Outtakes: ‘Pali Road’ ready for China

Mar. 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

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BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

It’s easy to understand why the Hawaii-based producers involved with “Pali Road,” a romantic thriller shot on Oahu for Chinese audiences, are excited about the project: The China Film Agency estimates the country adds 14 new screens a day, making it the fastest-growing movie market in the world.

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM  Director of photography Quyen Tran shoots a scene for the film “Pali Road” in which actors Jackson Rathbone (Neil) and Michelle Chen (who plays Lily) kiss.

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Director of photography Quyen Tran shoots a scene for the film “Pali Road” in which actors Jackson Rathbone (Neil) and Michelle Chen (who plays Lily) kiss.

“It’s marketing,” said Ricardo Galindez, one of the founders of Island Film Group, which is helping to finance “Pali Road.” “If a billion people see our name on the screen and one of them happens to want to make a movie in Hawaii, we want to be the ones they call.”

Five years ago there were about 6,256 screens in China, but by the end of last year, there were an estimated 22,000. At this rate, China will surpass the more than 39,000 theaters in the United States as early as 2020, Galindez said.

The filmmakers behind the $6 million “Pali Road” believe they know what Chinese audiences want, said Galindez as he watched a party scene at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on the last day of shooting last month.

“We’re filling a niche they’re creating,” he said. “Chinese people want to see American-style movies. Now they have the theaters but they need content. It’s pretty exciting.”

“Pali Road” is the story of Lily, a Chinese medical student studying in Hawaii. On the night that Lily’s boyfriend asks her to marry him, they are involved in a terrible car crash. Lily wakes up the next day and discovers that five years have passed and she’s married to her boyfriend’s best friend. The film focuses on Lily’s grasp of reality as she tries to figure out what happened that night.

Lily is played by Michelle Chen, a popular Taiwanese actress best known for the romantic comedy “You Are the Apple of My Eye.” Jackson Rathbone, who was Jasper in the “Twilight” films, is her fiance, and the third lead is Sung Kang of “Better Luck Tomorrow” and the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

The film also features Kailua resident Henry Ian Cusick, the Emmy-nominated actor from “Lost” and one of the current stars of “The 100″ on the CW.

Jonathan Lim, the film’s director and chief executive officer of Crimson Forest Entertainment, the studio behind “Pali Road,” said Hawaii was perfect for the story he wanted to tell.

“We wanted to make a film that would not only work for China, but internationally,” Lim said. “It’s something we saw crossing cultures and that’s why we chose Hawaii. There’s no other place where that would make sense.”

Lim has other stories he wants to set in Hawaii.

“We are looking at doing other films out here for sure,” he said “We have to get through this one but we definitely have more projects in the pipeline.”

The film’s Chinese investors were unfamiliar with Hawaii and were awed with what they found during a visit prior to production.

“Visually, it’s completely different from the Chinese landscape,” said “Pali Road” producer Daxing Zhang. “There is so much pollution, and concrete and so much stress in modern China that the atmosphere of Hawaii is appealing.”

The romantic thriller — emphasis on “romantic” — is aimed at younger audiences. The average age of the China moviegoer is 21.5 and audiences are 60 percent women, Zhang said.

The hope is that they will be drawn to Chen, a familiar face on China’s movie screens.

“The idea with this movie is simple: We have a Chinese star and we surround her with American actors in an American-style movie,” Galindez said.

And what is an American-style movie that China audiences want? One with a happy ending, Galindez said.

“Someone saves the day at the last minute,” he said. “That’s something, we’re told, that Chinese audiences really like.”

“Pali Road” is expected to be released in 2,400 theaters across China in September. International screenings are not set yet.
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Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.

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