Written by By Jenna Prendergast, CNN
With auditions in China going on this weekend for Zhang Yimou’s big-budget film “Aurora Borealis,” fans in Beijing made sure to stay up to date on the news.
But for them, and scores of Chinese-language internet users nationwide, it’s not just about the movie, it’s about Peng Shuai, the leading actress in the film, and her struggle to get into the final five characters for the role.
The film revolves around a soccer match between Great Britain and Mexico, but in the course of an intense game, a mysterious intruder — disguised as a Mexican coach — enters a “safe house” to watch the game. After the game ends, the intruder attempts to break into the team’s training room and attack the players.
While all the characters eventually escape, it is none other than those who play for the Mexican team, including Peng, who would have to leave the country.
“By not confirming what the exact role of the intruder would be, Zhang … prevented the film’s main characters from sticking to the level of respect they deserved,” Chen Jianguo, a Beijing lawyer, wrote in a letter to the government. “Peng Shuai was supposedly caught in the crossfire between the big-budget film and the audience’s interest, their democratic right.”
In December 2017, Chan Suet Ng, the head of the China National Film Group, wrote a letter that offered his apologies for filming Peng Shuai’s character and leaked information about the film to Chinese media.
Despite this, “Aurora Borealis” still remains a major film project on the Chinese big screen.
‘The least respectful actor’
Liu Yuping, a 31-year-old journalist in Beijing, said her 12-year-old niece was excited about the film and wanted to come to the auditions. But when she went to the hotel to find out about it, her aunt told her there was no place to watch it.
There was no surprise guest to sit in the front row and watch the game the night the auditions took place, either. No matter how many times she says “Aurora Borealis,” friends she asked about the film later that night have said they still can’t understand it.
“All the titles of the films Zhang has directed are too confusing and overblown, and it gives the impression they’re ashamed to be part of this industry,” she said. “You ask any director, he’d rather do a simple film where he’s not making a huge mistake. Zhang is so good at it that he’s actually given us, the audience, the least respectful actor in Chinese cinema history.”
Peng Shuai, who is also known as Rina Ma, is one of the most popular actors in China — despite being a foreigner. (She was born in New York but moved to China when she was 9 years old.) She has won more than 300 film awards, and has appeared in well-known films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.”