Director Chen Daming Talks about China's Film Audiences

"What Women Want" Remake Helmer Discusses Bona IPO and China's Need for "Big" Movies

Writer-director Chen Daming is considered a young rising talent in the Chinese film world. After the IPO of Bona Film Group, the first Chinese film firm to list in the U.S., he sat down at the Nasdaq building in Times Square to talk to The Hollywood Reporter's New York bureau chief Georg Szalai about his remake of What Women Want, the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt Hollywood film, the Chinese film market, future plans and his relationship with Bona.

THR: What is your main focus here today and can you please talk a little bit about your relationship with Bona?

Chen Daming: We are here for the IPO because we want to support Bona, which invested in and produced this movie. I like the company. They give me tons of freedom in terms of creativity. And I want to be here to support the first Chinese film company going public on Nasdaq.

You mentioned the freedom you get from Bona. How is being a director in China different?

Chen: Being a director for a Hollywood studio you pretty much don’t always have full creative control. With Chinese companies, especially Bona, they let me do the film the way I want to do the film. It is a very director-driven industry in China. The audience goes to see a movie because of directors along with the stars. Most major companies pay respect to directors. I am also the writer of the movie. The feedback I got was very moderate. All they did was suggest certain things, but it was up to me to accept. It made me really responsible for it, which made me feel I have passion for it.

What was working with Gong Li and Andy Lau like?

Chen: I worked with the two biggest stars in Asia. I was very worried beforehand. I was afraid it would be a disaster. How would I handle this? It was a fantastic experience. We became very close. Being an actor myself, I think I understand actors better than most Chinese directors. You know how sensitive actors can be. For Gong Li, this is a completely different role. She never played a business woman before. When we worked on the script, I realized she is a real woman and sensitive, polite and has a sense of humor. She is not what you see in other movies. I wanted to see her in this role – the real Gong Li. The same thing with Andy. He is from Hong Kong, and this man is supposed to be from mainland China. I wanted Andy to change. I told him I want you to become a mainland actor. Andy is awesome. He is so physical and brings out the quality of the character.

Why did you pick two big stars?

Chen: It is very hard to make small movies in China these days. If you have a small company, they also invest a small amount in a film. And Chinese audiences these days like to go watch bigger films. They don’t go to the movies every weekend, and if they go, they want to see a bigger film. Smaller movies just don’t do well. The companies don’t really value them too much, and the media don’t care much. From bigger stars, the advantage you get are media people. They will go crazy for it. That’s one of the reasons for me to work with big stars. This is my first big film after two smaller, more artsy, independent films. With this one, I definitely get much attention from media and audience.

What are you doing next?

Chen: I have three projects lined up. My last two films were dramas or dramedies. This is the first romantic comedy for me. In the original, Mel Gibson was a chauvinist. In this film, I made the character more of a really selfish guy. Now everybody is asking me to do more romantic comedies, and I say listen, I don’t do romantic comedies. I would rather do every movie differently to experience different things.

Can you tell us about one of the three projects?

Chen: I want to do a swordsman movie taking place in the 14th-15th century. It’s a fun movie. It’s action, fighting. China is just so different from what it used to be. I am not seeing anything traditional anymore. I like to do movies about the past. My last movie was about a small town, ancient city disappearing from modern society.

What is the swordsman film called and when can we see it?

Chen: Seven Steps. We will probably start filming next summer. I haven’t decided [on a studio]. It is still in the script stage. I like being a writer-director.

How important is it for you and the actors that What Women Want plays in the U.S. – at least in limited form - thanks to a partnership with AMC?

Chen: It is hard for movies to travel, especially comedies. It is a remake of an American comedy, and Paramount is also behind it. To see a movie travel here, where everyone want their movies to travel, is great. This movie is about contemporary China. Period kung fu films have it harder to go abroad. I am very excited.

How tricky is making a remake? How do you approach it?

Chen: I thought at first it is already a movie, so why remake it? I thought about reversing the roles. But I found it very difficult to reverse, because with men, you guess pretty much everything. You don’t need to guess what is in his heart. There is not much of a deep thing to guess. When I wrote it, I felt this movie almost fits into China better than America. American women are often very direct. Chinese women don’t really say what’s on their mind, which makes the movie more interesting. That may make the movie even better in China. And these days, 70%-80% are remakes or adapted from a book or sequels. So, I feel a remake isn’t a bad thing at all.

Are there many remakes in China?

Chen: Chinese people aren’t so familiar with the remake. But remakes are hard. How do you do something different? It may be harder than the original film.