Big names turn to high drama as Chinese cinema expands its horizons

Two of the biggest names in Chinese cinema have this week announced projects which reflect the growing breadth of the nation's film industry.

Both director Feng Xiaogang - the all-time Chinese box office champ thanks to hits such as Aftershock and If You Are The One - and internationally acclaimed actress Zhang Ziyi ( Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) have gone public to promote their next productions and both are concerned with richly dramatic themes, a far cry from the action blockbusters which have in the past 12 months dominated the mainland Chinese box office.

Feng cryptically claimed this week that his next project would be something he has been chasing for more than a decade and the mainland Chinese media swooped - pointing to the director's long-held desire to turn his cameras on author Liu Zhenyun's Memory of 1942, which traces the effects of the famine that killed around three million people. Feng is expected to start shooting the film later this year with an eye on a 2012 release.

Zhang, meanwhile, has a film coming out on May 10 in mainland Chinese cinemas - and it tackles a subject which has long been taboo in the country.

Life is a Miracle - which also stars Hong Kong heartthrob Aaron Kwok - is a love story set around a couple who both develop AIDS, and its director Gu Changwei concurrently shot a documentary about the subject which is doing the rounds of the nation's art-house cinemas.

At the Chinese box office, meanwhile, things were all about DreamWorks' I Am Number Four, which picked up 41.3 million yuan (4.5 million euros) in the week ending March 6, to hold out the local drama Buddha Mountain, about a group of youngsters whose presence inspires the life of an aging opera singer. It picked up 25.7 million yuan (2.8 million euros).

In Japan, the latest installment of the animated Doraemon series - Nobita and the New Steel Troops: Angel Wings - picked up close to US$5.5 million (four million euros) in its first week of release to come out number one, while in Hong Kong the Oscar-winning Black Swan held on to its top position for the second week in a row with takings of US$620,333 (450,000 euros).

For the teaser trailer for Life is a Miracle (Chinese only), visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBzXE2PgUP0

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