We’ve increasingly seen Hollywood incorporate Chinese elements into studio films looking to take a bigger bite of the Middle Kingdom box office. Some attempts have seemed shoe-horned while others more organic. Either way, in general, it tends to work. Now, with local pics taking a hit at the Chinese box office in the past few months as audiences tastes grow more sophisticated, an upcoming Mandarin-language pic is using a similar tactic, but in the reverse: employing a mix of proven Middle Kingdom and international talent to give home auds a Chinese movie with a Hollywood sheen. This is a burgeoning trend we can expect to see more of.
Wished is a comedy from Beijing-based Chinese-American helmer Dayyan Eng (aka Wu Shixian), that’s being shot on a $15M budget for release in spring 2017. Backed in part by powerhouses Edko Films (Monster Hunt) and Union Films (The Mermaid), the film’s talent includes screenwriter Justin Malen (Office Christmas Party, Bastards) and Luc Besson’s frequent cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast (Lucy).
The comedy is a return to the genre for Eng after his last pic, the Kevin Spacey-led suspense drama Inseparable. His best-known film, Waiting Alone, screened in Cannes in 2004 and starred Li Bingbing and Yu Xia. The latter also stars in Wished.
Malen has recently written Paramount/DreamWorks’ upcoming Office Christmas Party and the Warner Bros/DMG/Alcon comedy Bastards which is due for January. He also shares credit on Paramount’s 2017 big screen take of Baywatch.
The Wished story centers on a 30-something career guy who meets a magical celestial being at a point when he is disillusioned with his life. She starts making all his wishes come true — including those from childhood. Yan Ni (A Woman, A Gun, And A Noodle Shop) also stars with K-pop celeb Victoria Song and comedian Pan Binlong. There are cameos too, from some of China’s best-known actors including Warcraft and Go Away Mr Tumor‘s Daniel Wu.
DP Arbogast’s credits also include The Professional and The Fifth Element. Production design is by Joseph C Nemec III (Terminator 2, Twister). Original music is from Eric Lee Harper (Inseparable, Waiting Alone) and Nathan Wang (Breakup Buddies). They are combined with Tang Yi (Looper) and Liu Xinghua as costume designers; Zhang Yang (Inseparable) as sound designer; and VFX supervisor Zhou Weiyi (Mr Six).
This concentrated effort to bring the quality of Hollywood production values to a largely Chinese movie was also recently employed by Jackie Chan/Johnny Knoxville-starrer Skiptrace, which has grossed about $134M to date in the Middle Kingdom. That film was partly in English. Captain America: Civil War helmers Joe and Anthony Russo are working on a Chinese superhero movie via their China-based film company Anthem, with an October start date, and a local director.
To be sure, there is a host of talent working today in China which has proven successful at home. But the efforts going into creating the international scale of these projects may work to differentiate from the fully local pics of late.
Eng’s Beijing Colordance Pictures is producing Wished. Eng and Malen are repped by DMG; Malen is also repped by Verve and attorney Jeff Frankel. We’ll keep an eye on this one as production progresses.