The Founding of a Party (建党伟业), also known as Beginning of the Great Revival in English, was released last week as part of a 28-movie mega push for party revelry in the lead up to the 90th anniversary of the CPC. As with 2009’s The Founding of a Republic, the CCP’s latest propaganda picture features a parade of some of the biggest Chinese stars working in film today. Though you might know the faces (Look! It’s that fellow from the cell phone/milk tea/moisturizer commercial!), we’re sure there’s some confusion about the names attached to them.
We thought a who’s who of some of the significant names and roles in The Founding of a Party was in order.
Liu Ye (刘烨) as Mao Zedong (毛泽东)
A legitimate thespian from the start, Liu tackled a number of edgy roles, including a portrayal of a gay architecture student in Stanley Kwan’s Lan Yu. When he was cast in Chen Kaige’s The Promise in 2005, and Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower in 2006, Liu started to make inroads into the mainstream of Chinese film. Liu also played a homicidal graduate student opposite the great Meryl Streep in Dark Matter, a film which apparently no one saw.
Liu’s nationalistic credentials were bolstered when he starred as fictional soldiers both in the war-porn film-fest favorite City of Life and Death, a retelling of the Rape of Nanking, as well as in The Founding of a Republic. Liu was said to have eaten 20 eggs a day to gain weight for his role as the Great Helmsman (did you know he sported an Omega watch?).
Andy Lau (刘德华) as Cai E (蔡锷)
The eternally boyish (and recently quite weepy) Andy Lau also lends his star wattage to The Founding of a Party, portraying the revolutionary warlord Cai E. Lau, along with fellow Canto Idol Chow Yun-fat, comprise the two biggest names in the film, which boasts ‘over 150 top actors!’
Chow Yun-fat (周润发) as Yuan Shikai (袁世凯)
Chow must either love the Communist Party, or is thick in the tangle of some serious guanxi issues. How else to explain his starring roles in The Founding of a Republic, Confucius and now The Founding of a Party? This from the man who used to be the bad-ass male ideal of Asia circa the late 1980’s. Then again, taking into account his starring in Dragonball Evolution, it might just be senility, or a bad agent.
Chen Kun (陈坤) as Zhou Enlai (周恩来)
Recently at SIFFilis with multiple lovelies, Chen is still relatively unknown to international audiences. Chen starred as Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo in The Founding of a Republic two years ago.
Fan Bingbing (范冰冰) as Empress Dowager Longyu (隆裕皇后)
Fan has been turning heads everywhere she goes recently, and with good reason. Her recent sauntering down the red carpet at the Cannes opening ceremony arguably secured her status as hottest exoticized Asian seductress of the moment.
Zhou Xun (周迅) as Wang Huiwu (王会悟)
Zhou (who used to hold the title Fan is laying claim to now) still maintains her status as one of China’s sexiest and most glamorous leading ladies, and goes somewhat against type by donning glasses and frumping it up to play the female intellectual Wang Huiwu. However, she should be warned: her involvement in last year’s universally un-lauded Confucius opposite Chow Yun-fat and now The Founding the of a Party isn’t really helping her street-cred in international cinema circles.
Daniel Wu (吴彦祖) as Hu Shih (胡适)
In a bit of kismet, Daniel Wu also nerds out as the reformist intellectual and Shanghai native Hu Shih (though Wu was born and grew up in California, his ancestry is Shanghainese). Though Wu is an established hunk and action film star, his debut in the low-budget Bishonen is notable for being a gay role.
Chang Chen (张震) as Chiang Kai-shek (蒋介石)
Renowned Taiwanese actor Chang Chen has worked with some major arthouse legends of Asian cinema, including Wong Kar Wai (Happy Together), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times) and Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). As Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Chang has the precarious task of representing Taiwan in a mainland Communist film.
Zhao Benshan (赵本山) as Duan Qirui (段祺瑞)
Zhao is universally loved as a sort of comedic everyman, and as King of the Spring Festival, there isn’t a mainland Chinese person alive who doesn’t recognize his mug (with the possible exception of the visually impaired).
Chen Daoming (陈道明) as Wellington Koo (顾维钧)
An actor who’s specialty is gravitas and dignified bearing, Chen seems to get typecast in emperor roles. His most famous turn thus far was as the Yellow Emperor Qin Shi Huang in Zhang Yimou’s Rashomon-inspired Hero, and Chen first shot to prominence after starring as the Last Emperor Puyi in a 1980s TV serial, Emperor of the Last Generation (末代皇帝).
Yet another holdover from The Founding of a Republic, Chen is another actor in The Founding of a Party with a faint wisp of controversy about him. His wife, former CCTV News anchor Du Xian (杜宪) was said to have lost her job due to her perceived display of sympathy for students (dressing in black and speaking slowly while on-air) during what the government refers to as the Political Turmoil between Spring and Summer of 1989.
Wang Lee Hom (王力宏) as Luo Jialun (罗家伦)
Chinked-out prettyboy Wang Leehom portrays a May 4th Movement leader. Like Daniel Wu, Wang is an American citizen, and also nerding out in round spectacles.
Angelababy (杨颍) as Siu Fung Sin (小凤仙)
Shanghai-born and Hong Kong-raised model/actress/hotness personified Angelababy takes on the role of Cai E’s lover. At 49 years of age, Andy Lau is 27 years Angelababy’s senior.
Feng Gong (冯巩) as (冯国璋) Feng Guozhang
Feng is considered one of the greatest xiangsheng actors in China, a verbal comedy form that originated in Tianjin, Feng’s hometown. You’ve probably seen him in a spring festival skit at one point or another.
His role in the film is about as plum as it gets: Feng portrays Republican-era politician and general Feng Guozhang, who just so happened to be Feng Gong’s paternal grandfather.
Scenes cut from the film: Tang Wei (汤唯) as Tao Yi (陶毅)
Tang Wei’s filmed scenes as Mao’s former girlfriend were cut from the final edit, apparently as a result of displeasure voiced from Mao’s family. Tang, who starred in the controversial and sexually explicit Lust, Caution with Tony Leung Chiu-wai (梁朝伟), was gradually being rehabilitated from her persona non grata status when this new blow was dealt to her professional career.
Which brings us to why we made a point of mentioning the fact that Liu Ye acted as a gay male in a film that partially dealt with June 4th. Liu, along with his Lan Yu costar Hu Jun (胡军), has experienced little to no fallout or negative effect on his acting career as the result of starring in a banned film dealing with sensitive topics.
Though this likely has to do with the lack of exposure, we find it either incredibly enlightened or unfeasibly stupid that the producers of The Founding of a Party would allow an actor who had love scenes with another male to portray the Chairman in a big-budget hagiography, given the conservatism still prevalent in China.
And yet, Tang was deemed unsuitable for the film, perhaps by people who, if handwriting is anything to go by, might not be the sharpest knives in the utility belt.
Images from jfdaily.com.