A Chinese national frantically tries to comfort a woman who is writhing on the ground by the roadside.
The scene is around a sub-urban Nairobi setting, an isolated neighbourhood with good forest tropical landscape complementing the smooth tarmac drive-through road.
Two officers holding guns appear behind the two, then the clip transitions to a mean-looking bald-headed man inside a Land Cruiser speeding towards them.
The driver notices more cops with cocked guns blocking his way. He defies their order to pull over and tries to maneuvre his way out of the scene. In a matter of seconds, the scene turns into a full-blown crime scene.
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The two-minute clip has created so much buzz on social media platforms. The breath-taking teaser is that of a TV series called Hunting, based on a Chinese investigation team that seeks to track down and capture fugitives who are hiding abroad in an attempt to escape China’s judicial system.
The series whose cast comprises celebrated actors such as Angel Wang, Wang Kai, Liu Yijun, and Deng Jiajia, has been enjoying a 250-million viewership via the BTV-1, Dragon Television Chinese network.
“We have been filming many international films with big stars such as Angelina Jolie both in Kenya and across the world and out of this good network, the Chinese company behind Hunting approached us for the Kenyan shoot sometime in 2019.
The team was extremely professional and even had the support of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya. They had a cast of very experienced actors too, and this made the project easy to handle,” explains Jim Shamoon, the managing director, Blue Sky Films, the production company that was behind its filming.
Jim says it was exciting to shoot the series and work with a technical team that was largely Kenyan as well as local actors such as Derrick Assetto, a leading actor, model, stuntman, and filmmaker. Derrick was the lead actor in the film.
Taking advantage of his personal and company’s experience and networks, Jim says it was not hard to get a licence to shoot the film here taking into account the fact that they had to use firearms and explosives as well as the services of real police officers.
“After translating the script and identifying shooting locations such as Ngong Road and Kona Baridi where some of the scenes were filmed, we took two weeks shooting the series that in my estimation could have cost slightly over Sh100 million.
Last year, we filmed one with a French company whose budget was close to Sh300 million and through this experience, and others, people learn to trust you with big-budget shoots,” Jim, who is also a former chairman of the Oscar Nomination Committee for Kenya as well as the vice-chairman of the Kenya Film and TV Professionals Association, says.
Derrick says he had a good experience playing his role in this film, despite a few translation problems that took him some time to understand.
The 44-episode series, made with support from China’s Ministry of Public, is based on true crime stories and is one of the most-watched TV series in China.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have not watched the film. It was intended for Chinese television, although it will be available for the international market.
Season One of Hunting was shot for 123 days in 2019, 59 of those days spent in Kenya and the Czech Republic, locations where most of the scenes have been captured.
“The Chinese were shockingly accommodating and they work very fast and are very professional. They are workaholics and there were no delays in the shoot. Everybody on set has an assigned role and there is absolutely no confusion,” says Derrick , who has appeared on among other productions, African Mourn Amor, Sense8, Rafiki, The First Grader, Taking the Flak, and Survivor Africa: Panama.
According to him, one of the things the foreigners were impressed with is how committed local actors were to making the film a success, something he says they didn’t expect.
“There is a very negative perception about us from production companies out there, but in my experience, these foreigners get shocked all the time at the amount of talent available and our levels of commitment,” notes Derrick, remarks that Jim supports.
“Since then we have received many queries from other Chinese companies who want to film in Kenya and it seems there is more business on the way. Kenya is a great filming destination and international movie makers are discovering that we have experienced actors as well as technical personalities,” says Jim.
Blue Sky Films is a Kenyan company that has been facilitating and producing outstanding film and television shows throughout East and Central Africa for more than 18 years.
Its portfolio comprises a wide range of productions from television commercials to reality shows, documentaries, music videos, and still photography shoots. The company also facilitates the production of major Hollywood films such as The Constant Gardener, Tomb Raider 2: Lara Croft and the Cradle of Life, and The First Grader.
In a June 2019 article, Quartz Africa contributor Yu-Shan Wu predicted that the theatre would be the next target for China to dig deeper roots in Africa.
Passion for movies
While stories about China’s economy centres on a slowdown, China’s passion for movies, at home and abroad, follows a much more optimistic plot line. Its growth has been phenomenal, outperforming China’s traditional industries such as manufacturing.
Many experts believe China is on track to have the largest film audience in the world, that is according to a study by the Wharton University of Pennsylvania.
“The entertainment industry is a sunrise industry in China, while the steel industry is a sunset industry. The growth potential for the entertainment industry is still huge, despite a high growth rate of 17 per cent annually in the past five years,” says John Zhang, Wharton marketing professor.
According to Zhang, the media and entertainment industry is worth $180 billion (about Sh18,000 billion) in China.