Comedy director tells story of rural woman shaking up local govt in new movie

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-17 20:13:01

Chinese director Feng Xiaogang once again examines social issues with new film

A scene from I Am Not Madame Bovary Photo: Courtesy of Bravo Entertainment


Feng Xiaogang (Left) and Fan Bingbing Photo: Courtesy of Bravo Entertainment

After portraying an elderly Beijing gangster in Mr. Six, Golden Horse Best Actor Award winner Feng Xiaogang is heading back to the director's chair for an adaptation of I Am Not Madame Bovary, a novel by Mao Dun Literature Prize winner Liu Zhenyun. The film will mark the first time Feng and Liu have worked together after their film Back to 1942 (2012).

Told from the a woman's perspective, I Am Not Madame Bovary focuses on a rural woman named Li Xuelian. After being falsely accused of having an affair by her husband, she begins a legal journey from her small town to the big city and on to the capital over a period of 20 years to prove her innocence. Along the way, her case shakes up local government and results in a number of officials having to step down from their positions. 

Calling the film a comedy, Feng explained at a press conference for the film on Wednesday that while some comedies make audiences laugh with witty dialogue or jokes, I Am Not Madame Bovary's sense of humor springs from the truth that is portrayed in the story as it shows the absurdness that can exist in reality. 

A similar story is seen in Zhang Yimou's Golden Lion winning film The Story of Qiu Ju. However, Feng explained that he has figured out a unique way to separate his new film from the old, the film will be projected as a round circle on cinemas' rectangular screens.

"[This round circle] is like the eye of a third party, it makes one feel like they are an observer," Feng explained.

Market worries

I Am Not Madame Bovary stars actress Fan Bingbing, who has been held up as an icon of fashion and elegance in recent years.

"Because she is so different from the role, that leaves a lot of room for creative interpretation," Liu said at the conference, explaining how Feng convinced him to bring Fan in on the project. 

Although the film brings together a famed director, a scriptwriter and a leading actress, there are still those who are concerned that its focus on social realities may affect its market performance. Feng and Liu's last cooperative blockbuster Back to 1942, which had a budget of 200 million yuan ($30 million), was a similar situation. Although it too featured a group of A-list stars, the small 360 million yuan box office was a huge blow to the veteran director, who had been seen as one of the most bankable directors in China.

However, it seems Feng isn't that concerned with box office performance.

"I have made a dozen or more films. It took me three years to decide to make another film because at this age I'm looking for a film worth making," the 58-year-old filmmaker said, adding that I Am Not Madame Bovary fits in with the ideals of President Xi Jinping, who once said at a forum that art works should not be slaves of the market, but explorations of life that can stand the test of time.

"I Am Not Madame Bovary is a work that will be able to lead the market and at the same time reflect the lives of Chinese as they deal with social change."

With anti-corruption one of the biggest focuses of the Chinese government, it seems works that sing the same tune are likely to be applauded by the authorities.

Earlier this month, Feng's Mr. Six was recognized by officials for its ability to be a commercial success while also understanding national policy. The film featured a scene in which Feng's character sends evidence about a corrupt official to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC.

"Many production companies are reluctant to invest in non-commercial films. Working with Huayi Brothers for so many years… I have been spoiled a bit, which have been very fortunate for me," Feng said, expressing his gratitude towards Huayi Brothers, which was also the studio behind Back to 1942.

"But I should also thank audiences, who have given me the power to talk about what I want. Additionally, audiences' tolerance of different films has allowed Chinese films to not be slaves to the market."

Newspaper headline: A return to reality

Posted in: Film

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