American blockbusters have found enormous success in China, yet the big winner at the Chinese box office right now is not a “Hunger Games” sequel or the fifth “Tranformers,” but instead a homegrown cinematic effort starring Adrien Brody, John Cusack, and Jackie Chan.
“Dragon Blade” opened in China in mid-February during their New Year to an astounding $US54.8 million. Even though it is no longer number one at the Chinese box office (that honour now belongs to another Chinese film, “The Man from Macau II”), the historical epic shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
The film isn’t out in the US yet. According to Variety, it will eventually be released state side, though no specific release date is available.
Until then, here’s what you should know about “Dragon Blade.”
1. It mixes Chinese and Roman history
“Dragon Blade” is an historical epic set in Han Dynasty China. It is loosely based on the true story of a missing legion of Roman soldiers who ended up along China’s Silk Road in 48 BCE.
Adrien Brody and John Cusack play rival English-speaking Roman generals Tiberius and Lucius, respectively. Lucius kidnaps Tiberius’ younger brother (and heir to the Empire) to save him from death at the hands of his power-hungry older brother. Meanwhile, Jackie Chan plays a Chinese commander tasked with keeping peace in the unstable Silk Road region.
Variety compared the film’s disregard for history to that of “300,” but with more diplomacy and less bloodshed.
The casting of Cusack and Brody is eyebrow raising since both actors have struggled with US box-office success in the past few years. Cusack has been starring in small indie films that aren’t big hits, while Brody recently found himself starring alongside Rob Schneider and Lindsay Lohan in “InAPPropriate Comedy,” which barely made an impression during its short theatrical run. To be fair to Brody, he did have a standout role in last year’s Oscar-winning “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
The film is directed by Daniel Lee, who worked his way up the ranks of China and Hong Kong’s film industries to eventually write and direct his own movies. He is known for dabbling in wuxia (a genre focused on martial arts) and history, from “14 Blades” to Qin Dynasty set “White Vengeance.”
2. It’s one of the most expensive films ever made in China
“Dragon Blade” cost an estimated $US65 million to produce, making it one of China’s most expensive movies. For comparison, one of China’s biggest movies last year, “Monkey King,” cost $US82 million to make. Big blockbusters in the US can cost well over $US200 million.
The film, which was eventually released in IMAX 3D, had to deal with the challenges of shooting in the harsh climate of the Gobi Desert.
During a press conference, Chan told Cinema Online the film had 350 crew members and 800 extras. Filming days would go “well past midnight.”
Here’s how Chan described a typical day on set:
Every day, they have to wake up at 2am. By 5am they had to start eating breakfast. By the time they walk to the desert, line up, it’s already past 11am. By 12pm it was lunch time. We only got to shoot at 3pm. But we were lucky because the sun only went down at 9pm. We have a very harsh director who made us shoot all the way till 12 midnight.
3. It’s a passion project of Adrien Brody’s
Brody previously worked with Chinese director Xiaogang Feng in 2012’s “Back to 1942.” Since then, the Oscar winner has had his sights on getting Jackie Chan’s attention, according to Deadline.
“I feel a deep connection to Asia,” Brody told Deadline. “I’ve been able to develop close friendships with a core group of extremely talented filmmakers and financiers, who have opened many doors.”
This project has led to Brody suddenly finding himself at the helm of Fable House, a production company who’s benefactors include Mr. Chan and other Chinese and Nigerian investors.
4. Jackie Chan has wanted to make this film for a long time
“Seven years ago, I wanted to do this film,” Chan told Chinese website M1905, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t make the film because the government policy wants to protect the Silk Road. I am ahead of them. I hope chairman Xi (Jinping) gets to watch this film.”
Along with a leading role, Chan also served as one of the film’s producers. In addition, like with most of his other projects, he did all of his own stunts.
The film has been something of a comeback for Chan and has re-established him as an important cultural figure both in mainland China and his homeland of Hong Kong.
What’s next for “Dragon Blade”?
The next test is to see how well the film plays outside of China.
The wide appealing cast of stars from around the world shows that the future of the box office may be in embracing the global community at large.
Watch the trailer for the film below:
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