EXCLUSIVE: Writer-director Chen Sicheng this past fall completed Detective Chinatown 2, the sequel to his 2016 hit that grossed $126M worldwide and landed in the Top 10 of all films at the Middle Kingdom box office that year. What makes this sequel particular is two-fold: it’s one of the most anticipated movies set for the lucrative Chinese New Year period, and it’s the first film created and managed by Chinese companies to be shot in the U.S. in collaboration with the unions. I recently chatted with Chen about his experience and how Chinese filmmakers can get their movies seen outside Asia.
A buddy pic, Detective Chinatown 2 is produced by Wanda, Shine Asia and China Film Group. It’s set for a February 16 release to kick off the Spring Festival, and sees the return of Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran, with Xiao Yang, Chinese Australian actress Natasha Liu Bordizzo and comedian Wang Xun joining the cast. Also joining are Michael Pitt and Japan’s Satoshi Tsumabuki.
The story is centered on a New York wedding which becomes an international detective competition (check out the subtitled trailer above). Both films mix comedy and mystery in what Chen says he hopes will become a series à la the Sherlock Holmes franchise. This one has been sold across South East Asia with North America under negotiation.
Chen tells me he learned a lot filming in New York City for 40 days, praising the unions for keeping things “very streamlined.” While the budget was significantly bigger on this film than the $15M spent for the first one, a disadvantage in the U.S. was the cost. “In China it’s much cheaper than shooting in the U.S.,” Chen contends. But he really wanted to use the backdrop of “the biggest, most famous Chinatown in the world.”
And he didn’t limit himself to Canal Street (which may have helped push up the cost — see tweet below). The production also shot in Times Square, at the New York Public Library, in Grand Central and on Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Given that Chinese films have yet to become major travelers outside of Asia, I asked Chen, whose other credits include Beijing Love Story, what his country’s filmmakers can do to help export their movies. “Because there are a lot of young generation film directors, they should try to appeal to the international market. All should strive to work towards that. Right now, China is growing and becoming stronger in the world. However, Chinese films are not on the same level yet. Years ago, Hong Kong films were achieving that status and were accepted by a global audience. My goal is to get my films to the American or global market and it should be the same for young directors.”
Back at home, he says, Chinese audience taste “has been changing, they keep upping their standards. The reason is that it’s much easier right now not just for American films but others to come into the Chinese market, including movies from India, Thailand and Japan. Chinese filmmakers are competing with international films so it’s very important for filmmakers to learn very quickly.”
Turning back to Detective Chinatown 2, Chen notes that it’s relatable because it’s “not just a comedy. It has a lot of different elements.” That includes mystery, action and martial arts. A lot of the comedy is visual which had the American production team members laughing on set. “They understood what was going on,” says Chen.