China is booming, people are getting rich, spending big and dreaming big, so the outlandishly lavish “The Great Gatsby” in 3D would seem to resonate with the times and appeal to young people.
“Gatsby” director Baz Luhrmann said the film is very modern and very relevant to China today, and he made a big pitch to Chinese young people, many of them considered materialistic and aspiring only to money.
“China is a place right now where big dreams and big possibilities and a big future are possible, particularly for young people. So I think this film can inspire them to dream big, and that’s a good thing,” the Australian filmmaker told a press conference last Saturday. The film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan was released on the same day.
The visually spectacular film captures America’s hopes, brashness and excess and Jay Gatsby’s big dreams in the hedonistic Roaring Twenties and the Jazz age. Many of China’s newly rich also revel in conspicuous consumption.
“Gatsby” earned around 30 million yuan (US$4.8 million) at the national box office since it opened, according to the distributor. It earned more than 5 million yuan (US$806,000) in Shanghai’s largest cinema chain, according to Guo Ying, an official with Shanghai United Cinema Lines. Guo says that’s a fairly good showing for a film without blockbuster special effects.
The film has received overall positive reviews, with a 7.7 out of 10 rating on douban.com, a major site for film and book reviews.
“It is visually stunning,” says Lily Yang, a 30-year-old professional. “I was moved by the tragic romance of the characters, but also impressed by the exquisite costumes and sets of that time.”
“I want particularly young people and students throughout China to feel how relevant and modern this story is till today,” Luhrmann said. “It will inspire them to have big dreams, a big life and a big future.”
The director said he got the idea about making a film 10 years ago after he visited Shanghai and boarded the Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to Moscow. Along the way he read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925), considered an American masterpiece.
“I realized at the end that it was such a modern book that spoke about the times we are in. It spoke about a world where there’s so much money, glamor and material things,” Luhrmann said. “But it also made the point that money, glamor and material things cannot be the only thing in life, that you must have a cause, you must have a belief.”
He said he hopes Chinese people will read the book after seeing the film and he encouraged them to send feedback to his Sina Weibo account (@BAZ_LUHRMANN). He said he would try to answer.
In the story, Gatsby amasses a fortune (not all of it honestly earned), builds a palace on Long Island, and stages stupendous, riotous parties — in hopes of winning back the woman he loves, Daily Buchannan. She is married and lives in another mansion directly across from him on Long Island Sound.
Luhrmann said the book, a love story and a portrait of the times, is often considered unfilmable because everything happens inside the head of the narrator, Nick, who is writing it all down in a psychiatric institution.
“What he sees is extremely intense and loud and colorful and noisy. The biggest challenge of the book is to take the internal voice and make it cinematic,” Luhrmann said.
He called the film “not a translation but a decoding and recoding in terms of drama.”
Luhrmann has directed five feature films, including “Strictly Ballroom” (1992), “Romeo + Juliet” (1966) with Leonardo DiCaprio, “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) and “Australia” (2008).
“The Great Gatsby” has been filmed several times, the most famous version being the 1974 production by British director Jack Clayton that starred Sam Waterston, Mia Farrow and Robert Redford.
Luhrmann said Fitzgerald set out to write a very modern book about the times, but it didn’t sell well. When he died, he was buying copies of his failed book.
“Fitzgerald sold more copies of ‘The Great Gatsby’ in one week when we opened the film than he did in his entire life,” he said.
It was released in the United States on May 13.
The production features collaborations with major creative artists, such as singers Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray on the soundtrack, and Miuccia Prada working on sumptuous costumes.
Luhrmann noted that “Gatsby” was a big success in the States, despite predictions that it would fail at the box office since it was up against 3D action films and spectacles.
On the opening weekend, however, “Gatsby” sold more tickets than “Hangover 3,” a huge summer film.
“It was a big surprise that ‘Gatsby,’ this tragic romance, was more successful than some of the big action films,” the director said.
“Gatsby” is a very thoughtful book with very big ideas, “so I think cinematically there is something for everyone in the film,” Luhrmann said.
The film is Luhrmann’s second artistic collaboration with DiCaprio, the first being “Romeo + Juliet.”
“... He was a gifted young man, this time he is a man, a leading man,” Lurhrmann said, adding that DiCaprio “manifested the romance of ‘Titanic’ again in this film.”
DiCaprio was also a partner and collaborator in the production itself.
Though 3D is often used in action films and animations, Luhrmann decided to use it in “Gatsby,” saying that with 3D “it was like you were physically there, almost with the actors.”
3D has more potential than just showing special effects, he said. “I use 3D not to make it come out at you, I use 3D let you come into its world, to come into the room with actors.”
He noted that in 1954 master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock filmed “Dial M for Murder” in 3D.
“The beautiful movie star Grace Kelly, I can see her in 3D, just acting in a room. It was about actors in a room, just drama in a room,” Luhrmann said. “And to see Leonardo and actors just acting drama in a room, in 3D, somehow it was more intimate.”
If Fitzgerald were making a movie, he would probably use modern technology, Luhrmann said.