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China's Woody Allen on turning a disaster into a hit

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China's director of disaster
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Feng Xiaogang is director of China's biggest grossing film, "Aftershock"
  • Started career in television before becoming movie director
  • Early work was comedies; compared himself to Woody Allen
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(CNN) -- Film director Feng Xiaogang may have made China's biggest box office hit, the disaster movie, "Aftershock", but he built his reputation in comedies, comparing himself to American director, Woody Allen.

"I wasn't sure what kind of comedy to do. I didn't think I'd be any good at doing Jim Carrey kind of slapstick comedies. I'm more like Woody Allen."

His "Annie Hall" moment came with 2001 comedy "Big Shot's Funeral" that featured Donald Sutherland and gained international recognition.

But last year's "Aftershock" has elevated the 53-year-old to the position of the most bankable director in China.

It took over $147 million at the box office in China making it the highest grossing film in the country's history. It will also be China's official entry into the Academy Awards this year.

The film is based on the devastating earthquake of 1976 that killed thousands in the city of Tangshang, northeast of Beijing.

"I knew from the very beginning that this will become a film that would attract a big Chinese audience. It's a collective memory for everyone here in China so I knew the movie would touch everyone... This movie is also very relevant to many people's daily lives," he said.

Feng's screen career began in television, directing and occasionally acting, before moving into filmmaking. He tested the limits of the censors along the way.

"We walk a very tight rope, we have to strike balance otherwise we're going to fall," he said about censors in China.

"Some of my earlier films might have been a little too edgy for a mainstream audience, at least that what the censors thought."

One of Feng's targets in his earlier films has been commercialism, including "Big Shot's Funeral" where a film director sells his funeral to advertisers.

However some have criticized Feng for becoming too commercial in his own filmmaking, especially with overt product placement in "Aftershock".

In response he told Xinhua News that product placement will be an increasingly important part of the Chinese film.

He prides himself on having the common touch to attract big audiences.

"The biggest advantage is that I know what audiences want... of course not all of them, but at least I know what most of them want," he said.

"I don't think that the audience is God. Nor do I think we are above them. I just think that we are on a level playing field."

 
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