24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: China

Shanghai film fest kicks off with honor for Mike Medavoy

June 17, 2012 | 12:17 am

Shanghai film festival

SHANGHAI –- The Shanghai International Film Festival kicked off Saturday night by honoring a native-son turned Hollywood producer, Mike Medavoy.

Medavoy -- co-founder of Orion Pictures, producer on such films as "Black Swan," and chief executive of Phoenix Pictures -- received an Outstanding Achievement Award at the festival, applauded by the city where he was born in 1941 to Ukrainian Jewish refugees.

"Shanghai has roots for me. My parents lived here for 24 years and this is the place that gave them the safety net they needed," said Medavoy, who lived in China's biggest city until he was nearly 7. Qin Yi, a silver-haired former starlet, presented Medavoy with the award. Holding the heavy-looking golden goblet, he fumbled a handshake from her outstretched hand.

"The 50 years I've spent in Hollywood all started in cinemas here in Shanghai," Medavoy said, recalling the tears his late father shed upon landing at the city's airport 15 years ago on a father-son trip to the first Shanghai International Film Festival.

"This was the place that saved our lives," Medavoy recalled his father saying. "For that, I'm grateful," Medavoy added. "I will come back again and again."

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Shanghai Film Fest: Q&A with director Jean-Jacques Annaud

June 15, 2012 |  4:00 pm

Jean jacques annaud 1
SHANGHAI — Fifteen years ago, Jean-Jacques Annaud was demonized by the Chinese Communist Party for his film “Seven Years in Tibet” — the cadres were unhappy with his cinematic portrayal of the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of the region in 1949 and his casting of the sister of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

A decade and a half on, the 68-year-old French director is being welcomed here with open arms.
On Saturday, Annaud will arrive in China to chair the jury of the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, which kicks off this weekend with 17 films from around the world in competition. And he’s preparing to make a $30-million Mandarin-language drama with the state-run China Film Group.

The film is based on “Wolf Totem,” the biggest-selling contemporary novel of all time in China. “Wolf Totem” follows a Chinese student from Beijing who is sent to Inner Mongolia in 1967 for reeducation at the height of the Cultural Revolution. By living with the nomads and among the wolves on the steppe, the protagonist builds a deep respect for freedom and nature, themes Annaud has explored before in his films “The Bear” and “Two Brothers.”

The nearly 600-page semi-autobiographical novel was written by Jiang Rong, the pen name of Beijing political scientist Lu Jiamin, who was detained without trial for more than a year following his participation in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. His first book, it shot up China’s bestseller list in 2004 and was widely translated after celebrities such as former NBA star Yao Ming praised the messages between its covers. There are many, including praise for the complementary individualism and teamwork of nomadic life, the destructiveness of breakneck modernization and the importance of environmental conservation.

The fact that censors allowed the book to be published in China surprised many, given that the protagonist expresses contempt for the group-think that China’s majority Han ethnicity forces on ethnic minorities and disdains the Confucian principles that the Communist Party has recently revived in its political rhetoric even in the 21st century. Which messages Annaud and his partners will highlight on screen remains to be seen.

Annaud spoke by phone from his country home in France about his second chapter with China.

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Is China exerting an undue influence on Hollywood films?

June 12, 2012 |  5:05 pm

Hongko
As it seeks to grab an ever-larger share of the global movie market, Hollywood has been keeping foreign cultures in mind. Studios now regularly cast actors or tweak titles to make sure filmgoers from Mexico City to Moscow feel at home when they sit down to watch one of their movies.

But no country has ruled the American film business’ consciousness lately as much as China.

 In its attempt to woo audiences in the Asian nation — now the largest filmgoing market outside the U.S. — studios have added scenes ingratiating to the Chinese while also excising anything that might be deemed offensive by the country's censors (including Chinese baddies).

As I and colleague Jonathan Landreth report in a story in today’s Times, the instances are many and diverse.

Among the examples:

— MGM, the studio behind the upcoming remake of the 1984 action movie "Red Dawn," digitally altered the invaders attacking the U.S. to make them North Koreans instead of Chinese, even though they were written and shot as Chinese.

— In Columbia Pictures' disaster movie "2012," the White House chief of staff extols the Chinese as visionaries after an ark built by the country's scientists saves civilization. The scene caused some in the West to roll their eyes, though it garnered ovations in Shanghai.

— For its new film “Iron Man 3,” Marvel is shooting in China and working with Chinese interests to add “a local flavor [that] will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China's fast-growing film marketplace."

— When aliens besiege Earth in Universal Pictures' new action film "Battleship," they attack, of all cities, Hong Kong. Washington then credits Chinese authorities with identifying the invaders.

 Experts view these instances as an unprecedented, shaping not only exports but what we see at home. The result, they say, is a generation of Western filmgoers that will basically get only a positive, sanitized view of Chinese in their films.

 "I don't think the average U.S. filmgoer is hugely aware of all of these small decisions," said USC professor Stanley Rosen, who runs the school’s East Asian Studies center.  "But subliminally, it can start to have an effect."

 Click through for a fuller exploration of the complicated influence of China on American movies, and weigh in with your comments below.

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— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Hong Kong comes under attack in "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures.


Will Smith's 'Men in Black 3' censored in China

May 31, 2012 | 11:34 am

Mib
"Men in Black 3" is the latest film to face the wrath of Chinese censors.

At least three minutes of Sony's sci-fi comedy have been excised for its Chinese theatrical run, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

The offending moments take place in New York's Chinatown. They include a Chinese-restaurant shootout between evil aliens and Will Smith's Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K -- the aliens are disguised as restaurant workers -- as well as a moment when Smith’s J  “neuralyzes,” or memory-wipes, a group of Chinese bystanders.

A Chinese paper, the China Southern Daily, speculated that the latter scene may have been cut because it could be viewed as a comment on China's censorship of the Internet.

The news was first reported in the English-language press by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which pegged the total time of the cuts at 13 minutes.

"MIB 3" opened to more than $21 million in China last weekend, by far the largest total of any of the more than 50 foreign territories in which the movie bowed.

Chinese law limits the number of Hollywood movies that can be shown in its theaters, prompting studios to be unusually careful about any China-related content they include in their films. In this case, Sony learned of the Chinese government’s objections after the film had been completed.

This is hardly the first time a Hollywood movie has been altered for mainland release. A moment in "Mission: Impossible 3" featuring laundry hanging in Shanghai, for instance, was removed before the film was shown in China. Scenes of the Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat playing a villain in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” were also expunged.

Studios are sometimes proactive in removing scenes themselves. MGM changed in postproduction the nationality of villains in its upcoming "Red Dawn" reboot, digitally transforming them from Chinese to North Korean.

Sony is no stranger to working with the Chinese government. The company collaborated with the Asian nation on its 2010 reboot of "The Karate Kid," which was shot in Beijing and other parts of the country and offered a generally positive view of life on the mainland -- and starred Will Smith's son, Jaden.

You can see some of the Chinatown scenes in this trailer:

 

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 -- Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: "Men in Black 3." Credit: Sony Pictures


Cannes 2012: China has a dangerous liaison with a classic

May 25, 2012 |  9:18 am

 Dangerousliai
CANNES, France -- Western directors have been looking east for years, remaking and borrowing from countries like China and South Korea with Tarantino-esque abandon.

Asian filmmakers, however, have been far less inclined to go the other way and tackle a film from Europe or North America, which makes a Chinese reimagining of the Western staple "Dangerous Liaisons"  notable, and a little strange.

Best known as Stephen Frears' 1988 Glenn Close-John Malkovich movie, "Liaisons" has had numerous interpretations since beginning life in the 18th century as a French novel about the manipulative Marquis de Merteuil.

But it's never quite been incarnated as it has in the Chinese-South Korean co-production, also titled "Dangerous Liaisons," that premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival's Directors' Fortnight section, where it seeks American and European distribution. Nor, perhaps, has it ever been done for such a particular set of marketplace reasons. The Asian spin is as much about the modern global economy as it is about cross-cultural storytelling.

"Part of the reason I decided to remake this is of course that it is well-known in the West," the producer Chen Weiming told 24 Frames via a translator on Thursday. "And we want this movie to have a big audience in Europe and North America."

In crafting what they hope will be a global release, Chen and director Hur Jin-ho shifted the romantic drama from 18th century France to 1930s Shanghai, and gave the film's coolly conniving marquis an Asian spin. Mo Jieyu, as she's now known, is a sexy entrepreneur (Cecilia Cheung) who manipulates the romantic lives of a number of people around her in the name of  love and, more often, sport. She utters lines like "To get a man's heart I must play games; to survive I must remain unfathomable."

In an interview, Cheung said she felt a kinship to the take-charge character. "Even at age 8 I was giving orders," she said, "and expecting everyone will listen."

Directed by the South Korean Hur (chosen, Chen said, because "there are not so many directors in China who could do this movie") and featuring a mix of Chinese and South Korean actors such as Zhang Ziyi, the new "Dangerous Liaisons" plays at times like a screwball comedy -- complete with bouncy music and playful Dallas-esque machinations -- before eventually taking a tragic turn.

"What we want to say is that if relations between men and women are treated like a game, it will end in tragedy," Hur said.

Chen added that he thought it also had something to say about contemporary Asia. "There are a lot of similarities between Shanghai in the 1930s and China today, where there is much material wealth but not as much human concerns."

Most Western titles that have migrated to Asia, like "High School Musical," have been essentially formats that retain the outlines of the story and swap in local references. Zhang Yimou provided one of the few exceptions several years ago when he attempted a genuine remake with "A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop," was an Asian reimagining of the Coen Bros. "Blood Simple."

His film and "Liaisons" represent a new twist on the traditional Asian-Western cultural exchange. As China attempts, tentatively, to become an exporter as much as an importer -- see under Christian Bale-Zhang collaboration "The Flowers of War" last year, which shares a screenwriter with "Liaisons" -- remakes are an opportunity to further smooth the way. It's (presumably) a lot easier to sell a cultural product to a Western audience if that product is merely a repackaging of something they already know.

Cannes audiences have been mostly enamored with "Liaisons," giving the film enthusiastic ovations when it premiered earlier this week. Whether a global audience will respond the same way remains unclear. Though there is a familiar arc and a more conventional manner of storytelling than exists in many Chinese period pieces, the film is still ultimately a culturally specific Chinese remake of what was in itself just an art-house hit.

Its backers, however, say they believe the movie's themes are one of its biggest selling points. "The human concerns make this a movie for everyone," said Chen. "the relations between the sexes is something everyone can relate to."

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Dangerous Liaisons." Credit: Zonbo Media


Kevin Spacey is latest A-lister to take on role in Chinese film

May 10, 2012 |  8:30 am

Kevin Spacey in China

BEIJING -- Christian Bale did it in “The Flowers of War.” Hugh Jackman did it in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” Now it’s Kevin Spacey’s turn to appear in a Chinese movie featuring dialogue in Mandarin and English.

The two-time Academy Award winner hit China’s big screens this past weekend in the off-beat dramedy “Inseparable,” directed by Beijing-based Dayyan Eng.  

“Inseparable” starts with an attempted suicide by a depressed man named Li Yue (played by the Hong Kong-American heartthrob Daniel Wu in his first major English-speaking role). Every day Li dons a suit and tie and heads to his suffocating office job at a prosthetic-limb company in an unnamed Chinese city. (The movie was filmed in Guangzhou.) 

Li’s boss is corrupt, his wife, Pang (an investigative television reporter played by Gong Beibi), is always away, and he is recovering from a past trauma. But just as Li is about to hang himself from his living room ceiling, he is interrupted by his brash American neighbor Chuck (Kevin Spacey).

Together, they head out into the city in homemade superhero outfits to right the wrongs in a country suffering from widespread fraud and corruption, a vast wealth gap and a frustrated, angry populace. The wise-cracking expat Chuck proves to be both Li’s savior and nemesis. 

Continue reading »

James Cameron, Jeremy Renner hit Beijing film festival

April 23, 2012 |  4:44 pm

Jeremy renner beijing film festival
There was plenty of Hollywood to go around on the opening day of the second Beijing International Film Festival on Monday. The day started with a morning screening of Marvel's "The Avengers" and finished with a gala that included popular vocalist Wang Leehom playing the piano and singing “As Time Goes By” from “Casablanca” while images of Humphrey Bogart floated across a backdrop. An orchestra even played a medley of Hollywood scores, from “Star Wars” and “Titanic” to “Mamma Mia!”

But if overseas visitors had any doubt about how China perceives its role in the movie world, the opening night gala provided ample reminders that it envisions great things. 

Between acrobatic dancers performing in rich silks and a shrill processional conjuring Peking Opera, Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong, the festival’s honorary chairman, nearly shouted at classical oratory volumes at the roughly 2,000 guests packed into the China National Convention Center theater for the three-hour gala.

Touting the six-day Beijing event as a better draw than its veteran competitor -- the Shanghai International Film Festival, which will turn 15 this June -- Guo said that the Beijing event was meant to define the capital as “a national cultural center and contributor to the exchange and prosperity of the world film industry.”

As Guo and Zhang Pimin, deputy director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, belted out their speeches, their prepared remarks were projected onto giant screens for the few hundred foreign visitors in the audience, including, in the front row, James Cameron, director of the current China box-office hit “Titanic 3D.”

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Beijing Film Festival attracts Hollywood movers and shakers

April 22, 2012 |  8:46 pm

Rob minkoff jackie chan
On the eve of the second annual Beijing International Film Festival on Sunday night, some 200 movie industry movers and shakers — many from Hollywood — piled into the trendy d Lounge in the Chinese capital, washing back petit fours and hors d'oeuvres with champagne under the vaulted brick ceilings.

The party was hosted by Rob Minkoff — director of the Academy Award-winning “The Lion King” — and as he and producing partner Pietro Ventani circulated among the guests, Minkoff reflected on how much has changed in China since he first came to Beijing in 1997.

At the time Ventani was helping the Walt Disney Co. set up its China offices and he invited Minkoff for a visit. At that time, there were just a few construction cranes on Chang An Avenue, the capital’s main East-West drag, and few other signs of the city’s future. 

Minkoff remembers scoffing when Ventani predicted a boom was coming. Of course, now he’s a believer. He filmed his 2008 Jackie Chan-Jet Li movie “The Forbidden Kingdom” here and marvels at glass-and-steel capital that began emerging that year, when the city hosted the Summer Olympics. 

“Like Paris in the 1920s, Beijing is having its world moment right now. If you’re in the movies and you haven’t been to Beijing, you’re kind of missing where things are really happening,” said Minkoff. He himself has another China project in the works — a film called “Chinese Odyssey,” though he declined to give a status report on the project, which has been gestating for some time.

Among those at the Minkoff bash ahead of the six-day, state-run festival  were “Superman Returns” producer and former Columbia/Tristar Pictures head Christopher Lee, former Creative Artists Agency China chief Peter Loehr, and “Transformers” and “X-Men” writer and producer Tom DeSanto.

Lee says he sees parallels between the Beijing of today and not Paris but Los Angeles as U.S. studios make a flurry of partnership announcements and jockey for position as the Chinese market takes off. (DreamWorks Animation said in February it would partner with two state-run media companies to build a new studio in Shanghai; Disney announced this month that it would partner with an animation arm of China's Ministry of Culture and China's largest Internet company, Tencent Holdings Ltd.; Disney also said last week that it would make "Iron-Man 3" a co-production with Beijing-based DMG Entertainment.)

It's anyone's guess as to which partnerships here will become dominant in what's projected to be the world's largest movie market in the world in the coming years.

"China is like Hollywood in the 1920s,” Lee said. “We’re all wondering which one of these big Chinese and China joint-venture companies forming is going to have the right a management. How else will China find its way?” 

Also mingling Sunday night were USC Film School professor and longtime Woody Allen producer Michael Peyser, Christopher Bremble, chief executive of Beijing-based visual effects studio BaseFX;  Aaron Shershow, unit production manager on Keanu Reeves’ upcoming directoral effort “The Man of Tai Chi,” now filming in China; and “Karate Kid” casting director Po-ping Au-Yeung. Also present were Alan Chu, head of film development at DMG Entertainment, and David Lee, producer of the Kevin Spacey-Daniel Wu film “Inseparable” due May 4 in China. 

Independent film sales veteran Michael Werner also joined the fete, as did Pete Rive, chair of Film Auckland, and a few rising Chinese industry creative types who’ve shown bilingual crossover skills, including writer-directors Chen Daming (the Chinese remake of “What Women Want”) and Eva Jin (“Sophie’s Revenge”) to the actresses Crystal Liu (co-star of Minkoff’s “The Forbidden Kingdom”) and Zhu Zhu (who appears in Daniel Hsia’s forthcoming “Shanghai Calling”).

Minkoff, whose wife is Chinese-American, bought a Beijing apartment in 2005 sight unseen at the recommendation of his future brother-in-law.  If Sunday’s soiree is any indication, he may soon have more expat Hollywood neighbors.

 “I thought I was buying as an investment, but I’ve never rented it,” Minkoff said. “I’m staying in it tonight. It’s like a second home.”

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— Jonathan Landreth in Beijing

Photo: Jackie Chan with director Rob Minkoff in 2008, when their film "The Forbidden Kingdom" was released. Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images.


Kate Winslet's breasts censored from 'Titanic 3D' in China

April 12, 2012 | 12:31 pm

"Titanic"

"Titanic 3D" was an instant box-office hit when it opened in China this week, but audiences there didn't get to see one of the movie's most famous scenes -- Kate Winslet reclining nude as Leonardo DiCaprio paints her portrait.

China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television censored the scene in the new, 3-D version of the film, just as it did in the movie's first theatrical run there in 1998. But because many Chinese fans initially saw pirated versions of "Titanic," many were familiar with the scene and chagrined by the omission.

"I've been waiting almost 15 years, and not for the 3-D icebergs," said one disappointed moviegoer in a widely circulated microblog post quoted by China Daily.

Pleasing Chinese audiences is increasingly important for movie studios, as the country has become one of the leading foreign markets for Hollywood films.

When "Titanic" was released in China 14 years ago, the movie played in only 180 theaters. This week, "Titanic 3D" was screened in 3,500 locations in the country.

On its opening day Tuesday in China, "Titanic 3D" sold $11.6 million worth of tickets, more than a quarter of the $44 million the original grossed in China during its entire theatrical run.

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Photo: Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Hong Kong Film Festival: Stars and paparazzi on opening night

March 21, 2012 |  5:52 pm

Love in the buff 2

A huge pack of paparazzi were jockeying for position Wednesday evening at the 36th annual Hong Kong International Film Festival, eager to catch the arrival of Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue, stars of the opening night film, “Love in the Buff.”  But somehow, it was all very civil.

The red carpet at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where the film market and much of the festival takes place, is more of a circle than a straightaway. On Wednesday, it was surrounded by glammed-up fans, including giggling girls ready to swoon at every move Yue made and sigh at Yeung’s creamy-dreamy-ruffling gown.

In "Love in the Buff," from director Pang Ho-Cheung, Yeung and Yue reprise their roles as Cherie and Jimmy from the 2010 movie “Love in a Puff.” In that film, Cherie and Jimmy meet on their smoke breaks in Hong Kong, with the chemistry fairly crackling. In "Buff," the two have broken up with each other, and Hong Kong, and are in the throes of separate, but equally fraught, moves to Beijing.

The packed house -- there was one theater for the gala crowd and two sold-out screens for the public -- was thrilled to see the couple they fell in love with two years ago back on screen.

Pang’s romantic comedy is appealingly cheeky in the ways it talks about love, commitment and changing times, weaving it all together into frothy fair that is as likable as the sparring Jimmy and Cherie at its center.

The writer-director has introduced complications into their lives. Beijing has a different mood than Hong Kong, somehow everything feels more open, the capital's notoriously smoggy air clear after the denseness of Hong Kong as seen in "Love in a Puff." Since both cities have their air quality issues, it's hard not to think Pang is playing around with the idea of the shiny prospects Beijing holds for so many of Hong Kong's coming generation, letting the sun shine on that mainland promise while wrapping Hong Kong in a fog of darker shadows.

Love in the buffBoth Jimmy and Cherie have found new significant others. Xu Zheng plays a sturdy businessman who's dating Cherie; Mini Yang is a lovely young model Jimmy has fallen for. The life choices they are facing are polar opposites: Will she choose safety? Will he choose excitement? But both have to decide whether they'll stay in Beijing, or is Hong Kong’s pull too strong?

Giving the seriousness of their decisions, there is still a lightness to the way Yeung and Yue play Cherie and Jimmy that gives the film a dancing-on-air sensibility. The comedy, which kept waves of laughter filling the hall, has a kind of gentle quality that makes it more endearing than mean.

But Pang is still engaging with important themes. He’s seized upon the idea of using romance as a way to weigh in on the continuing cultural changes in China, particularly the evolution of a Yuppie class with enough money and time on its hands to indulge in good old-fashioned heartbreak. But it is the playful way that Pang deals with the ripple effect of this new age with its rapidly shifting social mores -- on relationships, and ways of thinking about life -- that makes "Love in the Buff" nothing and everything to laugh about.

Pretty much a perfect opening for a festival that is all about change, transition and bouyant hope.

The trailer is below. "Love in the Buff" will be released in U.S. theaters on March 30.

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Photos: Top: Director Pang Ho-Cheung, actress Miriam Yeung and actor Shawn Yue pose at the movie premiere of "Love in the Buff" in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Credit: Associated Press. Middle: Cherie (Yeung) and Jimmy (Yue) share a watermelon in a scene "Love in the Buff." Credit: China Lion




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