Director: Derek Yee
Cast: All extras in Hengdian World Studios
Runtime: 2 hrs 14 mins
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 16 July 2015
Synopsis: In the middle of China, there’s a town called Hengdian. In this town, there is a movie lot that is bigger than the studios of Universal and Paramount put together. This is the Hengdian World Studios, aka “Hollywood of the East”. It attracts production teams from all over the world, and as a result, creates a new label in the Chinese population ? “Hengpiao”, which literally means the “Hengdian Nomads”. These people are mostly extras on the movie set, and they’re usually perceived as those who dream of becoming movie stars. Until in August, 2012, director Derek Yee met some of the extras during a set visit, and he was touched by their live stories. “I’m Somebody” is inspired by these extras, and for once they get to be the leads. The story evolves around several young people chasing their dreams in Hengdian. They have no knowledge in moviemaking, and they bumbling misadventures turn out to be valuable lessons for their lives. Director Yee wishes this film could inspire countless “nomads” from all walks of life. The obstacles that we’re facing would become the greatest gifts of our lives.
Admit it - when you stepped out of the theatre after watching Hong Kongfilmmaker artfully directed Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), you imagined yourself as Maggie Cheung, sashaying down the street in a pretty cheongsam. And wasn’t there a split second you imagined yourself as the grandmaster of martial art Wing Chun after seeing Donnie Yen fight off what looked like hundreds of baddies in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man (2008)?
Sad truth is – in life, most of us are the hundreds, or even thousands, of extras in the background of the film, while the better looking dudes and babes shine. Yup, they would be the ones getting all the attention to. We just have to somehow live with that and get on with our lives.
And that is why the concept behind this drama is interesting. Hong Kongdirector Derek Yee, who is best known for his heartbreakingly beautiful C’est la vie, mo cheri (1993), has a new feature film that pays tribute to the countless number of extras in Mainland China. We are brought to the Chinese city of Hengdian, where thousands of hopeful Chinese from all over the largest country in the world travel to, in hope of becoming a bona fide movie star. In Hengdian, there is a 330 hectare Hengdian World Studios, where an unimaginable number of movies and serials are shot every year. We follow a few characters and see how they pursue their dreams of being the next Zhao Wei or Huang Xiaoming.
The 134 minute movie is self financed by Yee, whose One Night in Mongkok (2004), Protégé (2007) and Shinjuku Incident (2009) have received commercial and critical success. This labour of love is an engaging watch, as the human centred tales of these small time actors are bound to tug at your heartstrings. Who wouldn’t root for an everyman whose dream is to make it big, and has to experience the trials and tribulations of the cold, harsh world we live in?
And while we chuckle at knowing the different rates of extras for walking around, lying in water, playing dead and fleshing skin, isn’t there a part of us realising that this is part of earning a living for survival?
To attract more viewers into the cinemas, Yee has brought together stars like Anita Yuen, Stephen Fung and Daniel Wu, who pop up as cameos throughout the movie. However, the real stars here are the inexperienced actors whose lives are played out in the thoughtful screenplay.
We laugh along with the goofy Wan Guopeng, who leaves his village with the hope of making it big in showbiz. Along the way, he falls in love with a fellow extra and their relationship is put to the test when things get tough. They are not the only ones who face the hardship. There is Shen Kai, who gets his big break at the expense of his marriage. The consequence is almost painful to watch. Elsewhere, there is an ex coal miner who counts his blessings although he knows he doesn’t have the looks, and a pair of sisters who go through an emotional turmoil after arriving in a city where dreams are supposed to come true.
The cast of this well intended movie is made up of extras, so you can expect performances which you wouldn’t usually regard as award winning. Yet, this is what makes this film work on a bizarrely fascinating level. Real life and reel life come together, and you hear common folks sharing their dreams and experiences, occasionally dishing some worldly pieces of life advice.
(You learn to appreciate the littler things in life after watching this tribute to movie extras, and knowing that there are some dreams worth chasing after)
Review by John Li