Luc Besson seeks salvation for sci-fi film ‘Valerian’ in Chinese mainland

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/21 18:43:39

Luc Besson Photo: Li Hao/GT

 Kris Wu as Sergeant Neza Photo: IC 


Promotional material for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Photo: IC

It has been nearly two months since the last English-language blockbuster debuted in the Chinese mainland. But starting this Friday, imported films are set to take on the mainland market once again, with Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets leading the charge.

Based on the French science fiction comic series Valérian and Laureline, Besson's sci-fi action adventure flick was released in the US on July 21 and in France on July 26. Receiving mixed views from critics and a mediocre box-office take worldwide, the film is now looking to the Chinese mainland market to hopefully cover the costs of the $177.2 million production. While China has previously saved films that bombed at the US box office, such as last year's Warcraft, the sci-fi film is sure to see stiff competition from other imports such as the well-received action film Baby Driver and Pixar's animated film Cars 3

On Sunday, Besson sat down with Chinese media at a press event in Beijing to promote the film.    

High confidence

While most sci-fi films that have dominated the big screen in recent years have mostly come from Hollywood, Besson is confident that Valerian - produced by Besson's own independent French studio EuropaCorp - beats most of them.

"It doesn't matter if you like or don't like the film. In terms of imagination, creativity and ideas, there is 10 times more imagination in this one film than any film from Hollywood in the last 10 years."

Calling James Cameron's sci-fi blockbuster Avatar the "best film I ever seen," and praising the first Star Wars film as "great and wonderful," the French director went on to attribute the imagination on display in Valerian to all the people behind the project.

"I am saying it not pretentiously, because it's not me, it's the people who worked on the film. And I thank them, because their imagination is crazy," Besson told the Global Times.

Call for diversity

Of particular note to Chinese audiences is the addition of Chinese pop star Kris Wu in the film.

Rising to fame as a singer and dancer in the K-pop group EXO, the 26-year-old Chinese star began his acting career three years ago. While Wu's popularity in China is beyond doubt, his acting ability in the supporting role of Sergeant Neza was brought into question by critics who have seen Valerian

When asked at the conference if he had chosen Wu as a way of catering to the Chinese market, Besson said, "To be honest when I met Kris I didn't know at all that he was popular."

Besson further explained that because the film is set in the 28th century, he knew Chinese audiences would challenge him if no Chinese characters appeared in the film. 

Emphasizing the need for diversity in film, Besson remarked, "You know, I don't want one cinema. I am for diversity. I love the Chinese films, I love Italian films, the French ones, the American ones, the English ones. I think the more diversity we have, the richer we are."

"'You need to eat a little bit of everything,' my doctor said that to me," he joked.  

A competitive market

While Besson earned a great reputation for himself with early works such as La Femme Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994), his recent films like The Family (2013) and Lucy (2014) have received a more lukewarm welcome.

The same has been true of Valerian. On film site IMDB and review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Valerian holds a 6.7/10 and 5.5/10 respectively. But what's worse for the film is that it has only earned a total of $38.83 million in the US and $155.25 million worldwide so far, according to box-office tracker Box Office Mojo. 

According to a report from Forbes, one of the major factors behind the film's poor North American performance was its release time. The film released alongside with war film Dunkirk, which had almost all the same selling points as Valerian and at the same time "monopolized all the IMAX screens and most of the Premium Large Format auditoriums" with the consensus among audiences being "You must see this movie on a giant movie screen." 

Fortunately for Valerian, the film will be able to avoid a face-to-face confrontation with Dunkirk in the Chinese mainland as Jonathan Nolan's war film will be released the following week.

This does not mean the film won't face any competition as Baby Driver and Cars 3 release the same day. 

Baby Driver is sure to be a big competitor as it has received great reviews overseas. However, the Chinese cut of the film is listed as being four minutes shorter than the original version, which could add an unknown variable to the mix. 

Newspaper headline: Last, best hope

Posted in: FILM

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