WORLD FESTIVAL PREMIERE
忠犬八公 (Zhong Quan Ba Gong)
China, 2023, 120’
Directed by: Xu Ang
Screenplay: based on Hachiko Monogatari by Shindo Kaneto
Photography (Color): Shan He
Executive producer: Yeh Jufeng
Production Company: iQIYI
Cast: Feng Xiaogang (Chen Jinxiu), Joan Chen (Li Jiazhen), Congo Pax
Date of First Release in Territory: March 31st, 2023
The Chinese remake of the film that moved audiences around the world in its original 1987 Japanese version and later in its 2009 American version seems such an obvious idea that one almost wonders why it has only been made now. Perhaps that was what it took to create the ideal conditions for a highly sensitive director and two exceptional actors to find themselves working together. Be that as it may, the result is a near-perfect film: touching without being tearful, romantic but not saccharine, and sublimely performed by the whole cast – including the various canine actors used to portray the various stages in the life of Batong, the most famous faithful dog in the world.
The story of Hachiko is a well known one, and is based on real events: in the 1920s an Akita dog became famous for the tenacity with which, for nine years, it continued to wait for its late owner. As a puppy, Hachiko was adopted by a university professor, accompanying him to the station where he took the train to work each morning and waiting for him when he returned. One unhappy day, due to a sudden and unfortunately fatal illness, the professor never came back, but for the rest of his life Hachiko continued to wait for him in front of the train station every day. Hachiko became a symbol, first in Japan and then internationally, of unconditional loyalty, and his story has featured in books, TV programmes, manga, video games and films in Japan, USA and India, all of which have been hugely successful. The first film, 1987’s Hachiko Monogatari, was written by Shindo Kaneto, whose screenplay provides the basis of the Chinese remake, even though the historical setting of the latter has been updated to the end of the last century.
What gives the film its captivating atmosphere is the setting: in the Chinese version we are in Chongqing during the period of the construction of the dam on the Yangtze, in an already enormous but not yet fully developed city where getting about means climbing up and down steep stairways, walking along rudimentary tracks and crossing the river inside the enormous cabins of the cableway. The city is as intricate as a Lego model, its beautiful interiors illuminated by warm lights and furnished in a style which, though historically faithful, evokes a romantic vision of life, as if to underline that these were the “golden years” not only for the protagonists of the story but also for the country as a whole: years when human values – of which the relationship between the dog and its master is particularly emblematic – took priority over material ones. These values are embodied by two exceptional actors: in the role of the professor we find Feng Xiaogang and in that of his wife Joan Chen. Not only a great director, Feng Xiaogang is also an excellent actor: although he has only appeared in a few films, he has shown great talent in each, and is absolutely convincing in the role of an intellectual who is underappreciated in the academic world and good-naturedly bullied by his wife and son at home, but who stands up for what he wants for the first time in his life when he saves a stray puppy he finds on the street. Hachiko feels almost like a hymn to freedom of choice - these days, every film inevitably contains a subliminal message...
Joan Chen is also perfect in the role of a strong-willed woman who, though seemingly materialistic, deep down is actually sensitive, loving and devoted. Xu Ang's masterful direction handles the dynamic of the relationship between the two to perfection, and the rest of the cast is equally convincing – including the canine performers, who are predictably adorable.
Director, screenwriter and actor Xu Ang (Beijing, 1978) won the Best Director award at the China Movie Channel Media Awards in 2015 and the Shanghai Film Critics Association Awards in 2016. His film 12 Citizens won the Best Film award at the contemporary section of the 9th edition of the Rome Film Fest.
2015 – 12 Citizens
2016 – Hunter
2016 – Medical Examiner Doctor Qin
2023 – Hachiko