We are officially knee deep in Detective Chinatown 3 promotions, and for those who are experiencing it for the first time, welcome to the ride! The next week will continue to be full of DC content and road shows as we are rapidly approaching premiere day!
This post will serve as both a short breakdown of what to expect as we get closer to premiere, including on the Chinese New Year slot (and films), as well as a translation of Haoran’s short interview for Harper’s Bazaar China x Detective Chinatown 3 digital issue.
I’ve provided a menu below in case you want to skip directly to the interview.
Table of Contents
The Chinese New Year Films
Starting a few years ago, film production teams discovered the golden mine that was the Chinese New Year slot, which replaced the previously popular New Year’s slot.
This coincided with a boom in the Chinese economy and greater interest in domestic films, which meant more people were going to theaters than ever as quality of life picked up for the average Chinese citizen, and in turn, huge box office numbers (you’ll notice almost all of the highest grossing films in the Chinese box office are from the last three to four years).
As such, in subsequent years, Chinese New Year’s became known as the slot that would have the maximum box office potential. This is primarily due to the fact that most Chinese residents will have at least a week off to celebrate CNY, and it’s a time of reunions and gathering with family and friends, which means people are usually home.
While people also get a week off for National Day (Oct 1), it’s usually used to travel and go on vacation. This is also why comedies typically do very well in the Chinese New Year slot – people want to see something loose and fun with family and friends during the holiday season.
However – it’s also become a double-edged sword. At the recent Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival, Chen Sicheng, Xu Zheng, and Peter Chan held a special forum on commercial films, as the three will be going head to head next week with their films.
All three shared that they were very nervous about having their film in the Chinese New Year slot, understanding that it comes with a lot of potential but also a lot of pressure, since picking the most lucrative time of the year also means you’re going up against other giants.
Detective Chinatown is Wanda Films’ most successful franchise by far, and as such, shortly after DC2 wrapped its run in 2018, it was announced that DC3 would be premiering CNY 2020, and this was long before the film started filming. As the third film in a very successful series, it’s also the most familiar to audiences going into next week, and has had by far the biggest hype around it with the public.
However, this is also an unbelievably strong year, with Xu Zheng’s Lost In Russia (the third movie in his Lost In series), Peter Chan’s Leap (widely believed to be the ultimate office champion), Dante Lam’s The Rescue (DC2 went up against his Operation Red Sea in 2018), Jiang Ziya (from the company that produced Nezha), Vanguard (Jackie Chan + Stanley Tong), and the immovable Boonie Bears animated film, which comes out every CNY with solid box office performance due to their set audience (kids).
As it currently stands, DC3 is about to break the all time record held by Avengers: Endgame on Maoyan for “people who want to see”, and has already set a new high for a Chinese language film in “want to see” across Maoyan/Tao Piao Piao/Douban.
That also means it’s expected to lead presales by a mile. DC3 won’t have a problem with getting screenings either, because 1) it’s one of the most anticipated films, and 2) Wanda owns the largest (I think) theater chain in China (they’re not the only one with distribution advantages though).
But the true “battle” begins Jan 26. If there’s one thing that’s true about Chinese films, it’s that word of mouth really, really matters. Good word of mouth single handedly made The Wandering Earth and Nezha box office kings after being totally overlooked before premiere, and is what helped Operation Red Sea become 2018’s highest grossing film.
And for a more recent example, Sheep Without A Shepherd, with a rookie director and a lesser known cast, just topped the box office again 30 something days after its premiere.
Because DC3 has not and will not be holding any advanced screenings for either media or the public (CSC recently confirmed this, citing that they have confidence in their film), we won’t know about its quality until premiere. That’s also when the other films – especially the ones that get good reviews – will really start taking off.
Presales are an advantage, but not always indicative of final box office numbers + trends. Regardless, it is really amazing to see that so many people are excited about DC3, and that Haoran and Baoqiang’s road shows have been paying off.
As with all things, we can only hope for the best! Also something to watch for: Haoran’s journey to 10 billion RMB at the box office in films where he’s played a leading role in – he’s 1.785 billion away now.
Harper’s Bazaar x Detective Chinatown 3 Interview
With the upcoming release of Detective Chinatown 3, the team worked with Harper’s Bazaar China for a special digital magazine issue. Harper’s Bazaar specially designed a pretty cool playable version of the magazine, which is their first “game” magazine. One of the covers featured the main DC trio – director Chen Sicheng and leads Wang Baoqiang and Haoran, and then a solo cover for Haoran.
This is also a pretty meaningful magazine cover because it’s almost exactly five years after CSC, Baoqiang, and Haoran took the cover of Bazaar Men at the end of 2015 for the first DC movie. Time flies!
In his interview, Haoran reminisces on the past, including the role Chen Sicheng has had in his life.
(Originally published 1.14.20)
The day we interviewed Liu Haoran, it was Christmas Eve. Beijing had some light snowfall that day. And in a break room located in one of Changping (in Beijing)’s filming studios, the makeup artist is currently doing Liu Haoran’s makeup. He has three clips in his hair: blue, pink, and yellow. Together with his “the didi from next door” face, it’s quite cute.
As we chat, he holds a cup of coffee in his hand, and will take a sip whenever there’s a pause. He got up at 7am that morning, and first rushed to the Central Academy of Drama’s Changping campus for classes. Once class ended, he hurried here to film a commercial.
“I can only do it this way to take care of both school and work,” He laughs, a little embarrassed, and his tiger tooth peeks out. Filming Novoland: Eagle Flag took longer than initially estimated, so he had to ask for time off from school, “This year, I turned down some filming due to school”. He does his best to balance both aspects of his life.
When he was chosen by Chen Sicheng to take part in Beijing Love Story, Liu Haoran was still just a regular 16 year old high school student at the Beijing Dance Academy’s affiliated secondary school, “I was lucky in that I was very similar to the role Sicheng ge wrote in his script, so was chosen.”
Liu Haoran remembers, during filming, what Chen Sicheng said the most to him was, “Just be yourself”. He nodded, and say, “Okay”, but was still very much befuddled. To his surprise, after filming ended, Chen Sicheng was quite pleased with the collaboration, and decided to have Liu Haoran play Qin Feng in Detective Chinatown.
Once he graduated from elementary school, Liu Haoran moved from Henan to Beijing for the Beijing Dance Academy, and was successfully admitted. At the time, Liu Haoran didn’t think he would be able to emerge (as an actor/celebrity), or at least not so quickly.
Even after he was admitted into the Beijing Dance Academy, he never thought he could walk the path into the entertainment industry. His family members are also quite surprised, “The thing is, I don’t really have any talent in singing or dancing, so there wasn’t really another option.”
As he was attending school at the Beijing Dance Academy, Liu Haoran slowly made the decision to try for the Central Academy of Drama. He says, “It’s not an easy goal to achieve.” Every year, the singing and dancing department (at BDA) would have 30 or so male students graduate, and only about 3 would be able to make it into CAD’s acting major.
At the time, he wasn’t anywhere close to making it into the top 3.
After filming Beijing Love Story, Liu Haoran stopped working for a year to study for the gaokao (college entrance exams). He also prepared a poetry recitation, and wanted Chen Sicheng to give him feedback before the yikao (exams for performing arts students).
“At the time, Sicheng ge, to those of us preparing for the test, was like a god,” Liu Haoran says. Students who are preparing for exams often talk about “first ranks”, which is basically the student who comes first in scores across the various schools and majors.
He knew who came in first at CAD and at the Beijing Film Academy in previous years, and knew that Chen Sicheng was ranked first his year (T/N: CSC also ranked first for the Shanghai Theatre Academy, and rumored to have ranked first for the Beijing Film Academy as well).
At Chen Sicheng’s company, Liu Haoran performed his recitation. But Chen Sicheng had him change it to Edmund’s crazed monologue in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“Sicheng said after seeing my performance, ‘Reciting a poem? That’s not going to work.’ I’m no longer a piece of white paper, I have to let the teachers see the potential in my acting.”
“Liu Haoran has a part of him that’s like a little beast. Other people can’t see it, and he himself hides it, but he should bring it forward in his acting, both now and going forward,” Chen Sicheng says.
When he first started filming Detective Chinatown, Liu Haoran had no grasp over his acting. There was one scene, when Liu Haoran and Wang Baoqiang returned to Sompat’s workplace, Liu Haoran had a long string of lines that began with, “Sherlock Holmes once said…”
It was a mouthful, and he had spent a long time in advance memorizing it. However, when he was filming, it was too much like a recitation, and not like Qin Feng himself was saying it.
They spent a whole night on that scene, but didn’t achieve the effect that they wanted.
“Sicheng ge saw that it was almost daybreak, so pulled me aside and said, ‘When you go back, don’t look at the script. Sleep well. Don’t think too much, and don’t let yourself have insomnia. We’ll film the next day'”. That was Liu Haoran’s first time running into this type of situation, and he was incredibly nervous.
These past few years, Liu Haoran has continuously been growing and maturing. His recognition of what it means to be an actor is also changing. He often hears Chen Sicheng say, “Actors shouldn’t easily let go of their own personality.” And he has taken that to heart.
He understands how highly Chen Sicheng thinks of him, and his hopes for him, “Sicheng ge hopes that I can studiously be an actor, and not just a celebrity, an idol.”
To be a good actor means you can’t worry too much about what other people think of you. You have to really be willing to experiment and try new things for a role, even if it means playing an antagonist, someone on the dangerous side of society.
Liu Haoran agrees, “What truly lasts forever, what can be preserved until eternity, is the art itself. Not the screams of fans, or fresh bouquets of flowers.”
Liu Haoran is only 22 years old this year, but bears the burdens of someone beyond his age. But he also has the interests of those in his age group. He loves animation, and when he was in Japan filming Detective Chinatown 3, one of the scenes took place in Japan’s famous Akihabara. There, he acquired many interesting toys and models.
From Detective Chinatown to Detective Chinatown 3, everyone’s “Haoran didi” has been growing up. He’s working hard for the career that he loves, but also won’t lose his own interests because of it. Steadily and patiently, he’s working towards his own goals.