Tag Archives: The Legendary Tycoon

China’s Shaw thing

Hans Zhang stars in Chinese period drama The Legendary Tycoon, based on the life of Sir Run Run Shaw. Director Chuang Hsun-Hsin tells DQ about the man who inspired this 45-part biopic.

Run Run Shaw
Run Run Shaw

He has been described as one of the most influential figures in the Asian entertainment industry, building some of the largest film and television production companies in the region.

So it’s only fitting that Sir Run Run Shaw’s life – he died in 2014 aged 106 – is now the inspiration for a television drama produced and distributed by China’s Huace Group.

The Legendary Tycoon tells the story of a film tycoon who never gave up on his dreams of a career making movies, leading him to become a household name across China.

The series has yet to confirm a broadcaster or a premiere date, but it debuted in Cannes when it was screened at TV industry event Mipcom last month.

Here, series director Chuang Hsun-Hsin explains the origins of the series and the challenges of producing it, which included recreating several Chinese cities over a 50-year period.

Chuang Hsun-Hsin

How would you describe the story of The Legendary Tycoon?
Chuang Hsun-Hsin: It is a story about the entire life of the film tycoon Sir Run Run Shaw. He devoted his life to his film empire and influenced the development of Chinese films for half a century. He was also a famous philanthropist. Since the 1980s, he donated thousands of educational and medical buildings named Shaw Buildings and tens of billions of Yuan across the country. He deeply affected a generation of Chinese people. The Legendary Tycoon is a romantic story that tells how Shaw pursued his Chinese film dream in the 1930s.

What attracted you to the project?
I used to watch a lot of Shaw Brothers films when I was a child, including the early Huangmei operas and the later Kung Fu films. I majored in drama at university so I felt really excited to direct a drama about the story of Shaw. It’s an honour for me to be invited by Huace to join this project.

What are the strongest themes in the series and why are these important?
The most important theme throughout this drama is that everyone has a dream. Shaw had a passion for film and drama since he was very young. No matter what he suffered, he always insisted on this dream. Even when he was arrested by the Japanese army because of the anti-Japanese films he made during the Second Sino-Japanese War, he never gave up his dream. He finally established his own film kingdom and became the godfather of Chinese film, having a crucial influence on the development of Chinese film industry.
He [had close relationships with] three women during his life – including his first lover who encouraged him to pursue his film dream and never give up, his wife who met him in Singapore, and his confidante in his later years – and they all had different influences on him. When he faced a choice between his career and his love or suffered from scandals, he never changed his mind or his love for his wife. It’s very impressive and admirable.

The Legendary Tycoon
The series comprises a whopping 45 episodes

What was the origin of the story?
Shaw passed away on January 7, 2014. He was a film and TV tycoon and one of the most respected philanthropists among Chinese entrepreneurs. He needs no introduction to any Chinese community across the globe. People organised mourning ceremonies for him all around the world. Although he is gone, his films and TV series will still exist, his donation of educational and medical buildings will still exist and his contribution to the Chinese film and TV industry will be eternal.
His entire life was legendary. It is worthwhile showing his story and the “century-old dream of the Chinese” to the whole world.

How do you prepare scripts for a 45-episode series?
The creation of the whole script took about two years. Huace’s dramas always aim to showcase Chinese culture and spread proper values. The key aim of this drama was originally set as expressing humanistic feelings and artistic values.
The Legendary Tycoon not only focuses on the life of the protagonist but also examines the development of Chinese film industry. It will lead the audience to experience the transition of Chinese film in the past 100 years and the film dream of a whole generation. Originating from Chinese opera and crude stage plays, the Chinese film industry underwent changes from silent to sound, from black-and-white to colour and from traditional technology to modern technology. This drama shows the process.

How would you describe your directing style and how did this influence the look of The Legendary Tycoon?
I graduated from National Taiwan University of Arts, majoring in drama. I had actually directed different genres of TV series, including historical drama, martial arts drama, detective drama and modern drama, so it’s hard to define my directing style. In fact, I thought a director was a storyteller. The most important thing for me was how to describe a story felicitously and how to affect the audience. The Legendary Tycoon was a celebrity’s biography to some extent. Therefore, I asked the cast to be more natural in their acting and I gave up the exaggerated style of filming so as to create a sense of reality. I hope the audience can put themselves into the story. I tried to use the classic style of the 1930s instead of the very bright colours of modern times.

The Legendary Tycoon
The Legendary Tycoon stars Hans Zhang as Sir Run Run Shaw

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
The lead actor is Hans Zhang. He is very popular among the younger generation in China. It’s his first time playing a role that crosses nearly half a century, from the 1930s to the 1980s. And he was very serious about this programme because, after all, Shaw was such a respectable film tycoon, a famous entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Hans depicted these three identities vividly and naturally and I thought this was one of his best performances in a TV drama.
There were three main actresses: Song Yi played Shaw’s first lover, Ku Hye-Sun (Korea) played his wife and Joe Chen (Taiwan) played his confidante, who was also a famous and award-winning actress. They were all very popular in China and all of them did excellent jobs in this drama. There’s a lot of romance in the show and the audience can see a different side of Shaw.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
This drama spanned quite a long time period, including 1930s Shanghai and north-east China, Singapore, Malaysia and 1950s Hong Kong. The biggest challenge was how to restore the atmosphere of those times. Artistic design was one of the main difficulties. [In addition, we couldn’t use footage from popular films of the time], which was another tough problem for us.

What is the message that you hope viewers will take away from the series?
It’s kind of distant and unfamiliar to a young audience – bu maybe very fun as well. There are a lot of young people around the world who also have a film dream just like Shaw did. Dreams are beautiful but reality is cruel. Through The Legendary Tycoon, I hope the young audiences can feel the hardship and glory of Shaw and never forget about their original dreams and finally have a bright future.

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Mipcom’s mega screening session

Mata Hari
Mata Hari has been produced by Russia’s Star Media

TV markets MipTV and Mipcom in Cannes are primarily known as places for buying and selling programming. But the recent surge in the quality of scripted content from around the world has given them an interesting new role – as platforms for screening new shows.

At first, the screenings were organised on an ad-hoc basis. But MipTV 2016 in April saw the launch of the Mip Drama Screenings, an array of shows selected by jury. There was even a kind of competition, with Belgium’s Public Enemy being awarded the first ever Coup de Couer.

Mipcom, which takes place next month, is also benefiting from the growing appeal of screenings. At the time of writing, market organiser Reed Midem had announced two World Premiere Screenings and eight International Drama Screenings. This is approximately twice as many screenings as last year and it’s still possible one or two more titles will be added to the overall schedule.

The first of the World Premiere TV Screenings (on the evening of Sunday October 16) is the eye-catching Mata Hari, an ambitious series about the infamous dancer, courtesan and First World War female spy.

Based on a true story, Mata Hari is an English-language drama that is produced by Star Media of Russia and distributed by Red Arrow International. It stars French actress Vahina Giocante (The Libertine) in the title role, and features Christopher Lambert (Highlander) and John Corbett (Sex and the City) – all three of whom will attend Mipcom and take part in a Q&A session directly following the screening.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show stars Laverne Cox (left)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show stars Laverne Cox

Commenting on the 12-hour series, Red Arrow International MD Henrik Pabst said: “The scale, quality and ambition of this new series mark a new chapter in Russian-made English-language drama, and we are looking forward to launching it at Mipcom.”

It is part of a growing trend towards English-language series originating in non-English markets – other examples being Versailles and forthcoming drama The Young Pope.

Screening on Tuesday October 18, 20th Century Fox Television’s much-anticipated two-hour TV special of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the other World Premiere Screening at Mipcom. A made-for-TV reboot of the iconic movie/theatre show, The Rocky Horror Picture Show sees young couple Brad and Janet stray off the highway one night and stumble upon the castle of Dr Frank-N-Furter, a gender-bending mad scientist who is keen to show off his latest creation, Rocky.

It stars Laverne Cox as Dr Frank-N-Furter, Victoria Justice as Janet, Ryan McCartan as Brad, and Adam Lambert as Eddie, the role originally played by Meat Loaf. The new version also sees Tim Curry, the original Frank-N-Furter, return as the show’s criminologist narrator.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, the editorial heritage of the project is bound to attract plenty of buyers. But it will also be interesting to see if it represents a revival of interest in the TV film format, which could lend itself well to the on-demand viewing landscape that major markets have shifted towards. It would be a major surprise if the project didn’t attract the interest of Amazon or Netflix (the latter of which works with Cox on Orange is the New Black).

Beta Film's Maximilian
Beta Film’s Maximilian

Turning to the International Drama Screenings, one of the first up will be Beta Film-distributed historic epic Maximilian and Maria de Bourgogne, which will be screened on the evening of Monday, October 17. Directed by Andreas Prochaska, this sumptuous six-hour period drama is estimated to have had a budget of €16m (US$17.9m). A love story set towards the end of the Middle Ages, it stars Berlinale up-and-comer Jannis Niewoehner alongside César-nominee Christa Théret and is coproduced by MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF.

Another interesting screening will be The Missing 2, an English-language thriller distributed by All3media International. Initially, the organisers of Mipcom weren’t sure if it was right to screen a follow-up season. But they were ultimately convinced by the fact that The Missing is an anthology format, part of a growing trend in scripted TV that also includes acclaimed series such as Fargo and True Detective.

The story follows a young woman who has been missing for 11 years. When she returns, she holds vital clues about another missing girl who has not yet been found.

Aside from its anthology status, the show is interesting because of the complexity of its coproduction status. It is credited as a New Pictures production for BBC1 in the UK and US premium cable network Starz, in association with Two Brothers Pictures and Playground Entertainment. It is also cited as a copro with Czar TV and BNP Paribas Fortis Film Finance with the support of één (VRT) and Screen Flanders.

The Missing 2 is unconnected to the first season of the show
The Missing 2 is unconnected to the first season of the show

Screening on October 18 is Ouro, distributed by Newen Distribution. The eight-part series is a modern day adventure set in the Amazonian jungle. It tells the story of Vincent, a 20-year-old geology student, who goes to French Guiana to do an internship at a gold-mining company. His love for danger then prompts him to join forces with a local gold lord to explore an abandoned mine.

This is another show that is certain to attract a lot of interest. Aside from the fact it is part of a resurgence of interest in adventure series, it’s a Canal+ original drama, meaning it’s part of the same stable as acclaimed French scripted shows like The Returned, Versailles, Spiral and Braquo.

Continuing the popularity of challenging period drama, there will also be a screening of Carnival Films’ Jamestown, which tells the story of the first British settlers in North America’s inhospitable but magnificent wilderness. As three young women arrive in a fledgling Virginian colony, the community battles against threats from both outside and within. This is another six-parter, underlining the popularity of this format.

At the other end of the scripted spectrum, there is also a screening for AwesomenessTV’s Freakish, the story of 20 high-school students trying to survive after their school has been destroyed by an explosion that causes the surviving population to mutate.

Charité centres on the Charité Hospital

Wednesday October 19 in Cannes will see a double bill of screenings, starting with Global Screen-distributed Prisoners (working title). Combining the international market’s interest in Nordic content with its fascination with women’s prison drama, this six-part scripted series, directed by Ragnar Bragason, is about a woman who is sent to serve time in Iceland’s only female prison for a vicious assault that leaves her father in a coma. But no one knows that she harbours a dark secret that could tear her family apart – a secret that could also set her free.

The second leg of the double bill is UFA Fiction’s Charité, also a six parter. Set in Berlin in 1888, it centres on the world-famous Charité Hospital.

Aside from telling a compelling human-interest story, the series uses the hospital as a microcosmic reflection of late 19th century Wilhelmine society. This period saw unprecedented scientific progress in medicine accompanied by radical changes in society and the economic upheavals of industrialisation. The series is directed by Sönke Wortmann and written by Dorothee Schön and Sabine Thor-Wiedemann.

Run Run Shaw
Run Run Shaw

Finally on the Mipcom screening slate comes The Legendary Tycoon, from China Huace Film & TV. A welcome addition to the mix, the show is set against the backdrop of the Chinese film industry and is based on the true story of Asia’s first movie mogul, Sir Run Run Shaw.

Shaw, who founded Shaw Brothers Film Studios in the 1960s, was a media mogul who popularised Chinese Kung Fu movies in the west and worked in the entertainment industry for 80 years. Known as The King of Asian Entertainment, he died in 2014 at the amazing age of 107.

There’s no question that the dramas that secured screenings at MipTV 2016 benefited enormously in terms of profile among international buyers. So it will be interesting to see if this autumn’s crop of shows get a similar boost to their distribution efforts.

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