Source: China State Council Information Office 3
The director who recently adapted one of China’s most popular children’s books into a film told China.org.cn that he wanted to do so to fill a gap in the Chinese market, where quality films for children aged 7-12 are particularly lacking.
“In 2018, I took my kid to the cinema, but we couldn’t find a single appropriate film he could enjoy for his age,” said Yu Fei, director of “Little Canned Men,” which is based on popular novelist Zheng Yuanjie’s book of the same name. The film will hit screens nationwide on Sept. 30.
Later Yu talked to his friend Zheng Yaqi, the son of Zheng Yuanjie and who would become the film’s producer. Together they realized there was a gap in the Chinese film market for movies for children aged 7-12 and so they decided to initiate the project.
They chose this specific story from among Zheng’s prolific body of works because it touches on several educational issues that society and the director himself are interested in.
“Little Canned Men” tells the story of Lu Xixi, a young girl who discovers five tiny people as tall as matchsticks after she opens a sealed can of meat. She and her mischievous brother Pi Pilu then befriend the five small people, each with their own distinctive talent, such as singing, martial arts, and speaking multiple languages. The tiny people help the siblings and classmates improve their studies at school, which has a bias against students with bad scores. They also face various challenges and dangers along the way.
Zheng Yuanjie, born in 1955, has penned many children’s books, writing over 20 million words and creating nearly 720 characters, mesmerizing several generations of Chinese readers. Though he started writing in 1977, he only achieved fame for his role as the sole writer for “King of Fairy Tales” monthly magazine for over nearly four decades, from 1985 until now. His magazines and books have sold more than 300 million copies in total.
Yu admitted that he was nervous about adapting such a popular novel, but that Zheng never intervened in his creative process. When he finally showed a director’s cut to Zheng, the latter recognized his efforts and even agreed to make a cameo at the end of the film.
“Little Canned Men” touches upon several education-related issues in China’s society, where many parents and teachers obsess over their children’s scores.
“The basic education and exams are just a system to help children find out which subjects they are good at and interested in,” Yu Fei said. “The new government’s policy to ease the burden for students allows parents and children the time to really think what they want.”
“Little Canned Men” is the first live-action theatrical release based on Zheng’s work. The writer suspended the authorization for adaptation rights to his works after an animated series adaptation many years ago didn’t live up to his standards. It wasn’t until after his son established a company to manage his works that he was able to persuade his father to relax the licensing restrictions.
At the premiere, held on Sept. 25 during the ongoing Beijing International Film Festival, Zheng said of education: “[It] is not management; education is demonstration and guidance. If there are any problems, they are imitated from the parents.”