinlang Weibo.

“Without a star, you’re dead at the boxoffice and we think Yao is just right because she’s untouched by scandal. There’s no gossip, just adoration,” Ji told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Color” is the first film in the urban romance trilogy Angel Wings is producing in hopes of attracting the swelling ranks of young, upwardly-mobile urban consumers who boosted boxoffice sales 86% in the first half of 2010. “This is a genre that’s censorship-safe,” Ji said.

And that’s important to Ji and “Color” co-producer Terence Chang of Lion Rock in Los Angeles at a time when media regulators are shouting out support for “appropriate” content.

The producers also are counting on Yao’s fresh rep to help the film look more expensive than it cost to make. A number of luxury brands trying to expand sales in China agreed to surround the wholesome Yao on screen in her role as the ad agency up-and-comer in “Color.”

Under the guidance of director Alexi Tan, brands such as Versace, Hermes and Diesel fashions, an Aston Martin car and Cartier jewelry all show up in “Colors,” giving it the look Chinese fans equate with star power.

None of the brands paid Angel Wings to be seen on screen, and none asked for logo exposure but -- in two cases, Ji said -- they covered production costs Angel Wings couldn’t fit into its $3 million budget.

Ji said that Hermes covered the cost to rent space at the Park Hyatt hotel for a party scene, and that Versace allowed the “Color” cast to be shot on the set of a fashion show it held in a Beijing art gallery district.

“Color” will come out the same day as a homegrown action film called “Wind Blast” (Xi Feng Lie). Ji said he hopes the films will mirror the twin successes of North America’s current romance and action hits, “Eat, Pray, Love,” and “The Expendables.”

“Five years ago when I was working in Hollywood I went to the movies and wondered when China would see more than one film released on one weekend.  Now it happens all the time, with four or five movies competing for attention all at once,” Ji said.

Next up in Angel Wings urban love trilogy is the $3.5 million China Film Group co-production “The Law of Gravitation,” by sophomore writer-director Zhao Tianyu (“Deadly Delicious”).  Just wrapped, that film follows four couples in different stages of romance and is slated for an early 2011 release by Dadi Media. Stars include Karen Mok and Leon Dai.

Angel Wings' third planned film is “Beijing Holiday,” now in rewrite with two little-known screenwriters and looking for a U.S. co-producer.  Next year, Ji said, the company hopes to make four to five films—three as the lead producer and one or two as co-productions.