YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Eva Jin makes 'One Night Surprise' as a rom-com for a global audience

Chinese writer-director Eva Jin ('Sophie's Revenge'), who studied film in the U.S., crafts 'One Night Surprise' for China and for export.

August 10, 2013|By Julie Makinen

BEIJING — Building cinematic bridges between the U.S. and China is a hot topic in Hollywood these days — American studios are adding special scenes set in China ("Iron Man 3"), casting Chinese performers ("Transformers 4") and erasing Chinese bad guys ("Red Dawn").

Much less is heard — on these shores, at least — about how some Chinese filmmakers are looking to internationalize their movies and narrow the East-West gap. But in a chilly warehouse on the outskirts of Beijing, actress-writer-director Eva Jin was busy last autumn doing just that on the set of her latest romantic comedy, "One Night Surprise."

As Jin adjusted her black mini-dress and prepared to deliver tart dialogue in Mandarin for her cameo, her American cinematographer, Michael Bonvillain, conferred about the shot in English with the Hong Kong-born first assistant director, Sylvia Liu, and camera operator Saba Malzoum, a Canadian who grew up in Taiwan. 

PHOTOS: Four female Chinese directors to watch

Meanwhile, in a sparse dressing room backstage, Korean American actor Daniel Henney went over his lines. Nearby in a small trailer, Chinese star Fan Bingbing studied her English dialogue with a tutor and rehearsed for a scene with Aarif Rahman, a Hong Kong singer-actor of Malay, Arab and Chinese heritage who attended university in London.

Though Jin set "One Night Surprise" in Beijing, it's a sexy, cosmopolitan tale whose bilingual characters could just as easily be going to clubs with pole dancers and driving their Mercedes-Benzes in Seoul, Paris or L.A.

The plot revolves around successful ad agency employee Michelle (Fan), who gets pregnant on the night of her wild 32nd birthday party but isn't sure if the father is her Harvard-educated boss (Henney), her young Canadian-born assistant (Rahman) or someone else.

"People all over the world can enjoy this kind of movie," Fan said of the film, which arrives in Chinese theaters Aug. 9. "The location doesn't matter, the language doesn't matter. It's cool how … there are actors of different nationalities, speaking different languages. We can learn from each other what we are good at. Although it's difficult, it really can be fun."

Crossing cultures

Jin, who studied Italian opera at the China Conservatory of Music before enrolling in film school at Florida State University in 2001, broke out with her 2009 rom-com "Sophie's Revenge."

A Chinese-South Korean co-production, "Sophie's Revenge" starred Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi as a comic book artist trying to win back her fiancé (South Korean actor So Ji-sub) after he dumps her for a movie star (Fan).

Incorporating a vibrant production design, black-and-white scenes and even animated segments (Jin is a published cartoonist), the movie arrived just as the genre was taking off in China and proved a box office hit. "Sophie's Revenge" made Jin the first woman in the club of Chinese directors whose films have hit the 100-million renminbi mark ($16.6 million at today's exchange rates).


Like "One Night Surprise," "Sophie's Revenge" had a borderless quality about it though it played only in a handful of countries outside China. Writing about the film in the Korea Times, Lee Hyo-won noted: "a point of interest is that the story, set in Beijing, features top Asian stars and Chinese remakes of bouncy K-pop tunes, but shows no hint of regional color and strictly limits the camera to cosmopolitan venues like gyms and modern art galleries."

"I like to create 'ideal cities' and avoid Beijing landmarks; I want to make something that everyone can relate to, and has kind of a timeless quality," Jin, 38, said in her Beijing office, which is decorated with colorful pillows, knickknacks and posters for films including "A Clockwork Orange," "Metropolis" and "300."

Because humor tends to be so culturally specific, comedies aren't typically considered the kind of movies that "travel well" across borders. But for a Chinese director like Jin, it's a genre that actually may be more relatable abroad than, say, historical dramas or martial-arts action films, which have dominated Chinese exports but can be filled with references to ancient emperors and kung fu masters obscure to foreign audiences.

PHOTOS: Hollywood backlot moments

In fact, "Sophie's Revenge" did earn Jin attention in Hollywood; she sold remake rights to Mosaic Media and subsequently began developing another script with Ivan Reitman's Montecito Picture Co.

After FSU, Jin spent several years living in Los Angeles, writing screenplays at Peet's Coffee on Sunset Boulevard, getting feedback from fellow alumni in the business and occasionally working on small independent productions.

Los Angeles Times Articles