Film: Dinners for You  《爸爸的晚餐》
Director: ZHENG Zheng  郑正
Starring: ZHAO Yiwei 赵毅维,  ZHANG Dongyu 张东雨, SHEN Xinyue 申馨月, ZHANG Dengping 张登平, WANG Jie 王洁
Screen Writer: ZHENG Zheng  郑正
Cinematographer: Jeffrey Chu  朱志刚
Producers:  HUANG Wei 黄伟, HAN Shu 韩殊 and YANG Haiyan 杨海燕
Production Company: Little Bear, Ltd. 重庆小熊座文化传播有限公司
Distributors: Little Bear, Ltd., 重庆小熊座文化传播有限公司Chongqing Film Group Ltd.重庆电影集团有限公司 and Chongqing Gaoji Advertising Ltd. 重庆高基广告传媒有限公司
Budget (estimated): 3 Million RMB ($485,000 USD)
Release Date: 17 April 2015
Length: 98 min.


Made in Chongqing

The Flavor of Indie Filmmaking

by Jude Jiang

Chongqing, China, April 17, 2015 – The family drama, Dinners for You, written and directed by Chongqing filmmaker ZHENG Zheng, opened today to a limited release in China’s Chongqing Province. This is Director/Screenwriter Zheng’s fourth feature film but marks his first theatrical screening. 

The film premiered earlier this week, screening to an audience topping 200 people and members of the media in Poly Wanhe International Cinema, a prestigious local-brand cinema chain native to Chongqing. The air was expectant as the audience arrived to fill the theater nearly one hour before the screening. The stars and full cast were also in attendance and a Q&A session and academic discussion with audience participation was held after the screening, evoking issues like fatherhood and family relations, the overlying theme of the movie. 


Director ZHENG Zheng (2nd from right) introduces the cast
Director ZHENG Zheng (2nd from right) introduces the cast

Zheng, a professor of Film and Media Arts at Chongqing Normal University, previously directed three independent feature films: Singing for Death and Life《歌者》(2003), I Think You Are Dancing Beautifully《四月旅行》(2009) and Lovers In Water《摆手舞之恋》(2012). Dinners for You opened in 50 cinemas in the city and across the 16 districts that comprise the province. 

Strong Flavor of Chongqing

Insipred by Yasujiro Ozu’s Hitori Musuko (1936), Zheng nonetheless wrote this script based on his own personal relationship with his father. The story is about that a 60-year-old lonely, retired chef who, accompanied by his faithful dog, goes on a trip to recover his broken relationship with his four children. He seeks to make up for his past failings but, unexpectedly, discovers a secret about each child during this journey. 

“Instead of waiting for his children to come home,” says Zheng. “I created a proactive father character.” The script won the Best Script from the Xiayan Script Award, one of the most revered film industry awards in China. 

ZHAO Yiwei stars as the father in this film and is noted for his performances in WANG Xiaoshuai’s Beijing Bicycle (2000) and Peacock(2005), directed by GU Zhangwei. His character in this movie attempts to provoke audience’s feelings toward fatherhood with a sentiment grounded in Chinese family culture. Zhao deeply researched and prepared for this role. He learned the Chongqing dialect specifically for this movie. “Dialect is an important aspect of culture,” says Zheng. “The result is Zhao added an additional layer of intimacy into the character, which creates a deeper resonance with the local audience.” 

Even as the use of the Chongqing dialect adds local “flavor,” the movie integrates Chongqing food as a strong culture element. The movie features five meals: Double-cooked Pork (回锅肉), Tomato-fried Eggs(番茄炒蛋), White-steamed Pork(烧白), Deep-boiled Beef (水煮牛肉) and Braised Carp (干烧鲫鱼), each an important local delicacy.

“The reason to use Chongqing-style food is because these dishes are the foundation for the Sichuan family cuisine,” added Zheng. “To intrigue the audience, I made one movie trailer that focuses entirely on the Chongqing food.” <http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XOTI2NDY1Nzcy.html?from=s1.8-1-1.2>

In the story, the father prepares these five common but delicious Chongqing family meals for his four children, recalling their childhood memories. Though their severed relationships have left a sour taste in their mouths, the father applies his culinary arts, creating savory dishes he hopes will reconnect the family. The result leads to a bittersweet reunion. 

In Hollywood’s Shadow

The movie was produced by Zheng’s own production company, Little Bear, which also was a partner in the distribution process. With participation in every step of the distribution, from promotion print ads and cutting a trailer, to media interviews and pre-sales, etc. Zheng and his team are learning to survive the cruelty of the market, as FURIOUS 7 was released on April 12 and is taking the largest proportion of cinema screens across the country. In light of this, Zheng did not despair; he said Dinners for You has found its own way to reach out its audience.

This end-to-end involvement reflects Zheng’s grassroots style of filmmaking. For him, it is not so much a job as a lifestyle and the line between his friends and coworkers is blurred. Zheng has become a respected part of the local film community and he relied upon many industry associates and friends to make this film possible. For instance, Mr. He, a chief editor at the Chongqing Morning Press, arranged an entire week of newspaper coverage for Zheng’s movie. “Though Chongqing does not have many film resources like Beijing, we still can combine everyone’s resources to make something together,” says Mr. He.

A movie goer is attracted by the poster for Dinners for You
A movie goer is attracted by the poster for Dinners for You

But Zheng has not only struck a chord among his own community,  Dinners for You has gained attention in its own right with more than 20 local media outlets seeking interviews about the production. Beginning in 2014, Zheng launched a lecture series in various universities and colleges in Chongqing, which culminated in kicking off the ticket sales.

Teaching in Chongqing Normal University, he has a strong commitment to developing the future of film so he targeted youth as the major audience for the movie. Tailored to the schedules of the 100,000+ students in Chongqing College Town, the movie postponed its initial screening schedule from Chinese New Year to its April release.

Sustainable Momentum

“I think that art films and commercial films are not separate worlds,” says Zheng. “I’m learning to be a more commercial director by merging the values from both styles. It is challenging, but worthwhile to try.”  

The production of Dinners for You was accomplished on a very limited budget of 3 million RMB ($485,000) yet it offers the look of films made for many times this budget. Its ambitious schedule required shooting in over 25 locations in 28 days. To film so quickly, in so many places, on such a small budget, Zheng had to rely on local support and his own tight team.  

“We were making full use of the limited resources to maximum the production value,” says cinematographer Jeffrey Chu. “We had to explore making the film in an economic and efficient way.”

Director ZHENG Zheng (l.) and Cinematographer Jeffrey Chu discuss lessons learned
Director ZHENG Zheng (l.) and Cinematographer Jeffrey Chu discuss lessons learned

This is the second collaboration with Chu, who was also cinematographer for Zheng’s earlier work, Lovers in the Water. As a Taiwanese filmmaker who studied filmmaking in USA, Chu had a rich experience in collaborating with young international filmmakers. He was awarded as the Best Young Director of Photography at the Young Generation in Filmmaking Forum for his work in the film Falling City (2012) directed by ZHENG Dasheng. 

“The spirit of Chongqing filmmakers is inspiring to me,” adds Chu. “It attracts me to come back to make another film.” 

Zheng also looks forward to his shooting his next film even as his current work is on theater screens. He has been developing films in other genres such as science fiction, crime and suspense, etc. to explore different filmmaking experiences with his solid team.

“Though I started with low-budget films, it doesn’t limit my inspiration in storytelling,” says Zheng. “I am less concerned about fame or fortune and merely seek enough box office success to make the next project possible.”

Jude Jiang is an editor at China Indie Film and a script development professional who divides her time between Shanghai and Beijing.  She may be contacted at: Jiangwenjude@sina.com

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