Top Chinese director Feng Xiaogang will step in front of the camera alongside Chinese-American actor-director Joan Chen in a local adaptation of the 2009 Hollywood tearjerker “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” which began shooting Thursday.
It is currently set to premiere on New Year’s Eve.
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Feng is best known for his work as a director on films such as “Youth,” “I Am Not Madame Bovary” and “Cellphone,” but he has also frequently taken on acting roles, with his most recent starring role in 2015’s “Mr. Six.” China-born Chen (“The Last Emperor,” “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl”) is one of the few leading ladies with a robust career on both sides of the Pacific.
The Chinese “Hachi” remake will be helmed by Xu Ang, who previously directed “12 Citizens (2014),” a Chinese version of Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men,” and the popular Sohu TV police procedural web series “Medical Examiner Dr. Qin.” It is billed as an “original iQiyi productioni” from iQiyi Films and executive produced by Taiwanese veteran Yeh Jufeng.
It will walk a well-trodden path. The true story of a faithful Akita named Hachi has already inspired two films — the Hollywood version starring Richard Gere in the lead role now being played by Feng, and an earlier 1987 Japanese take, “Hachiko Monogatari.” Both depict a love so strong between a dog and his owner that the canine continues to await his master at the same downtown spot, where he used to get off work, every day for an entire decade after the man dies.
Chen is set to play Feng’s wife in the Chinese version. It is unclear whether it’s a formal remake of either the American or Japanese title.
China’s version will not feature an Akita, a Japanese dog breed, but instead a Chinese field dog native to the country. The breed is one of a number typically lumped together as “tugou” or “rural dogs,” which are often considered to be pesky strays and are one of the more popular breeds controversially — and increasingly rarely — consumed as meat. The Chinese field dog is one of 22 banned breeds that as of 2018 could not be legally registered as pets in a few Chinese cities.
With the growth of China’s middle class has come a rise in pet ownership. Some 22% of households own a pet, and that count is expected to grow. A pet industry white paper said dog and cat owners spent a massive $29 million pampering their companions in 2019, an 18.5% rise year over year.
The $16 million-budgeted, New England-set “Hachi” grossed $46.7 million globally. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and counting Gere among its producers, it was written by Stephen P. Lindsey and Kaneto Shindo, who penned the story for Japan’s original “Hachiko.” That title led the Japanese box office the year of its release.
Although neither film has hit Chinese cinemas, they both have high user ratings on the country’s top apps. American “Hachi” boasts a 9.3 and a 9.4 out of 10 on Maoyan and Douban, respectively, while Japanese “Hachiko” rates a 9 and a 9.2 on the same. Variety’s review called “Hachi” a family-friendly “simple tearjerker” with a retro feel.
Dog films have become an increasingly popular genre in China, and a number of Hollywood tales featuring man’s best friend have found box office success in the territory. In 2017, the Dennis Quaid-starring “A Dog’s Purpose” grossed $88.2 million in China, while its sequel “A Dog’s Journey” earned $29.2 million. The Sino-U.S. production backed by Columbia Pictures and Bona Film “A Dog’s Way Home” grossed $5.37 million in 2019.
The official Chinese poster features a dog and his owner hand in paw.
Watch the trailers for “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” and “Hachiko Monogatari” below.
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