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FEATURE: Chinese directors take a different take on heroes.

BEIJING, March 5 Kyodo

Chinese movie star, and risk-taking director, Jiang Wen does not like his famous compatriot director Zhang Yimou's new martial arts movie ''Hero.''

''I don't enjoy watching martial arts movies. They are too simplistic. I like movies that have scripts that hold your interest from beginning to end, not like a cigarette, which you forget about after you have finished smoking it,'' said Jiang, 40, drawing on his own cigarette.

In Zhang's Hero, superhero kung fu practitioners leap into the air, fight each other while flying over lakes and beat back waves of incoming arrows with their hands.

It is evident from ''Missing Gun'' -- a movie that has put Jiang back onto China's movie screens after a three-year absence and is due for release in Japan from late spring -- that he is more interested in the travails of ordinary people than the exploits of heroes.

In Missing Gun, Jiang portrays a policeman in a laid-back provincial village in China's southern Guizhou Province who wakes up after his sister's wedding with a formidable hangover and a shocking revelation -- his police pistol has gone missing.

Hollywood aficionados thirsty for the action and carnage of excitement measured in terms of the U.S. gun-toting celluloid society may be disappointed with Missing Gun.

Two people are shot dead, but the focus of this quirky, low-key movie follows the complications of people's relations and the simple bravery of the befuddled policeman who quizzes many of the town's eccentric characters while searching for his missing gun.

It is only in the film's last surprising scene that the henpecked, fatigued family man shows he is willing to lose everything to recover his gun.

''I'm tired of Hollywood movies, since they are so bloody unnatural. A lot of the beautiful women in those movies have had plastic surgery,'' Jiang told Kyodo News.

Jiang said he had no desire to tap into the recent kung fu movie craze sweeping the West, fueled partly by a number of U.S.-made films starring Hong Kong action king Jackie Chan and Chinese kung fu star Jet Li, who also features in Hero.

Some critics have suggested that in making Hero, Zhang Yimou has tried to cash in on the global box office success of Taiwanese director Ang Lee's ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' which won four Academy Awards in 2001.

The release late last year of Hero marked Zhang's first foray into the fantasy world of kung fu. It further distances him from the days when he was known internationally as a dissident director, since his earlier films were banned by movie censors.

This time around, China's state-owned media splashed Zhang's new movie across its print and electronic outlets, helping it become China's highest-grossing domestic film after just a month in theaters, raking in $24 million at the box office after opening in mid-December.

Evidently, Chinese authorities liked Hero's central theme, which stresses the importance of national unity. In the movie, an assassin decides to abandon his plot to kill China's first and famously brutal emperor after conceding that only the Qin emperor can unify China.

Jiang Wen is less popular with the Chinese authorities.

He is evidently happy to be back on the silver screen after being effectively banned from appearing in Chinese movies for a couple of years after an antiwar movie he directed raised the authorities' ire in its portrayal of Japan's wartime occupation of China.

''Devils on the Doorstep'' won Jiang the Grand Prix at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, but today it still cannot be shown in China -- with the exception of pirated DVDs -- ostensibly because Jiang did not gain Chinese film censors' approval to enter the movie at Cannes.

It is also likely that censors did not like Jiang's comic, brutal and ambiguous picture of peasants who have to decide whether or not they should execute a captured Japanese soldier and his Chinese interpreter, along with the unfortunate repercussions that follow their decision.

Devils on the Doorstep crossed many boundaries of official comfort, and veered from the usual Chinese film portrayals of those dark days of China's modern history as cruel Japanese soldiers being beaten back by the brave solidarity of Chinese communist soldiers.

While Jiang is careful to avoid criticizing Zhang's film Hero, Lu Chuan, the 32-year-old director of Missing Gun, is less generous.

''It seems Zhang Yimou wants to give us a lesson on how to make a movie, but the disappointing result is just a shallow pastiche of colorful scenes,'' said Lu.

''Although Missing Gun has done well at the box office, I am also disappointed with it. In retrospect, the second part of the movie seems to lose the vitality it starts with,'' he added, mixing modesty with his lack of circumspection towards Zhang's effort.

Missing Gun is Lu's first commercial film and took only 39 days to film.

The aim of the movie is not to glorify heroes but to portray ordinary life in China and to depict the troubled policeman's ''walk through darkness,'' said Lu, who worked as an interpreter for the Chinese People's Liberation Army before turning to movie making.

''The policeman is strong and he is a good family man, but like many Chinese men he is under a lot of pressure. It is not easy for men living in China today. They face a lot of pressure from their responsibilities to society and to their families,'' he said.

Lu said he also had to spend a long time ''walking through darkness'' in bringing his idea to the screen.

Lu worked on the script for Missing Gun for two years after graduating from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy in 1998. Despite numerous attempts to find a financial backer, he was unsuccessful until he met Jiang Wen.

''I really have to thank Jiang Wen. He was the one who finally helped me to fund the film,'' he said.

Lu has already begun filming his next feature film, set in China's remote far western Gansu Province, bordering Tibet.

It is about heroes -- not the spectacular exploits of fictional kung fu fighters -- but the true story of the unpaid efforts of Tibetan minority people, sometimes involving the sacrifice of their lives, to stop illegal hunters from poaching in their ancestral home.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Mar 10, 2003
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