Southern Weekly in conversation with Chen Daoming

Chen Daoming in Aftershock. Image source Southern Weekly

Chen Daoming (陈道明) is one of the most venerated actors in China, working in TV and film since the ‘80s. His roles include Fang Hung-chien (方鸿渐) in the 1990 TV adaptation of Fortress Besieged (围城) by Qian Zhongshu (钱钟书). Lately though, his more commercial roles include the emperor in Zhang Yimou’s Hero (英雄) and the retired People’s Liberation Army officer in Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock (唐山大地震).

Two weeks ago, Southern Weekly ran a long interview with the actor. In it, Chen talks about the bygone days of when directors actually took time to film TV series and when film-makers were not just trying to grab money. When filming for Fortress Besieged, for example, the makers used 100 days to film ten episodes. Nowadays, though, it’s one episode every two or three days. Chen also discusses why he chose not to play Confucius in Hu Mei’s (胡玫) 2010 blockbuster. An excerpt of the interview is translated below.

In conversation with Chen Daoming

by Zhang Ying (张英) / SW

At that time they called it making a film, now it’s called taking money

Southern Weekly: Compared to TV serials, is it that movies aren’t given you a chance?
Chen Daoming: No. I was asked to take on the role of Qi Rushan (齐如山) in Chen Kaige’s Forever Enthralled (梅兰芳), but that was exactly when I didn’t want to be in a film or on TV, later Kaige asked Sun Honglei (孙红雷). Hu Mei’s (胡玫) Confucius (孔子) also landed on me, I even signed the contract, but later I sent her a text message to say I wanted to leave it. Later on Chow Yun-fat (周润发) took the role of Confucius.

I don’t have an exact plan for the roles that I play, like which roles that I must play etc. I completely follow my nature. If I wanted to take a role, it could a role that I wouldn’t normally take.

SW: Is the reason for this that the scripts for movies aren’t very good?
CDM: No, some of the scripts are very good. I don’t think China has good films, from the reform and opening until now, there hasn’t really been many good films.

SW: Why? What are the standards for good films in your opinion?
CDM: A good film should tell a perfect story, it should have literary elements, social elements, philosophical elements, and should have perfect expression. And there should be an invisible hand guiding the audience forwards, and pictures that flow like water on the screen, where you can’t see any tension. According to these standards, I think that the film with the highest standards now can only earn 85 points.

SW: Which films do you include in these standards?
CDM: There are so many, for instance Witness, including easy-going films like The Graduate, and France’s Le Papillon and the old American film Waterloo Bridge.

Chinese film, in terms of its category and kind all the way to the quality of the camerawork, is like Chinese soccer; it can’t even make its way out of Asia.

SW: Which Chinese films do you think can be awarded with 85 points?
CDM: I can’t say, it’ll offend people. I don’t think that the good era of Chinese directors has arrived yet. We are all boat trackers. Whether it’s film, literature, art or music, we only have artists, not masters.

Chinese films of the present are still made like commercials and are decorative. It hasn’t, it hasn’t formed into a system, and does not have an industrial chain, and hasn’t really formed a very mature market and core members of production. This includes the studio and its facilities, and our appreciation habits – all of this hasn’t formed. Making films are restricted from all sides, and those scriptwriters and directors are not happy.

Our entire culture and film facilities have not yet become a national culture. This includes when up there they talk about developing film culture, but it only concerns a wish to loosen up and release policies, the flourishing of film are only the box office numbers, a long process is needed for a mature and healthy development of film.

This era has not yet come, I know it will come one day.

SW: What’s wrong with us?
CDM: Wrong in terms of morals, and wrong in terms of professional ethics, and its cultural spirit. When I was filming One And Eight (一个和八个), in order to tan, we could stay at the Dalongshan reservoir in Guangxi and do nothing all day for a month, just to get tanned for a small film, and film for four or five months. At that time it was still called making a movie, now it’s called taking money – it’s two different eras. At that time we were filming the ten-part series of Fortress Besieged, if it were now, it would at the most only take only one month, but at that time we filmed for exactly 100 days. Then, there was still a thing as creating, now where is the time for this? I have experienced that time, and I am not suited to how it is now, two days or three days for one episode, I often ask what they are doing. It’s not even basic rules. The producer doesn’t care how the director directs, but says that each day you must finish how many pages! Therefore there is so much crap now.

To keep reading, see the original article (in Chinese)

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