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U.S. director Dennie Gordon, on filming 'My Lucky Star' in China

September 22, 2013|By Julie Makinen
  • Director Dennie Gordon talks with Ziyi Zhang on the set of the movie "My Lucky Star."
Director Dennie Gordon talks with Ziyi Zhang on the set of the movie "My… (Courtesy Dennie Gordon…)

Dennie Gordon, who has directed U.S. films such as "What a Girl Wants" (2003) and "New York Minute" (2004) and numerous American TV shows, including "Burn Notice" and "30 Rock," recently helmed her first movie in China, "My Lucky Star." A romantic comedy with a dash of James Bond-y adventure, it stars Ziyi Zhang of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fame and Leehom Wang, a Taiwanese American singer and actor.

In "My Lucky Star," Zhang plays Sophie, an aspiring cartoonist who wins a trip to Singapore and crosses paths with a dashing secret agent (Wang), entangling herself in his big case involving international arms dealers. Zhang first played the Sophie role in the 2009 film "Sophie's Revenge," directed by Eva Jin. The new movie -- which shot in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and mainland China -- was produced by Bona Film Group.

We caught up with Gordon in Los Angeles recently, where the movie opened Friday -- the same day as it rolled out in mainland China -- to hear about how she survived filming during a hurricane, how Jackie Chan helped out, and why her Kim Jong Il joke got left on the cutting room floor. Following is an edited Q+A:

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Q. How did you come to direct a film in China?

I felt stuck, like I needed to make some kind of move. I’ve felt, as many filmmakers do, that [the business] just wasn’t here [in the U.S.] anymore. Someone once said, "You always have to come out of a different foxhole." I was very inspired by that.

My son, who's now 24, started studying Chinese in 9th grade. Now he lives in Beijing and works as a filmmaker. So we kind of made it a family project -- we all just started feeling like we knew we're going to do something in China, and it just so happened that my opportunity came now.

I was trying to do a remake of "What a Girl Wants" and there was a company in China that was interested. There was a guy there who was very keen on doing it, Song Ge, and he would just show up wherever I was shooting something. He was sort of tracking me and we just built this relationship. He had produced "Sophie’s Revenge" with Ziyi -- we call her Z -- and he wanted to do another project with her. And so he put us together.  He didn’t get to finish the movie because he changed companies but by then we were a pretty interesting package. …

Finally, we went to Bona and they took good care of us. There was a crazy dinner in Hong Kong where the owner of Bona, Yu Dong, took us to the Shangri-La hotel and asked me if I could be ready to start shooting in a week... and I said absolutely, we’ll be ready in a week. He wrote a check for $8 million. So boom. This was early July 2012.

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Q. What was the biggest surprise?

We hit the ground running and started prepping to shoot in Hong Kong. We shot one day and our set was wiped out by a hurricane, the biggest hurricane in Hong Kong in 25 years. This floating village -- where the safe house in the movie is -- it was completely wiped out. We had to hide in the center of our hotel because the glass was being blown all around. And I thought we’d just get the insurance like we do in the West. And they said oh no, we don’t have insurance. So we had to figure out how to make up the difference -- we were down for 10 days and had to rebuild the set. I just started pulling pages out of the script. We shot a very tight little movie.

Q. "My Lucky Star" somehow reminds me of U.S. romantic comedies from the early 2000s. Why is that?

I went over to meet with Z, she had seen all my stuff. She said, "I really want you to develop a movie for me like Anne Hathaway would star in, or like 10 years ago Kate Hudson would star in. ... I want to do a romantic comedy with some adventure. I want to do something different. I want to do a Sophie movie because I love that character but I don’t want to do the old Sophie, I want to take her to a new place."

So I pitched her -- what if we took you to the land of James Bond or "Romancing the Stone," a spy-tastic adventure where Sophie has to step up to the plate? And she loved that. So I came back here and started working with a couple writers. … The two that I most closely developed it with here were Beaver Kwei, one of my producers, and Amy Snow. 

It feels like a throwback here but it’s revolutionary in China. This mixing romance, comedy, action and travel-adventure, it’s never been done. We are really hoping they dig it. There’s really no Chinese film we could point to and say, oh, it’s kind of like this.  So it feels a little retro, a little vintage here, but there it's not. Also, it's kind of spoofing in a way. Not like "Austin Powers," not that broad, but just sending up the genre. They love Bond in China, and they love our television shows. I’ve directed "White Collar," "Burn Notice" -- these shows are extremely popular in China.

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