Not just funny business
Updated: 2012-04-27 10:01
Director Ning Hao worked many an odd job before he broke into the film scene in 2006 with the black comedy Crazy Stone. He repaired bicycles, drew posters, designed theater settings and shot music videos.
The son of a steelworker is now one of the country's most acclaimed directors, beloved for his hilarious, fast-paced black comedies. Some even compare him to Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino.
Having reached age 35 and since he is raising a young son, Ning has a thing or two to say about growth.
His latest film, Guns and Roses, is a hooligan-to-hero story set in the 1930s, when Japan's invasion overshadowed Northeast China. The film premiered on April 23. "If my previous films made people laugh, I hope this one can also make them think," he says.
The film still features Ning's trademark funny lines and crazy plots. But he doesn't want to make another slapstick flick that entertains for entertainment's sake. He hopes it incites not only laughter but also tears and thought.
The protagonist is a scamp, whose only pursuit is money until he learns what's actually important in life after robbing gold from the Japanese. He finds his faith and a cause worth fighting for when he loses loved ones.
"Growing up takes pain," Ning says.
"That's the message."
Ning experienced hardships before success. He studied painting in his youth and believed he would become a great artist until an art school exam found he's partially colorblind.
He hated TV production, which he didn't consider art, but had to shoot music videos to make a living.
When he realized he wanted to be a director, he applied to the Beijing Film Academy, but ended up in the photography department. He struggled to direct two low-budget films but neither was released in theaters.
Ning finished Crazy Stone in 2006, thanks to a project initiated by Hong Kong star Andy Lau to help young directors.
The film was made with only 3 million yuan ($460,000) but grossed 20 million. Audiences and critics hailed it as a new type of Chinese film, something other than the costume epics that predominated the country's film scene.
His following work, the black comedy Crazy Racer, was another success. It cost 20 million yuan and raked in 100 million.
Many have been awaiting the third installment of the Crazy trilogy, but Ning says he hopes to work on something more serious this time.
He discovered that after he turned 30, he attended more funerals than weddings and heard more about divorce than love. He began thinking more about how people grow up after his son was born.
"Most people face the same question when they grow old - how to deal with the fear of death, or at least how to be better prepared for it," he says. "When they find the answers to that question, they really grow up."
His answer, at least in the film, is to give up the desire for gold and find one's own faith.