updated 18 Mar 2013, 13:07
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Wed, Dec 21, 2011
China Daily/Asia News Network
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From art house to box office
by Sun Li

Director Xu Jinglei stepped out of the art house and explored commercial filmmaking territory with her 2010 romantic comedy, Go Lala Go!.

It was a box-office triumph that simultaneously subverted her signature avant-garde style and demonstrated her directorial dexterity. Xu will bring the second act of her commercial endeavors this year with Dear Enemy.

Despite centering on workplace romance like Go Lala Go!, Xu says Dear Enemy is her first entertainment-oriented directorial work tinged with suspense and aiming to excite audiences at every twist and turn.

"Go Lala Go! delved into office politics and made people laugh, but essentially it was not a purely entertaining film. It's a bildungsroman," the actress-turned-director explains.

"This time, I want to present a fully entertaining film, which is plot-driven and awash with delicious surprises."

Set in the competitive world of investment banking, Dear Enemy revolves around a separated couple, who, as individuals, seek to outdo and outsmart each other in a business acquisition.

"If Go Lala Go! tells a fairytale about white-collar workers, Dear Enemy is a story about gold-collar workers," Xu says.

"It's an upgraded version of Go Lala Go!."

Xu says the film cost 50 million yuan (S$10 million) - the highest investment of her directorial career.

The production crew chose London as one of the major exterior sites, and shot glitzy sceneries, including the Thames River, St James's Park, and London Eye.

"By filling the film with those eye-pleasing scenes, I hope to ensure audiences feel it's worth buying the ticket," Xu says.

Although her last film zoomed in on office workers' lives, Xu is not personally familiar with the workplace situations of investment bankers.

It took her a year to work on the script while ensuring its accuracy. She also received consultation from a friend who had more than a decade of experience in investment banking.

"I also interviewed many investment bank executives and learned from them about their work procedures and such issues as initial public offerings (IPOs) and mergers and acquisitions," Xu says.

"Although my objective is to create a highly entertaining film, I don't want to exaggerate and distort the realities of the investment banking world."

But while working to stay true to these realities, she invented drama with the potentially risky move of turning the vibrantly colorful film's trailer into a black-and-white short.

It was an audacious move - turning the trailer of a cosmopolitan drama laden with fashionable elements into black-and-white," Xu says.

"But it seems to bear an undertone of menace and conspiracy, which was very cool."

And it worked as promotion, she says, generating a lot of Internet buzz before the film's release.

"Of course, I still want audiences to take a glimpse of the film's dazzling pictures and vibrant colors, so a colored version of the trailer was made later," Xu says.

Xu says she will no longer both direct and perform as the lead actress, as she has in her five films.

"As a director, I was satisfied by the fact that I could handle different genres - not by the critical and commercial acclaim my works earned," Xu says.

Xu says that although her three previous films could be regarded as art films, they differed from one another.

Her directorial debut, My Father and I (2003), is a family melodrama. A Letter from an Unknown Woman (2004) adapts Stefan Zweig's eponymous novella. And Dreams May Come (2006) is an experimental film shot entirely in one setting.

"But every time I want to make a breakthrough and try something new, it requires more energy and time," Xu says.

"Under those circumstances, it was so difficult and exhausting to serve as the director and the female lead. In the future, I may play a minor role or make a cameo appearance in films I helm. It's impossible to see my (future) films featuring myself."

Xu prefers directing to acting. She explains she has been a thespian for more than a decade and is tired of following others' orders. "But as a director, I can make decisions and be creative," she says.

She says she doesn't worry about Dear Enemy hitting the silver screen at the same time as Zhang Yimou's epic The Flowers of War and Tsui Hark's kungfu fantasy Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.

"The three movies are of different categories," she says. "I think mine combines thrills, romance and amusement. It offers a different taste in the New Year season and has its own allure."

The film, starring Xu, Taiwan idol Stanley Huang and Hong Kong singer Gigi Leung, will premiere on Dec 23.

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