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'Crazy' Ning is back with 'Silver Medalist'

NING Hao, who shot to fame - and fortune - with the small-budget film "Crazy Stone," is returning this Chinese New Year with another hilarious fare. That should give a much-needed boost of confidence to film makers who are uncomfortable with blockbusters, writes Xu Wei.

Two years ago, the unexpected commercial success of "Crazy Stone," a 3-million-yuan (US$441,000) comedy by young director Ning Hao, offered a way out for Chinese film makers to balance their budget and still hit the big time at the box office.

The film eventually raked in more than 23 million yuan in the box office nationwide, which seems to have upped the stakes for Ning's next venture, "Silver Medalist," another delightful comedy.

The film will hit the screens next Tuesday, just in time for the Chinese New Year holidays, which falls on January 26 this year.

"Even though it has a totally different storyline, I'd rather consider it a sequel to 'Crazy Stone'," the director says. "The dark comedy of 'Silver Medalist' expands on the original cinematographic style as seen in my first film, but also has more lavish scenes and more comical effect than the earlier one."

Ning obviously attaches great importance to the script.

Reports had it that he employed three teams of seven scriptwriters to work on three different storylines that was eventually merged in the final script for "Silver Medalist."

The film mainly centers on the adventures of the express delivery man Geng Hao, a silver medal-winning cyclist banned for life after being found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs by mistake. His encounters with drug traffickers and an unscrupulous businessman trigger a series of unexpected backwash to hilarious effect.

While Ning preferred Chongqing as the setting for "Crazy Stone," he changed to Xiamen, a beautiful coastal city in Fujian Province, for his second venture.

"Xiamen today is a migrant city with many of its residents coming from the surrounding provinces," Ning says. "The city's enchanting character goes well with the film."

Some of the scenes feature hot Xiamen dialect which are delivered with subtitles.

Besides, Ning has made good use of multi-flavored music (traditional Chinese opera, Western symphony and modern rock), and qilou, buildings that mix Eastern and Western architectural style that is unique to southern China.

Budgeted at about 10 million yuan, the film was still made with a moderate budget without any dazzling stunts or acclaimed star cast.

Huang Bo, who hit the big time after the huge success of "Crazy Stone," again plays the lead, with Taiwanese TV host Lu Kung-wei playing the role of a wicked businessman who hires killers to murder his wife.

"I had many weird experiences in the film like being dressed up as a superman," Lu says. "Ning is extremely talented with a feel for comedy that is actually the most difficult film genre. He knows well how to make people laugh."

"Crazy Stone" won the 32-year-old Ning Outstanding New Director honor at last year's Huabiao Awards, one of the most prestigious film awards in China.

Before that, Ning, a graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, also directed two independent films ?? "Incense" (2003) and "Mongolian Ping Pong" (2005), but neither made it to the theaters.

Ning prefers to keep a low profile despite the widespread critical acclaim after "Crazy Stone." Its success, however, gave a much-needed boost to small-budget film makers to reignite their career.

One of them is Ah Gan, who started with horror films but found success with small-budget comedies like "Big Movie" and "Big Movie 2."

Famous Hong Kong director Ng See-yuen has said that the fate of the domestic film industry couldn't rely on a few mega-productions alone.

Big bucks mean big returns, but a "middle way" promotes diversity.

"Entertainment is the basic function of a movie," Ng said in an earlier interview. "In that sense, Ning's work appeals to people of all ages, and caters to all tastes."

But many sequels fall short of expectations as they lack the original creativity and passion. They usually contain the same situations, same gags and fundamentally the same plot which weakens the script.

Some fans are understandably apprehensive if "Silver Medalist" can live up to the success of "Crazy Stone." But Ning insists that he never takes box office into account while shooting a film.

"What I really hope for is appreciation from the audiences," he adds. "... which can help me take up a new project later."

Ning says that his next film will most probably be an action comedy ?? an American Wild West cowboy film with Chinese characteristics. It will star actor Huang again with shooting due to start in March.


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