x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai stars in Chinese film

The 57-year-old Jay Sun's directorial debut is an action thriller filmed mostly in Dubai. We chat with him about the movie Switch, dubbed China's answer to James Bond.

Andy Lau in a scene from the Chinese film Switch. Courtesy China Film Group
Andy Lau in a scene from the Chinese film Switch. Courtesy China Film Group

The Chinese producer, writer and director Jay Sun says Dubai was the obvious choice when it came to deciding which locations to use when making his latest film Switch, China’s answer to James Bond.

“I think that Dubai represents the 21st century,” he says. “It has that appealing combination of being very traditional yet also being high-tech and modern.”

Switch is the latest action blockbuster to make use of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa as a jaw-dropping backdrop. There is also a scene of a helicopter crashing into Atlantis, The Palm. This time, it’s the Chinese superstar Andy Lau scaling the world’s tallest building in an effort to save the day. He plays the duplicitous special agent Xiao Jinhan as he tries to locate a priceless Yuan Dynasty painting, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (the film’s original title). Competing with him in the search is a British art collector and a Japanese yakuza. There are also some charming leading ladies (Lin Chiling and Zhang Jingchu) aiding and abetting the treasure hunters.

The 57-year-old Sun calls his debut film experimental. “This type of film is new to audiences and to the industry because nobody has tried to make a film like this before in China. This was more like Bond and Mission: Impossible.”

Sun was previously known mainly as a producer, making romantic comedies such as Call for Love (2007) and its sequel Fit Lover (2008).

“I tried to find a director for this movie. But Chinese directors either make traditional art-house movies that end up going to Cannes, Berlin or Venice film festivals, or they are very good at the kung fu style. So in the end I did it myself.”

The production was an ambitious undertaking, Sun says. “I produce a lot of films and have a lot of experience on film sets, but directing was more difficult than I expected. We tried our best and made what I think is a very good film. The film is not perfect for sure, but we are very satisfied with our effort.”

It’s refreshingly honest for a director to openly admit that he hasn’t made the perfect film. A collection of vignettes, Switch concentrates largely on the action – at the cost of character development and plot. But such deficiencies haven’t done Michael Bay any harm.

Sun even speaks highly of his lead star Lau, regardless of the actor recently publicly questioning the film’s quality.

“He’s a superstar,” Sun says. “As a singer, an actor, he is one of our best and has been popular for a very long time, more than 30 years. He is very good at acting, but also a very good personality to work with.”

The film was a box-office smash in China – and that’s only good news for Sun’s collaborators in Dubai. Jamal Al Sharif, the chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission, told The National in July: “Imagine, in less than one week you have millions of people watching this film. That’s why the Chinese market is so important. The film is opening up the appetite for Dubai in the Chinese market.”

• Switch is out on Tuesday in UAE cinemas