June 23rd, 2011
Chinese propaganda succumbs to product placement
As Chaiman Mao’s girlfriend hands him a watch, a zoom shot gives the audience a clear view of the Omega marque, a move that has offended old-fashioned Communists.
However, the movie’s director and star have both denied accusations of product-placement in the movie, which has been released to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the party in July.
“It is definitely not. It is a detail of our prop design,” co-director Han Sanping said. Han, also the chairman of the influential state-owned studio China Film Group, co-directed the film with Huang Jianxin.
“There is not a single product placement in the entire movie. As for the watch, maybe the directors weren’t really mindful of what brand it was,” said Liu Ye, the Chinese actor who plays Mao. Liu added he wasn’t sure if the gift-giving was historical fact and may have been artistic license.
Omega’s press office did not respond to two emails seeking comment over the past week.
The Swiss watch maker has 31 boutiques across China, including far-flung locations like Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, according to its website. Among the brand’s ambassadors is Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi from the hit kung fu epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
The film does not feature any other brands, but American carmaker Cadillac is an official sponsor. That has raised questions in the US about the propriety of a partly American government-owned entity backing a communist propaganda film.
Cadillac is a division of General Motors, which was a beneficiary of the 2009 auto industry bailouts.
The film, which traces the events leading to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, has a stellar cast led by Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau and has been given a huge release. That has led to expectations it will do big business. Han wouldn’t give numbers but said the movie’s early box-office performance “wasn’t bad.”
An earlier companion movie, the equally star-studded “The Founding of a Republic,” which marked the 90th anniversary of communist rule in China, made $62 million.