x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Switch creates surge in connections between Chinese cinema and Dubai

The Chinese action-thriller Switch, filmed in Dubai, has opened doors to more creative collaborations between China and the UAE.

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

In one week, more than 10 million people flocked to the cinemas across China to watch the movie Switch last month.

The Hong Kong-Chinese production grossed US$8 million (Dh29.4m) on its opening day, making it China’s third largest home-grown movie of all time.

The success of the film is generating ripple effects across the Indian Ocean, making some people in Dubai rub their hands together in glee. The action-thriller might be Chinese, but much of it was, in fact, filmed in Dubai.

According to Jamal Al Sharif, the chairman of the Dubai Film and Television Commission (DFTC), the popularity of Switch has quite literally flicked a switch on in the UAE.

Not only is it shining a bright, silver-screened light on its decadent assets, but it is also opening up a whole new world of opportunities.

“Imagine, in less than one week you have millions of people watching this film. That’s why the Chinese market is so important,” says Al Sharif.

The movie, directed by Jay Sun Jianjun and starring the Chinese actors Andy Lau, Tong Dawei and Zhang Jingchu, tells the story of special agent Jinhan (Lau), who sets out to recover a famous stolen Chinese Yuan Dynasty painting.

He is unaware that his wife, played by Jingchu (Rush Hour 3), is also a special agent who was tasked with protecting the painting before it was stolen.

The filming schedule in Dubai was over a period of almost two months in 2011, right in the wake of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Al Sharif says the lessons learnt from the production of the Hollywood franchise, starring Tom Cruise, helped them have a smooth run with Switch.

“When we got involved, it was easy for us because it was right after Mission Impossible, so we could identify the locations they wanted to shoot at, both externally and
internally.”

Dubai helped lower the production costs by providing visas, discounts, air tickets, logistics and more, which Al Sharif estimates saved the Chinese team up to 50 per cent.

Some Emiratis were also used as extras in the film.

“We made sure they involved locals and residents of the UAE,” he says.

When Al Sharif was at the Shanghai International Film Festival last month for the premiere of the movie, he saw first-hand the kind of effect collaborations like this can have.

“The theatre for the screening was full and when they started showing the scenes with the Burj Khalifa, you could hear all the people in the audience mumbling, their voices were excited.

“It is a good feeling to have people responding like that,” he says.

The film’s director, Jianjun, is proud of his movie, saying it is the first Chinese film made in a “modern style as a large-scale production” outside the country.

“Normally, Chinese films are very old-fashioned, kung-fu style. We chose Dubai because we wanted the newest, freshest city that had never been exposed in other movies,” he says. “Nobody has ever seen Dubai shown like that before.”

And now the Chinese want more.

“This film is opening up the appetite for Dubai in the China market,” says Al Sharif.

Jianjun agrees, saying the movie will have a “very big effect on Chinese people because Dubai is very attractive”.

The film commission is already in talks to set up another movie project with China, expected to be shot at the end of this year.

But first things first: tackling the language barrier.

According to Al Sharif, the DFTC is in the development stage of translating its website into Mandarin.

He hopes this step will help bridge the gap between the two countries to open a flow of film collaborations in the future.

“The Chinese came in with the possibilities of shooting Switch in Dubai, but they had a lack of understanding of our culture, language and logistics,” he says.

“We hope translating our materials will help the communication.”

Jianjun, who describes his film as a “merging of 007 and Mission Impossible”, says he is sure Dubai audiences will be as proud of the film as he is.

However, he agrees there is a cultural barrier to overcome.

“I don’t know how the Dubai audience will receive the Chinese characters and storyline. It’s not easy to follow, as some of the
dialogue is hard to translate into English,” he says.

He added that people should expect a beautiful, modern adventure, “then they won’t be disappointed”.

The production team first approached the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing at the Dubai Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Three years later the final product, Switch, will have its Dubai premiere on October 1, as Dubai ramps up for its own bid to host World Expo 2020

molson@thenational.ae

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