How capitalism caught up with the legend of Mao

Just to make sure there is no mistake, the camera lingers on the Omega watch worn by the girlfriend of Chairman Mao
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The Independent Online

Communist purists are up in arms over a scene in the newly opened propaganda film Beginning of the Great Revival, a history of the Communist Party, in which Chairman Mao is given a gold Omega fob watch by his girlfriend.

And just to make sure there is no mistake, the camera lingers for more than long enough on the watch brand.

The Chinese Communist Party is celebrating its 90th birthday this year and Revival is part of the celebrations. The film features 170 leading stars, including Hong Kong actors Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau, and follows events leading up to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Links to the Swiss watch brand at that time do seem like quite a leap from the revolutionary spirit that inspired the Long March.

Directed by Huang Jianxin and Han Sanping, and produced by China Film Group, Revival is a companion piece to 2009's The Founding of a Republic, about the 1949 revolution. Mr Han, who as chairman of the China Film Group is probably the most powerful man in Chinese cinema and controls most production, distribution and censorship in the country, insisted the watch was not product placement.

"It is definitely not. It is a detail of our prop design," Mr Han told the Associated Press at the movie's premiere in Hong Kong.

Liu Ye, the actor who portrays Mao in the film, dismissed any links to capitalist running-dog activities.

"There is not a single product placement in the entire movie. As for the watch, maybe the directors weren't really mindful of what brand it was," said Liu, adding that he wasn't sure if the gift-giving was historical fact and that it may have been artistic license.

Omega is a big brand in China, with 31 shops. The brand is advertised by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who British audiences may know from kung fu hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Memoirs of a Geisha.

Revival has already generated controversy. Actress Tang Wei, who was ostracised for her steamy role in Ang Lee's erotic thriller Lust, Caution, but has been rehabilitated in recent months, was cast as Tao Yi, an early girlfriend of Mao's. However, Mao's grandson Mao Xinyu, a major-general in the People's Liberation Army, apparently intervened to have her cut out of the movie.

There was also some anger in the US that the movie was being sponsored by General Motors, which was bailed out with government cash two years ago. The film is sponsored by Shanghai GM, GM's local partner but a separate company.

Product placement has really taken off in China. One of its foremost proponents is the country's most bankable director, Feng Xiaogang. His hit movie If You Are The One reportedly earned nearly half its production budget from product placement, while his epic movie about the Tangshan earthquake, Aftershock, was remarkable for its blatant promotion of cars, a bank, insurance and alcohol brands.

He said it keeps costs down and makes up for revenues lost through DVD and TV rights sales income badly hit by piracy.

To make sure nothing spoils the Communist Party's moment with Revival, the Chinese premieres of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and the latest in the Harry Potter franchise are being delayed until the film's success is assured.