Chinese film ‘Be Somebody’ becomes post-National-Day hit
Unraveling a mystery
Published: Nov 22, 2021 06:08 PM
Promotional material for <em>Be Somebody</em> Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for Be Somebody Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for <em>Be Somebody</em> Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for Be Somebody Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Few predicted that the small budget Chinese suspense/comedy movie Be Somebody would perform so well in terms of word of mouth and box office during the post-National-Day movie season in the Chinese mainland, especially considering the near silence surrounding Hollywood and overseas blockbusters released around the same time such as US epic sci-fi movie Dune

In the 12 days since its release, Be Somebody has grossed 393 million yuan ($61.6 million) and earned a 7.6/10 on Chinese media review site Douban from more than 135,000 reviews, while the box office of Dune only reached 248 million yuan after 32 days and British spy 007 film No Time to Die took 25 days to gross 390 million yuan in the mainland.

The movie's director Liu Xunzimo and scriptwriter Libashen told the Global Times that they never imagined that the film would be hailed by so many and get such a warm welcome. 

"We hoped that the box office of the movie could cover our budget and that we would get the support of some fans, but unexpectedly, there are more people than we imagined expressing fondness for our film," Libashen said.

What helped the movie to break through the siege of other films, both domestic and abroad, to become a dark horse in the mainland?

Gathering the players 

Set during the Republic of China (1912-1949), the film tells the story of a group of six B-tier individuals in the film industry such as a director known for terrible films, an aging actor and actress and a martial artist who only worked as a stuntman in Hollywood.

A businessman gathers the six together at a villa one night and asks them to adapt a real murder case into a movie that he hopes will save his failing studio. 

As the group starts working on the script at the villa, the scriptwriter, a former reporter who was kicked out of the journalist industry after angering some officials, accidently discovers that the businessman has also invited the man who committed the murders to the villa to help recreate the crime.

Audiences are left to speculate about what really happened in the case as they follow the characters in the movie, which swings between scary and funny.

Additionally, the film has a philosophical bent when it comes to commenting on the film industry itself. As the story unfolds, the six discuss their ideals about what movies should be, the need for truth and the pursuit of fame and wealth.

"There are fewer movies today that are willing to talk about kindness and faith, but I think it is important to present these two core spirits in commercial movies. The director is sensitive when it comes to narrating the related stories and I gave full marks to the film because it still insists on discussing the conception," one reviewer commented on Douban.

The courage to look inward 

The movie began with an idea, which was to film a meeting discussing the creation of a play.

The production team gathered together and figured out a creative form for the movie - having the entire story take place in a villa. 

Work on the script began in 2018 and finished in 2020, after which filming began. When polishing the script over those three years, the production team felt it was important to make the story seem reasonable, Ke Da, the film's scriptwriter and the actor playing the role of the martial artist, told the Global Times.

Libashen said that when creating the script, they were trying to rethink their original intention for making films from a personal perspective.

"Regardless of how wonderful the other plots in our movie are, we insisted on searching our own hearts and conveying something to audiences even if few audiences like this part," Libashen said.

He did not expect that many Chinese moviegoers would not only understand but also applaud what they were trying to express.

The director emphasized that the film calls on people to pick up their faith and kindness again and not become stonehearted.

"Li Jiahui [the journalist-turned-scriptwriter in the film] can abandon his principle of always telling the truth to help a woman flee from hurt, which shows his kindness," Liu said.

Besides these two core concepts, the movie also covers the issue of gender equality.

In the film Su Mengdie, the aging actress, speaks up for a singer and all the women like her who are pursuing a career: "She just wanted to stand on the stage and sing. Why is that wrong?"

These warmhearted lines touched many audiences.