Though Wong is most often thought of as a Hong Kong director, he was born in Shanghai. The “Blossoms” series is his first of two long-anticipated adaptations of a celebrated eponymous novel by Jin Yucheng, and appears to be a stylish love letter to his hometown. A film version of “Blossoms” is also in the works.
The series will consist of 24 hour-long episodes, his production firm Jet Tone Productions confirmed to Variety. Though Wong has produced and directed the pilot, he will only produce and helm some of the future episodes. It remains unclear how many others are already completed or in the works, and the series does not yet have a release date.
“Blossoms” nonetheless marks his first turn behind the camera since 2013’s martial arts drama “The Grandmaster.”
Jin’s novel amassed a huge local following of readers drawn to his unassuming yet nuanced descriptions of everyday life in Shanghai over the course of multiple decades. Unfolding in vignettes rather than a sweeping, plot-driving narrative, the book introduces a world of minor characters but primarily centers on the romantic entanglements, family history and fate of two men — one from a military family and one from a more capitalist family — from the Cultural Revolution up to the modern era.
Notably, it was written in Shanghainese dialect, which the author considers his first and primary language, rather than Mandarin.
Clocking in at just over a minute, the first-look trailer provides a glimpse into Wong’s vision of the world of Jin’s novel through the eyes of the main character Ah Bao, played by Shanghai native Hu Ge.
It is set to a voice-over monologue from Hu, delivered in Mandarin. The melancholy text, written in disjointed, poetic bursts, is juxtaposed against Chubby Checker’s upbeat 1961 hit “Let’s Twist Again.” His speech is distinctly in Wong’s signature cadence, veering away stylistically from the patter of Yu’s Shanghainese text.
In the trailer, we find Hu drinking on a rooftop at dusk, darkly reminiscing on years past and the loss of his first love, Betty, who is frequently compared metaphorically in the novel to a goldfish. Chinese actor Ma Yili (“Love Is Not Blind”) will be playing Betty, but does not appear.
The footage flashes through his memories spanning from the Cultural Revolution era of the ’60s and ’70s up to the ’90s, after China’s reform and opening up policies transformed the country.
“I remember when I was young, Betty and I liked to escape to the roof of the Russian Orthodox church near my house and watch the clouds above and the trees below,” Hu narrates in Chinese, translated here by Variety, as there are not yet official English subtitles.
“Time is like water, bringing people and occurrences, and then sweeping them all away.
“In recent years, it’s not only Betty who has floated and swum away like a goldfish. Sitting on the roof that day, I didn’t look back, because I knew that those [old] days at the Russian Orthodox church were behind me.
“I was scared to see people lost to the void, to see that all the fish had swam away. I was the only one left.”
Despite their excitement at the prospect of new work by a beloved director, a number of Chinese cinephiles were a bit let down by the slick look of the trailer.
“That music, the style and sets make it look like an ad for men’s luxury clothing,” one grumbled.
Others were struck by Hu’s charisma.
“Is Hu Ge the next Tony Leung?” one film blogger wondered, noting similarities between his onscreen presence and that of Wong’s frequent leading man.
The dapper Hu first broke out in the 2005 Wuxia TV series “Chinese Paladin” and cemented his stardom with twin 2015 TV hits, historical dramas “The Disguiser” and “Nirvana in Fire.” He’s best known to international viewers as the leading man in Diao Yinan’s noir “Wild Goose Lake,” which debuted in competition at Cannes in 2019.
“Blossoms” was written by screenwriter Qin Wen and features cinematography from Oscar-winning Peter Pau of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame.
The trailer credits Tencent Penguin Pictures, Shanghai Film Group and Blossoms Island as backers, Jettone as producer, and Tencent Video as its sole official streaming outlet. Block 2 Distribution is handling international sales.
The trailer can be viewed via this link.