Chen Kaige crawls the Web

Updated: 2012-07-06 11:10

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Chen Kaige crawls the Web

Chen Kaige's new film deals with online violence. Provided to China Daily

Director Chen Kaige's latest film deals with online violence, something he once suffered.

The Golden Palm-winning Farewell My Concubine moviemaker was humiliated in 2005, when he made the lavish fantasy film The Promise.

The then relatively unknown commercial director Hu Ge parodied the film in his video A Murder Case Caused by a Bun, which caused a lot of online merriment, but enraged Chen.

"I didn't realize a man could be as shameless as this," he responded at the time - which caused even more amusement among netizens.

Seven years later Chen's latest film, Caught in the Web, confronts the issue of online mobs directly.

The film unfolds as pretty Ye Lanqiu walks out of hospital after being diagnosed with cancer. The devastated Ye refuses to give up her seat on the bus to an old man, which is recorded by an journalist.

After TV producer Chen Ruoxi broadcasts the scene on TV, it causes a stir online and Ye is teased and insulted.

Netizens do a "flesh search" to find her name, job, cell phone number and post the details online. Her boss' wife Mo Xiaoyu, who suspects Ye is having an affair with her husband, joins the Internet mob.

As sensitive as the subject is, Chen denies the film is revenge for his suffering seven years ago.

"I have been misunderstood on the Internet, but I disdain to use my films as part of any revenge. It just doesn't seem right to me," he says.

The Internet is a central part of modern life, he continues.

"We need an outlet. I don't believe everybody is malicious when they attack others on the Internet - people just love to see the tumult," the director says. "However, the positive side is, you need to be more self-disciplined, because if you do something wrong it's difficult to hide."

Chen is more involved with the Internet than many assume as he is stereotyped as a highbrow auteur.

Director Feng Xiaogang once famously said about Chen: "His mission is to reside in an ivory pagoda, thinking about such important issues as the humanity of Chinese people."

Chen's previous films, especially acclaimed epics such as Farewell My Concubine and Yellow Earth, indeed explore Chinese people's characteristics more powerfully than most other filmmakers. But the 60-year-old does not like the label of "master" that much.

"Sounds like an old pedant," Chen says.

Several days ago someone made another parody of him, conducting and dancing to some odd music. Chen's response was a "big laugh". He reposted the clip on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

He not only tweets, he also keeps up with the gossip.

"People talk about the first female astronaut of China, but some seem to be concerned with her looks. I find that interesting, too."

The online clash between writer Han Han and fraud fighter Fang Zhouzi is a familiar story to him, because he has followed their articles attacking each other for months.

He also makes Skype video calls with his son, "to see if there's a girl in his room", he jokes.

When critics claim that Caught in the Web shows a different Chen Kaige - relaxed, funny and approachable - Chen only partly agrees.

"I no longer always want to convey some significant messages about my reflections on culture and society through film," he says. "I want people to find hope and happiness in this film. But characters in my films are always the same kind of people, whom I call stubborn heroes."

For instance, Cheng Dieyi, the protagonist of Farewell My Concubine, is obsessed with Peking Opera even though the times have changed.

Chen depicts Jing Ke, an ancient assassin in the 1999 film The Emperor and the Assassin as someone doomed to failure, as he tries to kill the emperor with a short dagger. But Jing never hesitates, which "makes him remembered in poems and history books", Chen says.

Ye Lanqiu in Caught in the Web, Chen adds, could just post her certificate of diagnosis on the Internet and most people would forgive her behavior on the bus, but she would rather not and spends her last days in dignity.

"Some things about me change, but some things don't," he says.

"I always admire people who believe in something and seldom explain why. They seem stupid to some people, but they are awesome to me."

The film premieres on July 6.

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