China’s great voyages of Zheng He to head to big screen, says director Wuershan
Voyages of Zheng He to head to big screen: Wuershan
Published: Sep 21, 2023 12:10 AM

 Chinese director Wuershan Photo: Courtesy of Golden Panda Awards

Chinese director Wuershan Photo: Courtesy of Golden Panda Awards

Chinese people have long had a profound fascination with the ocean, giving rise to numerous stories and a deep connection with the sea. These maritime tales have served as inspiration for ancient literary works such as the Classic of Mountains and Seas, or Shanhaijing, and the Romance of the Flowers in the Mirror, or Jinghuayuan. However, these subjects have received relatively little attention and few discussions.

"My next project focuses on Zheng He's epic seven voyages to the Western Ocean [the Indian Ocean] and bringing China's maritime adventures to the world," Chinese director Wuershan told the Global Times on Wednesday after attending the Director's Chair section at the First Golden Panda International Cultural Forum in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

The Classic of Mountains and Seas is a revered Chinese text that compiles mythic geography and descriptions of mythical creatures. Romance of the Flowers in the Mirror is a fantasy novel written by Li Ruzhen in 1827 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It follows the magical adventures of its central character as he travels by ship.

"In traditional Chinese culture, there is a rich tapestry of classic stories like these, along with techniques and works brimming with the aesthetic value of traditional art," noted the director, whose film Creation of The Gods I: Kingdom of Storms not only received praise from audiences but also performed exceptionally well at the box office. The film became one of the summer season's biggest hits in the Chinese mainland, earning more than 2.6 billion yuan ($356 million).

Both audiences and film critics have drawn comparisons between the world of Shang Dynasty (c.1600BC-1046BC) depicted in the film and the Marvel-like Fengshen universe inspired by the Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi.

Interestingly, the director had a similar idea nearly 10 years ago when the project was in its early stages. Fengshen, with its "richly developed worldview and well-defined characters," presented the opportunity to expand the realm of gods such as Ne Za, Yang Jian, and Lei Zhenzi.   

The director holds Fengshen in high regard for its rarity and value. Wuershan expressed his aspiration to use films "to create a comprehensive Chinese mythological epic, emphasizing the significance of Chinese history and mythology in the nation's classic arts." He noted that the success of the Fengshen Trilogy will ensure the steady development of more productions.

Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms was also screened in cinemas worldwide, starting in Australia and later in the UK and North America, where it received a warm reception.

"For audiences outside China, it's an entirely new story with a fresh interpretation that leaves them marveling," Wuershan told the Global Times. "At its core, the story is about the bond between father and son, a universal theme that resonates with people worldwide, as well as the growth of a young hero, with which they are very familiar."Much credit for this success goes to his international cast and the spirit of international cooperation. 

"We had team members from New Zealand, the US, Russia and Spain. Film professionals from around the world were drawn to the Chinese mythological narrative. They came to China to bring to life these classic Chinese mythological stories, a testament to the allure of Chinese culture, its openness and its inclusiveness."

On Wednesday morning, Wuershan engaged in a dialogue with US director and producer Rob Minkoff, UK film director and writer Malcolm Clarke, and Kishor Jawade, the Indian secretary-general of the Musicians Federation of India.

In Wuershan's view, film is "an art form that thrives through collaboration across countries and cultures." Indeed, it is only through cooperation with diverse cultures and nations that "we can nurture enduring vitality and creativity."

Events like the First Golden Panda Awards and the International Cultural Forum are crucial, as they facilitate international exchanges and the merging of diverse cultures, which in turn infuse the art of filmmaking with continuous vitality and creativity.