THE rebellious and unconventional Han Han never follows — he leads. The high school dropout is China’s most outspoken blogger, a bestselling writer and editor-in-chief of an alternative literary magazine that published only one issue but sold 1.5 million copies. He shocked many people when he decided to start a professional racing career in 2003, and he did really well.
Now he enjoys his new title — film director. Han released his feature film directorial debut, “The Continent,” yesterday, an effort he says is more challenging than writing.
The 32-year-old Shanghai native, named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people worldwide in 2010, has more than 38 million devoted fans on Weibo, which seems likely to be a strong boost to the film’s box office.
The versatile Han, who is called an “opinion leader” for his generation, has included his new feelings about life and growth in this road movie.
“Compared with publishing a book, as a filmmaker I must take more responsibilities in marketing and distribution,” Han says. “Shanghai is my hometown. I have a strong connection with the city. I hope that the film can be well-received here in the city.”
The film revolves around three young men living on an eastern Chinese island who take a driving journey to find new meanings and goals in life. It took Han and his team more than three months to shoot the movie. Helicopter, yacht and race car were among the transportation modes used in parts of the journey.
Contrasting his sharp and rebellious image, a smiling Han looks gentle and well-mannered. He is praised by almost all the actors in the film for his Virgo traits.
“Han doesn’t look like a first-time film director at all,” says Feng Shaofeng, an actor in the movie. “He is very considerate, responsible and elegant. He is patient and calm when he responds to unexpected circumstances.”
Lu Jinbo, Han’s publisher and his friend for more than 10 years, says he was deeply impressed by Han’s diligence and talent as a filmmaker.
“During the shooting of the movie, Han worked for more than 12 hours a day,” Lu says. “It occurs to me that writing is just like Han’s first love, car racing is a romantic encounter in his life, and filmmaking is probably his final destination.”
“The Continent” is set in the same time period as “Tiny Times 3,” whose director, Guo Jingming, is also a popular writer and has always been compared with Han. Some might consider them rivals of their generation.
No matter whether they acknowledge it, Guo and Han are thought to have a sort of connection, with many things in common: popular post-1980s top-earning authors, heartthrobs and bloggers with vast fan bases, top-prize winners at the New Concept national writing competition in their teens, and strong ambition in diversified fields of publication, music production and filmmaking.
However, they also have remarkably different backgrounds, personalities and styles of writing. Fans of each used to be engaged in a long-time “fight” and debate on the Internet.
Guo comes from a small city in Sichuan Province. After gaining popularity among young people, he loved to post photos of himself on his blog clad in varied luxury brands, and those of his grand dream house. He even shared how he cleaned his face with expensive cosmetics in a total of 10 steps.
This brought immediate and widespread derision from Han’s fans, who thought Guo’s actions glorified materialism and were full of narcissism.
In contrast, Han’s blog is usually about his critical opinions on heated social and political issues as well as new phenomena of culture and education. His sharp and cynical criticism, in the eyes of Guo’s followers, was just claptrap and hype.
Han used to tell media that “Guo and I have different genders” to shrug off the comparison. He said the values conveyed in Guo’s books are very superficial, “low” and cater to the tastes of post-1990s people living in the rural-urban fringe.
“I think I am better than him in every aspect, except for one thing: I am not as rich as he is,” Han said in an early interview.
In response, Guo said he didn’t even know who Han was and that his comments meant nothing to him.
The inevitable comparison of the two films is also expected to trigger a big “battle” between their fans.
Born into an intellectual family in Shanghai, Han impressed China’s literary scene with his first novel, “Triple Gate.” Written when he was just 17, the book tells a story of youth and growth, and it criticizes the country’s rigid education system.
The book sold more than 2 million copies when published in 2000. Later, Han published a few more best-selling books and anthologies, which accumulated hundreds of millions of readers and fans.
Ever since he came onto the scene as a teenager, Han has been seen as a rebellious figure. He dropped out of high school because he hated subjects other than writing. At the peak of his writing career, he took up car racing. The thrilling sport, in his words, gave him a sense of achievement and proved to himself that he was a well-rounded learner.
In 2010, “Party” or “Solo Band,” a literary magazine he created and edited, was shut down because of edgy essays and photographs. Its only published issue sold more than 1.5 million copies.
The same year, Han was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. He was also interviewed by CNN as a young and influential Chinese writer.
However, in the eyes of many Chinese people, Han is also a person of endless controversy. He had a series of online debates with many Chinese cultural celebrities, including famous writer Lu Tianming, film director Lu Chuan, musician Gao Xiaosong and poet Bai Hua.
In 2012, anti-fraud crusader Fang Zhouzi questioned the authenticity of his works and claimed that some of them were actually written by Han’s father. Han responded with a showcase and publishing of his manuscripts and a lawsuit against Fang.
The writer has also been suspected of having extramarital affairs. To the surprise of many, Han responded with the following words: “The woman I love most in the world is my daughter. I have built up a strong bond with my wife. Perhaps some other women can also be like a family to me. I hope that they and my wife can help each other and keep a harmonious relationship. I may fall in love with someone else. Even so, no one can change my feelings for my wife.”
Today, Han’s new nickname is “national father-in-law” after he posted pictures of his 4-year-old daughter. A lot of his fans joked that they would wait for a day to marry her when she grows up. Han only requests his daughter to be “a person with rich imagination and a kind heart.”
Soon a new book by Han will be published. It contains Han’s essays about dreams, life and film. He will also share his conception of the movie and the novel experience of being a director.