Films shifting from the extraordinary to the ordinary

China's audiences are maturing. Gone are the days where stars and stunts ruled. "Ah Jiu," a story about an abandoned boy and his life challenges, is a sign of that change.
Ti Gong

Director Tao Hai gives instructions to the lead actor at the shooting site of "Ah Jiu" in Shanghai's Songjiang District.

Although the domestic silver screen is replete with mega-productions these days such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Legend of the Naga Pearls,” some filmmakers still stick to making real-life movies.

“Ah Jiu,” about the lives of ordinary people, began shooting last Friday in suburban Shanghai's Songjiang District.

Directed by Tao Hai, this is a story about love and redemption. Chen Jiu, nicknamed Ah Jiu, a young man who was abandoned by his father during childhood, faces new challenges in life when he meets another boy, Duoduo, who has similar experience and embarks on a journey to escort him back home.

“It is a story about ‘small potatoes,’ but it can inspire everyone to reflect on their own lives,” says Tao. “It is not an easy subject for a filmmaker. The challenge lies in depicting the real facets of humanity while having the story connect to the audiences.”

It took He Xin, a young scriptwriter, about two years to conceive, interview subjects and create the script. He believes that a good story is the foundation of a good film.
Set in a small city in southwest China, the film will be shot in Shanghai, Chongqing, and Longquan in Zhejiang Province.

It will feature traditional Chinese culture and the country’s rapid social changes. Shooting is scheduled to finish in December, and the film is supposed to hit the screens across the country next year.

It has long been a dream for Tao, a well-known TV host and director of stage productions, to make a simple and sincere film about the lives and emotions of ordinary people.

The story of the main character, Ah Jiu, who comes from the bottom of society, impresses Tao. The young guy lives a difficult life but never yields to the pressures and uncertainty of the future. He suffers unbelievable pain and hardships but never gives up hope.

“Every person has gone through the darkness in life,” Tao says. “I am so sure that the struggle and courage of the character can move them.”

China’s box-office sales growth sharply slowed last year, and films adapted from popular online novels are gradually losing appeal.

Insiders say the industry faces the problem of short-term popularity of films based on famous online novels, especially time-travel fantasies, romance and historical epics. Young viewers need something new and in-depth.

Some realistic films have got good box-office results and critical acclaims, including Ann Hui’s “The Aunt’s Post-Modern Life,” about an ordinary yet remarkable retired woman who still has a passion for life, art and love; Li Yu’s “Buddha Mountain,” a story about the power of love; and Diao Yinan’s thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.”

In Tao’s eyes, the small-budget “Ah Jiu” also has the potential to attract the post-1990s generation, who take up the largest proportion of cinema-goers.

“The portrayal of ordinary lives and humanity is an eternal subject of cinematography,” Tao says. “In addition to commercial blockbusters with stunning visual stunts, the Chinese film industry is also in need of more excellent realistic and artistic productions to help audiences to reflect on life.

“We hope that realistic movies will develop their own loyal fan base, which will also help to facilitate more diversified and prosperous industry,” he adds.

Producer Chen Junjun, founder of Somersault Cloud Films, says Chinese audience's tastes are changing gradually, moving away from star-studded casts and daring stunts to focusing more on content and depth.

“A good story is the basic criteria for our productions,” Chen says. “Content is king. We hope to see more powerful real-life stories being told.”

The post-1990s generation, in Chen’s eyes, is more curious and open to varied genres and subjects. They need inspiring realistic films.

Ti Gong

Xu Qianqing (left) and Zhu Xinrui play the lead roles in "Ah Jiu."

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