We have seen several brother-directors in the history of cinema starting from the Lumieres in France at the end of 1800s. They invented film. And down the ages, we have had had Brothers Dardenne from Belgium who are often called heirs to the long lineage of European realist cinema. Then there are the Coen Brothers whose outstanding American works, such as Miller’s Crossing, Fargo and No Country for Old Men have been talked and talked about. In India, interestingly, we have Satish and Santosh Babusenan from Kerala whose Ottayaal Paatha (The Narrow Path) competed at the recent Cairo International Film Festival.
But it is very rare to find a father and daughter share the megaphone -- though one has seen such a pair do movies independent of each other. One example is Iran’s Mohsen Makhmalbaf (with gems like Kandahar and The President) and his daughter, Samira Makhmalbaf -- who went on to make her debut feature, Apple, in 1998, when she was barely 20. Later, she directed Blackboards and Two-Legged Horse. But the father and daughter who are now making waves are from China -- Zhang Yimou and his young daughter, Zhang Mo.
Yimou’s The Great Wall -- where the legendary helmer straddles two film cultures -- has just beaten the rest at the Chinese box office. In its opening weekend, the English language fantasy drama, starring no less a Hollywood star than Matt Damon (with Andy Lau), grossed $ 69.9 million -- over a three-day run, Friday through Sunday.
A press release has this about The Great Wall’s plot. “In the battle for humanity, an elite force makes a heroic stand atop the Great Wall of China to fight an invading army of monsters -- called Taotie, a greedy beast from ancient Chinese mythology. Every 60 years, a horde of monsters creeps up the Wall forcing the army to battle it.”
Critics of the movie have said that notwithstanding the impressive cast, Chinese audiences will soon reject The Great Wall, because its very foundation, the storyline, is weak. But the question is, do audiences ever turn their backs on a film because its plot is uninteresting? This writer has seen in China and in Japan - countries which have a strong local culture and are very proud of it -- that even a faint whiff of anything remotely Hollywoodish garners instant attraction.
Admittedly, The Great Wall’s real test will be seen when it opens in the next few days in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore -- where Zhang is hugely popular. However, the movie’s real crowd-pulling ability will be known when it opens in the US in February.
No India date is as yet available, but going by recent trends, The Great Wall may open at the about the same time here as it hits theatres across America. Remember, the language here is English, which is an advantage in India.
But whatever that be, Zhang must be happy this his daughter, Mo is making her helming debut with Suddenly Seventeen this coming weekend. And it has been creating quite a buzz.
Mo has had an impressive cinema education and experience. She studied filmmaking at the New York University, and, more importantly, she worked as an editor on four of her father’s movies, including Flowers of War.
But she said in a recent media interview that “ being the child of someone of Zhang Yimou’s calibre is not necessarily an advantage..Learning from him, you’re learning from the master. That kind of knowledge, it can never be replaced by anything else. But from a reputation standpoint, sometimes it can backfire a little bit, because I feel like, especially here, if you are born into so-called celebrity second generation family, people immediately think you must have way more resources and you can have way more shortcuts. But actually, it’s not true. If anything, it’s the opposite, because the family aspect casts such a big shadow that you have to be extra creative or work extra hard to gain the audience’s approval.”
Suddenly Seventeen has an explosive story that is dramatically narrated. The film suggests that young women must explore relationships before they settle down.
The fact that Mo’s feature is in Mandarin may at once limit its exhibition in countries where English is the language of preference. India included, one would presume.