I am Not What You Think I am
- Exclusive Interview with Da Peng

Director Da Peng was invited to receive interviews by the documentary, Movie Chaser. The documentary also had in-depth talks with his fellow movie buddies to explore his artistic pursuit and initial fascination of filmmaking in an objective and authentic way. From an editor at Sohu, an MC and an actor, to a director whose first film generates over RMB 1 billion in box office returns and now to direct the second film, City of Rock, Da Peng has faced a lot of controversy and criticism along the way. Yet despite the successes which he has made, Da Peng still sticks to his original pursuit of his film dreams. Now at the age of 35, he could express the reverence and sincerity for films in a more confident and mature way. Switching among his many roles, he constantly makes breakthroughs to perfect and present the audience his best works.

 

He used to be an Internet editor at Sohu.com, an MC and an actor, and he also has the dream about music. However, now he is a film director who just completed the production of his second film, the City of Rock. He had won high attention from the comedy, Diors Man, and was labeled as a Diors. His first film, A Hero or Not, scored RMB 1 billion in box office returns. As a box office dark horse, he almost rose to fame overnight. What exactly is the man, with both recognition from the film industry and the market, and both popularity and criticism from the public?

In a sunny afternoon, Movie Chaser interviewed Da Peng at a Vinyl records shop in 798 Arts District. Wearing a pair of black–framed glasses and a checked shirt, he walked into our sight with smile. During the two-hour interview, we knew more of his understanding of the label “Diors”, the hard work in making the film A Hero or Not as well as his expectations for the new film, the City of Rock.

Along the way, as with other young people coming and working in Beijing, he marches forward towards his dream with his perseverance and tenacity. With all the success which he has made, Da Peng doesn’t forget his original intention for filmmaking. He holds the career of being a director in awe, “Film directing is a respectable career. I will endeavor to make the dream even more beautiful. ”

Da Peng, as one of Net Generation, shows up prominently with Diors Man, making a successful counterattack

“The word Diors gives me a sense of security.”

Many people get to know and like Da Peng from the drama named Diors Man. The young man with a pair of dark-framed glasses always appears in front of the camera with his sense of humor, playing the roles of small potatoes struggling with life. Those jokes in the drama attracted the college students and white-collar crowd like a summer breeze, freeing them from the hardship in life momentarily. It is the magic of Da Peng. He could help the audience get rid of anxiety within 20 minutes.

The drama had its inspiration from the German drama named Diors Women, and Da Peng was inspired by comedian expression in it. He just couldn’t stop creating a series of comic plots with his team. “My purpose is simple. I just want people to know me through all simple yet powerful means. ”

He made it. The Diors Man helps him rise to fame on the Internet overnight. He stood out against the overall gloomy web series market. However, Da Peng’s image as a poor and failing young man in the drama is so impressive that people tend to make an equal mark between such a man and him in reality.

Liu Yan, his friend, recalls that after he became famous with the show, when he was promoting his new books or attending events on campus, his fans would say to him, “Da Peng, be more like a Diors.” Or “Da Peng, play the role in Diors Man. We are not comfortable with you in reality.”

Many people think that the label “diors” might have some negative influence on Da Peng. Yet he himself is comfortable with it. “I think I should accept it because it proves my success in delivering the character. It is something good for me. What I am doing now attracts high attention to me, not just the label. Instead, the word “diors” makes me feel a sense of security. It proves that I am harmless to others. I am just as common as a neighbor. This feeling of being a common person instead of a celebrity is what exactly I intend to have. ”

The label “diors” is given by the public. Yet only Da Peng knows the exact meaning of the word. After encountering so much compliment and criticism, for him, it is not so important to remove such a label. With his sense of humor displayed in the drama and his personal experience, he makes people see the positive sides of a “diors”, offering comfort and joy to people struggling for life. The many records set by the drama also prove that Da Peng knows full well the life of the small potatoes. This paved the way for his first film.

Rising to Fame Overnight with A Hero or Not and Facing both Compliment and Criticism

“My one night is yet to come.”

The year 2015 witnessed the booming of the Chinese film market. It is also a year of great success for comic films. Many home-made comedies broke the box office records one after another and won great popularity among the audience. Da Peng entered the rank of film directors with box office returns of over 1 billion with the film, A Hero or Not. It is a sign of his successful transition from a TV drama director to a film director. Meanwhile, it is closely related to his former drama of Diors Man.

Due to the rapidly rising popularity of Diors Man, the IP soon attracted the attention from the investors. New Classics Media found Da Peng and invited him to play the leading role in Diors Man. Though Da Peng and the screenwriter discussed on several funny stories, he still thought that any fine comedy actors can play the role, not only he himself. “I could not take a step forward. I could not find the answer of why me.” It might be predestined that Da Peng was the one to produce such a film. He created a new story, A Hero or Not, which continues the form of actors playing with their real names and based on the framework of superhero story, he tells how the small potatoes struggle in life.

However, people were not optimistic about the film since its pre-produciton. They doubted whether a web series director could bing any surprise to the big screen. Challenged, what Da Peng could do was to overcome one difficulty after another. In order to invite more celebrities to participate in the film, he turned to his friends for help and wrote many letters to the film stars, though many refused him.

Sandra Ng was the first to accept his invitation. She watched Diors Man and liked it very much. She even recommended Da Peng to Stephen Chow and Andy Lau. Da Peng also took the opportunity to visit his idol, Stephen Chow. “He kept me in Hong Kong and we discussed the screenplay of The Mermaid for several days. Later, he invited me to play a role in the film and be a member of the director department, which was highly attractive for me. Yet the film shooting started in October and my film started in September, so I was unable to make it. In this way, I missed the chance. ”

Apart from this, Da Peng also planned to invite Andy Lau, yet he told Da Peng that he was not confident in playing himself in the film. Da Peng understood him. Then guided by Sandra Ng, he sent another invitation to the actors of Youth and Danger.

At the end of the film A Hero or Not, the scene where Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Michael Tse and Lin Xiaofeng appear was a big surprise to the audience. Yet to give the audience such a surprise, Da Peng went alone to Hong Kong with the screenplay, scene graph and storyboard of A Hero or Not, to discuss with the agents of them. As they belong to different management companies, it was difficult to gather them together in one film. Until the shooting time, some of them were still discussing with me all kinds of issues. I simply told my team that I’m down for anything .”

Actor was but one problem encountered by Da Peng in the process. More difficult problems were waiting for him ahead. Due to limited funding, the requirements for some scenes could not be met. Da Peng borrowed a lot of settings. For example, the wedding scenes were actually shot at the wedding of his good friend, Chen Zhixi. In addition, when the leading actress first shows in the film, the crowds behind her were actually the extras of the film The Master.

“It is really interesting.” Da Peng said with a smile. Speaking of it, Da Peng thought that it were all the interesting sidelights in the process of making the film, though he said it with some regrets.

However, the limited funds didn’t lower his requirements for the quality of the film. He devoted more efforts into the shooting process to make it an even better film. In over 60 days of the shooting of the film, 52 were night shoots. For over ten days, Da Peng could only sleep for three or four hours. It is of no exaggeration that his hands were full all the time. Qiao Shan (actor in A Hero or Not, and City of Rock), his good friend, shows admiration for Da Peng, “It is difficult for others to accomplish all these work.”

Not only the shooting process, he spared no efforts at the time when the film was to be released. Viral marketing was carried out in order that more audience would watch the film. Together with his crew, Da Peng traveled to 31 cities for over one month and visited over 300 cinemas to promote the film. He even suffered from elevator-phobia. “It was a tough period of time. I woke up at 5 or 6 every morning. Then I traveled to another place by different means of transportation. And I had to rush to another city before 11:00. After some preparatory work, I would visit all the cinemas in that city.” Apart from crazy roadshows, Da Peng also raises popularity of the film through other means. He sent up a stand selling pancakes. With such a simple yet eye-catching means, he attracted the attention of the audience. And Da Peng became a marketing guru.

With creative marketing, all-out road shows, and shooting day and night, Da Peng exerted all his efforts in the making of the film. However, with the warm response in the market after the release of the film, the criticism came intensely.

Chen Zhixi recalled that one film director made the remarks that A Hero or Not was barely a film. “He talked with me in the next few days, asking himself, “Am I not making a real film? What could be called a good film? The remarks hurt him and he told Chen that he would watch and learn more from other films, and figure out why people would say so.

After directing A Hero or Not, he continued to act in a number of films directed by renowned directors, including Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, I Am Not Madame Bovary, See You Tomorrow, and Miracle Fighters. He is also the executive producer and leading actor of Father and Son. During this period, Da Peng learned from his predecessors while accumulating energy for his next film.

After two years’ study and accumulation, he changed the mindset when reviewing the criticism of his films. During the P&A of his new film, City of Rock, Da Peng attended a TV talk show, where he was asked to refute some critical comments online against the film, A Hero or Not.

“I read the comments one by one and they stopped me, saying that I should not be so serious. I said I was serious and these comments were true, which I was unable to refute. I agree with what they said and how could I refute them? I realized that these critics had their own stances. For example, they said that my films were of low quality and the scenes were shoddy, or that the story was weak. I agree with them all.” Speaking of it, he was frank and calm.

He rose to fame overnight with Diors Man and scored box office revenue of RMB 1 billion with the film, A Hero or Not. Yet he still believes that his one night is still to come. It seems that deep in his mind, he is still an ordinary young man coming from a small town called Ji’an and he is always fighting for his dreams just like the actors in the show.

Despite all the shortcomings of the film, the most valuable is the theme of the pursuit of dreams. With his own experience and feelings, he told the story to the audience of how a young man from a small town fought in a big city, which moved the young people like him. He proves with his film that without networks or backgrounds, we can still realize our dreams through hard work. This is what strikes people the most in his films, which make us hold high expectations for his new work, the City of Rock.

 

City of Rock: Searching Your Dreams and Be Your Own Hero

“Film directing is a respectable profession. I will endeavor to make the dream even more beautiful.”

If you know something about Da Peng’s experience, you will find that he came to Beijing to pursue his dream of music. Yet in the earlier years, music was cruel to him. He was cheated by the music label and refused to sing in the bar. After some twists and turns, he became an editor of the music channel of Sohu. When he decided to direct a film related to music, people thought that it was due to his unrealized dream of music. Yet he denied it. He has changed his goal to be a filmmaker.

The original intention of the production of City of Rock was dated back to October, 2015. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) organized five film directors to go for exchanges with Hollywood, including Guan Hu, Xu Zheng, Han Yan, Li Yu and Da Peng. By then he came to a sound mixing studio and one audio mixture showed them a biographical film of a African-American musician. In the first five minutes of the opening of the scene, Da Peng saw a singer performing on the stage, with the sound of guitar and bass coming around. He was deeply moved by the perfect combination of the picture and music. That moment, he decided to make the film, City of Rock.

Thanks to the huge success of A Hero or Not, this time Da Peng had no funding issues. Meanwhile, it meant the upscale of the film, thus challenges followed. In the film, guitar-shape architecture is the source of the conflicts between young rock followers and the municipal government. In order to meet the needs of the storyline and pictures, Da Peng won the strong support of the government in his hometown. He built a guitar statue in the city square, at the height of 22.86 m. The construction itself costs millions of Chinese yuan. “I can live with bad food or hard beds to save up for better production design to present in the picture.” said Da Peng.

With the support from local government, the shooting of the City of Rock became much easier. Yet as Ji’an is a remote small town, local people knew little of filmmaking. Even the recruitment of extras posed a big difficulty. “What moved me was that the city formed a spontaneous circle internally. They began to cast for extras within each community and some communities even required talent presentation.”

The biggest scene is a concert of 5000 audiences, with the main cast singing songs under the guitar statue. “With 5000 audience standing there, they want to perform together with us.” Dawn comes earlier in the northeastern part of China, and at 3:12 am it is daytime. We started shooting at 8:00 pm and went all the way until 3:12 am. the next day. What moved me was that we shot there for 8 days and they stayed with us throughout the whole thing. ”

When talking about that concert, Da Peng became excited and confident. Before that film, he had never controlled such a big scene with 5000 people. Yet his confidence derives from the constant learning and drawing of experience over the past two years. Producer Chen Zhixi is a witness of his progress. In her words, Da Peng has undergone leapfrog changes.

During the postproduction of City of Rock, Tu Yiran (film editor of A Hero or Not, and City of Rock), could feel that the wholesomeness in Da Peng’s films has become more obvious from A Hero or Not to City of Rock. Meanwhile, he shows prudence in the expression and mature than the new director he used to be. Zhao Yingjun (music director of A Hero or Not, and City of Rock) shares the same feeling. “He is neither stubborn nor rigid. Instead, he keeps the big picture in mind.”

In fact, it is an inevitable process for a director to become mature and more confident in his career path. Especially for Da Peng, who has strong executive ability and reflects on himself all the time, such growth is exponential. Yet he has kept his original dream of building beautiful dreams for the audience. “Filmmaking is a respectable career. I will endeavor to make the dream even more beautiful.”

Yes, Da Peng is still that young man. He still has that mind to keep learning, setting up realistic goals and realizes his dream one step after another. Criticism of A Hero or Not has fueled him up to make new progress. He is more proactive than ever in turning abstract ideas into colorful pictures. The creation of the film, City of Rock, is the best testimony.

 

Q Was the Diors Man born to satisfy the market demand?

Da Peng: I don’t know about the market, even until now. I feel that I will never understand the market when I see various achievements which the films have made in the market. I only want to make good films, and for this purpose, I will even refuse to follow the guide of those so-called statistics. In my opinion, a creator himself should have the sense of pride. Why do people like watch the Diors Man? It is because somebody has produced the Diors Man and then many people watch it, but not the contrary. This is also the concept behind my film production, and I will not allow those statistics to cloud my judgment. I think any creator must have such sense of pride, to not let the so-called market and target audience get in their way of filmmaking. I don’t think about these things, because I myself am also one of the audiences. Therefore, if I find it enjoyable, the audience will possibly like the film as well.

 

Q Actually, A Hero Or Not has more interesting things than the roadshow. You have set up several pancake stands. How have you got such idea?

Da Peng: It is very simple: the film has pancake in it as a physical existence or carrier. Therefore, I have decided to give it a try by selling pancakes in the street, taking and sharing photos on social media to attract attention from the audience. This idea has possibly come from my experience in the Internet industry. I have produced so many contents for the Internet, so I hope to be different every time. I believe any element of a film represents the film itself, and every poster, trailer, still or publicity should convey the temperament of the film itself, besides what people spend two hours to see in the theater. Therefore, I think a director should select different ways to promote different films based on different temperaments.

 

Q We have also observed your marketing concepts from your other film works. For example, when promoting the film Father and Son, the leading character Flora Cheong-Leen sold spiced-food on the street, and you joined hands with Ping An Beijing Branch to interact with the audience online. Actually, in the eyes of industry insiders, you’re really a marketing expert. How do you look at this?

Da Peng: It is natural and something I think every director should do. However, if a director has a team that could suffice the P&A, he should feel very easy to do that. If people meant it as a compliment, I will be very glad to accept it. However, from another perspective, I don’t hope such thing will shade the film content itself. I mean, I will not produce less good contents just because I am good at marketing. On the contrary, I believe I should first produce the content to my satisfaction before I feel confident to sell it. Therefore, I will not let one thing overweight other things.

 

Q After producing the film A Hero Or Not, you have experienced the roles of director and executive producer. How do you think such change in these roles will help you?

Da Peng: I think being a director is a lifelong course that requires constant exploring. Even by the time of I’m 60, I will still need to pursue in such a way. Time is changing, so are the films. People didn’t have mobile phones in the past, so they would sit in a theater with peace. Now, when we watch a film and see some very exciting content, we will possibly be dedicated for a little while. However, when the film shows plots to evoke people’s sentiments or advance at a slow pace, many people will want to check their mobile phones. I think this is a change in the audience’s habit of film watching. I sometimes even doubt if cinemas will continue to exist in future. In the remaining of our life, will audiences change their habit again? Will box office no longer be the ultimate measurement for films? At the moment, when you go for a film, you will need to take a bus, invite company and have a meal together, which will involve extra time cost. Then, if people have a big television at home, will they see a film in the living room? Moreover, live webcast is an emerging trend. Many people spend a lot of money in watching it. Therefore, films always change, and I don’t want to be left behind. I hope I will always be a content producer who stays in however things shall change with time. I don’t want to remain where I’m now with great pride when films are changing, or I will be abandoned by time.

 

Q: I know you have made the plan to make A Hero Or Not 2, but will not put it in practice until you’re 60. Right?

Da Peng: It sounds like a joke, but actually, it isn’t. After A Hero Or Not was finished, many people asked me to shoot A Hero Or Not 2. It is not that we can’t do it, but because we have really devised many stories. However, I have decided not to do the sequel because I want to try some new stories. I think I will proceed with A Hero Or Not 2 when I’m 60. We’re all old by then, and I will suddenly see a coat armor one day and recall that I have played a hero when I was 30. Then, I will get very sentimental and start to look for those partners who have made the film together with me,, like Yuan Shanshan, Liu Yan and Qiao Bin. They are all old, too. Some of them possibly lead a very pleasant life, some may live a bad life, and some even pass away. Then, I will assemble these old friends and get high on film again. I think this thing will kindle our blood again and make me very excited. Therefore, I will just leave it after I’m 60. However, we can first produce a trailer before that film. I’m now thinking about that matter, as I like doing interesting things.

Some say I will become the next Stephen Chow. I’m flattered but it is impossible, because Stephen Chow is highly influential. In my opinion, when people speak of Stephen Chow, they actually talk about Stephen Chow in the past, or the Stephen Chow who has influenced us. Stephen Chow today is also changing as time changes, and is creating fresh contents. Therefore, if even he is chasing after time, we will have no reason to slow down and get lazy. As for myself, I won’t hope to become Stephen Chow or others. It is impossible to duplicate the making of Stephen Chow, and it is also impossible to copy the making of Da Peng. Therefore, I think my objective now is to make good comedies, be a good director, make good films and do all work better.

 

Q The final question: What’s your wish for your 35th birthday?

Da Peng: I simply want to make City of Rock a good film, play it on the big screen, so that more people get to see the dream of rock&roll in a small city and help more music-loving children no longer suffer from their disapproving parents. Actually, when speaking of making a band, many parents found a rock child a bad boy or a dark one. It is not true. These children are positive and optimistic as well. Therefore, I hope more people will watch the City of Rock and more people will share the pleasure brought by the enjoyment of music.

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