24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Chinese Film

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


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.”

RELATED

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Full L.A. Times coverage of the China-Hollywood connection

— 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.


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




'Flowers of War's' Zhang Yimou on China's future — and Tom Hanks

December 26, 2011 |  5:00 am

 

"The Flowers of War" director Zhang Yimou says China's rapidly growing film market will necessitate bringing more foreign films into the country and, he hopes, more actors from the United States. Could Tom Hanks be one of them?

In an interview on the set of "The Flowers of War" — which stars Christian Bale as a heroic figure during the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing — Zhang told The Times' David Pierson that China's film market will soon be the world's second-largest. Because Chinese filmmakers cannot meet the increasing demand, Zhang expects the country's quota system — which officially limits the number of foreign-made films to about 20 per year — to be softened.

"I think the quota will be relaxed and the number will be increased, definitely," Zhang said while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing, in June. "Because the audience and the number of cinemas are increasing, the market is increasing rapidly, so we need lots of good films. I personally believe that the Chinese cannot make that many good films within such a short period of time."

In addition, after his experience working with the Welsh-born Bale, Zhang hopes that more Western actors come to China. "Many of them are my idols," Zhang said. "I really like their work."

Apparently among them: Tom Hanks, to whom Zhang said he told the "Flowers of War" story. "But unfortunately his schedule didn’t fit," Zhang said.

For more of Zhang's interview about "The Flowers of War" — which opened Dec. 23 and is China's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race — read the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

Are you optimistic that one day Chinese films will rival Hollywood films on the international market?

Truthfully, I think that day is still very far off. We often hear that the Chinese market will quickly approach the size of the U.S. market and become the second-largest market. It is concluded from calculating the number of new screens and cinemas per year. But it will still take a long time for a Chinese film to create international influence.

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Christian Bale, low-profile, until he's not. Just ask Zhang Yimou.

December 24, 2011 |  5:00 am

"The Flowers of War" star Christian Bale caused a significant media kerfuffle with the Chinese government this month when he attempted to visit a Chinese human rights activist.  The Foreign Ministry scolded him and said he should be "embarrassed," but so far director Zhang Yimou has been mum on the incident.

Zhang had nothing but praise for the Welsh-born actor during an interview this summer on the set of "Flowers," which stars Bale as an unlikely American hero during the 1937 Japanese raid of Nanjing, China.

"He has left a great impression on our team, such that we cannot stop praising him," Zhang told The Times' David Pierson in June while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "There are many things we Chinese need to learn from him: He is professional, down to earth, and he keeps a low profile." 

Zhang, the filmmaker behind Chinese classics such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and mastermind of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, said that Bale also showed a great love for children while at work. "He loves children, and there are many children here on the set," Zhang said. "He simply couldn't act with children when they were crying."

You can read about it all in the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opened Dec. 23.

Did you set out in the beginning to make a movie that would be an international hit? Is your decision to work with Christian Bale sort of indicative of that?

In fact, every story has its own structure, and it's not in anyone's hands to enlarge or reduce it. The original story and the adapted screenplay have a kind of international structure, which is why we thought of inviting a very good actor [from American films] to make the production of the film more on an international standard.

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'Flowers of War's' Zhang Yimou: Censorship limits Chinese films

December 23, 2011 | 10:35 pm

 

When director Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" opened in Beijing earlier this month, star Christian Bale had to answer questions about whether the movie set amid the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing is an anti-Japanese propaganda film -- an assertion he firmly rebutted. But perhaps a bigger question surrounding the movie, or any mainland Chinese production for that matter, is how much of an influence  government censorship has in its making.  

During a June interview on set, Zhang told the Los Angeles Times' David Pierson that while he expected total artistic freedom during the making of the movie, he also felt Chinese censorship limits filmmakers' options.

"In China there is a censorship system; directors don’t have 100% space of freedom," Zhang said while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "In fact, it’s more often the case that many stories cannot be made into film. I wish there would be more space given to artists with the development of the Chinese market. I wish there would be many good stories available for film directors."

Adapted from the novel "13 Flowers of Nanjing" by Geling Yan, "The Flowers of War" features Bale playing an American mortician who arrives in Nanjing to make a quick buck. But after seeing the horrors of war, he dons priest’s robes to try to protect schoolgirls and courtesans. The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opens Dec. 23.

For more about the topic of Chinese censorship from Zhang, the director of films such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and the 2008 Olympic Games' opening ceremony, read the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

Chinese films have struggled a lot in the international market, and the U.S. market specifically. What do you think is holding back Chinese films today? Is it scriptwriting, piracy or even censorship?

It is a complicated problem. There isn't a very good prescription for it right now. I personally believe the most important thing is there are not many good films. By definition, good films mean good stories that people all over the world can understand and be touched by. These kinds of powerful films are very few. Often there are films that are very regionalized or simplified that people don't understand or aren't moved by.

Continue reading »

'Flowers of War,' starring Christian Bale, premieres in Beijing

December 12, 2011 |  2:54 pm

Director Zhang Yimou’s epic new film "The Flowers of War" doesn't open in the United States until Dec. 23, but the movie, starring Christian Bale and set amid the 1930s Japanese occupation of the Chinese city of Nanjing, premiered Sunday in the People’s Political Consultative Conference, an imposing government building in central Beijing.

After the screening came an hourlong event in which the film’s cast appeared onstage in costume and made short speeches celebrating the film’s achievements. The band of actors that played the Chinese soldiers held their prop rifles high in the air and shouted “Chinese soldiers!” eliciting a smattering of applause from the mostly native crowd.

Adapted from the novel “13 Flowers of Nanjing” by Geling Yan, "The Flowers of War" is both China’s official Academy Awards submission for the 2012 foreign language  Oscar and the most expensive movie in Chinese history, with a production budget of $94 million. Bale stars as a brash American mortician named John Miller, who arrives in Nanjing to make a quick buck by burying a priest in the city’s cathedral. After being repeatedly exposed to the horrors of war, however, he dons the priest’s robes and assumes the mantle of protecting a group of schoolgirls and colorfully dressed courtesans from the atrocities of the occupation. 

Chinese official history estimates that Japanese soldiers killed about 300,000 people in Nanjing during the occupation, many of them civilians and unarmed soldiers. Japanese estimates run lower, making the issue a perennial hurdle in Sino-Japanese relations. The film hews very closely to a portrayal of the events that is espoused by the Chinese state and supported in China’s history books and media. 

In the film, Japanese soldiers are presented as one-dimensional savages -- “We’ve got virgins!” one gleefully shouts to his lieutenant after finding the schoolgirls hidden in the cathedral. For some context, director Jiang Wen’s 2003 film “Devils on the Doorstep,” which depicted occupying Japanese soldiers with some emotional depth, was banned in China after winning the Grand Prix at Cannes. 

In the press conference after the screening, Bale said  the movie should not be viewed as an anti-Japanese propaganda film. “I think that would be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “I don’t think they’re looking closely enough at the movie.”

Bale said that his desire to act in the film arose from a long-held respect for Zhang’s work. “I didn’t look at this as any sort of opportunity or pioneering effort,” he said. “I’m surprised when people say, ‘Oh, he’s the first person to have done this.’ It just seemed like a very natural thing to do.” 

Bale denied having gained any special insight into China’s film industry outside of his relationship with Zhang. “I just know what it’s like working with Yimou. And with Yimou, I didn’t have any problems whatsoever,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Produced by Zhang Weiping, a longtime collaborator of director Zhang, "The Flowers of War" was funded in part by the state-owned Bank of China. The movie is being met with high expectations within the country, where Zhang -- who directed the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games -- has long been a household name. Bale’s concerned-looking visage stares out from advertisements on billboards and subway posters throughout Beijing. 

China has the third-largest film industry in the world (after Hollywood and Bollywood) in both box-office revenue and the number of films produced per year. However, no Chinese filmmaker has ever won an Oscar. Zhang downplayed his awards ambitions at the press conference after the screening. “You can do all the hard work yourself, but in the end it really depends on the gods whether you win or not,” he said. 

The film will open in China on Friday and is set to show in more than 8,000 theaters domestically, and Zhang said that the film’s success in the U.S. depends on “whether this story has the power to move people, and whether it’s capable of grabbing people’s interest.”

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-- Jon Kaiman, reporting from Beijing


Will Oscars go for Christian Bale's China epic? [Trailer]

October 20, 2011 |  9:49 pm

Christian Bale in 'The Flowers of War'The trailer for Christian Bale's so-called China movie shows some scenes of noisy war, a quiet moment of dramatic beauty and then some noisier scenes of war. You can even say it shows the flowers of war, which is fitting, as it's the trailer for "The Flowers of War," Zhang Yimou's approximately $100-million Chinese period epic. Based on the book "The 13 Women of Nanjing" by writer Yan Geling, the movie tells of an American priest who saves prostitutes and students during the Rape of Nanking; it's also China's official foreign-language Oscar submission.

It's hard to divine a movie from three minutes, of course, but what we see here is mostly an alternately stoic and histrionic Bale protecting his charges from some very expensive-looking war effects. No distributor yet, and no release date. So we won't get a chance to make larger decisions anytime soon. (You can click here for our assessment of footage shown at this year's Toronto Film Festival.) Will the academy go for it? It has the war setting, a perennial Oscar favorite, and, well, hopefully more than that.


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-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Christian Bale, left,  plays an American priest named John in "The Flowers of War." Credit: New Pictures Film


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