Before “The Choice,” a movie about Shanghai’s World War II-era underworld, ever made it onto the silver screen, its director was accused of dabbling in the gangster life himself.
On Monday, director Jiang and three other employees from the film’s production company stood trial in Beijing’s Chaoyang District court, reported The Beijing News. Prosecutors have charged the four with “picking quarrels” on the suspicion that they assaulted and threatened employees of a promotion company to get them to buy the rights to their film.
“The Choice,” or “Junzidao,” is a sequel to a classic Hong Kong TV show, “The Bund,” which was popular on the Chinese mainland in the 1980s. The movie revolves around the shady dealings of various gangs and tycoons in Shanghai during the Second World War, and on promotional posters it was advertised as the Chinese version of “The Godfather.”
In September 2015, Dalian Fengshangru Media Culture Co. Ltd., the production company Jiang worked for, commissioned an advertising agency to promote “The Choice.” Two months later, Jiang had yet to pay his bill, and instead proposed that the agency buy the rights to the movie for 80 million yuan ($12 million), under the assurance of a 200 million-yuan box office showing.
It is common in China’s movie industry for distributors to pay a film’s producers up front. This practice ensures that producers receive a return on their investment, and it gives distributors a chance to see a huge windfall. One recent example of a movie that was distributed this way is the current domestic box office record holder, “Wolf Warrior 2.”
But a screening of “The Choice” disappointed the agency’s head, surnamed Lin, and its deputy manager, surnamed Sun. They apparently decided that Jiang’s offer was one they could refuse, and instead insisted he pay off the promotion campaign’s 2 million-yuan balance, according to the prosecutors.
But Jiang reportedly would not take no for an answer. He solicited two colleagues to repeatedly intercept and intimidate the victims, including Lin, Lin’s wife, the family’s babysitter, and Sun. The prosecutors listed seven separate offenses — including damaging property, setting up a camera to monitor Lin’s home, and using a GPS device to track Lin’s car — during the hearing, according to The Beijing News.
In response to the allegations, Jiang questioned the prosecutors’ accounts of the seven infractions. During the hearing, he accused Lin’s company of making up statistics for the movie’s publicity campaign, and explained his actions as a way to get a meeting with Lin and talk things over.
One of the other Fengshangru defendants, a man surnamed Yu, said throwing glass bottles with threatening messages into Lin’s home was supposed to get Lin to come out. Jiang also explained that the tracking device was installed because he couldn’t find Lin.
“I didn’t make trouble on purpose,” said Jiang. “All these things were done to get a meeting with them.”
“The Choice” was originally scheduled to premiere in October 2015. The latest post on its official Weibo microblog was from two years ago, saying the release had been postponed because of intense competition during the October holidays. Nearly two years later, the movie has yet to be screened publicly.
The Beijing News did not say when the court expects to reach a verdict. The prosecutors have reportedly recommended to the court that Jiang be sentenced to between two and three years in prison.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A still frame from ‘The Choice’ shows a group of men gathered in an old-fashioned parlor. From the film's Weibo account)