24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Reel China

'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.

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'Red Dawn' remake to come out next year from FilmDistrict

September 26, 2011 | 12:28 pm

Photo: A scene from the original "Red Dawn" in 1984. Credit: MGM / United Artists.

This post has been corrected. Please see note at the bottom for details.

A remake of the invasion movie "Red Dawn" — with its villains now digitally modified from Chinese to North Korean — will finally hit American shores next year.

The new version of the Reagan-era classic will be released in the U.S. by independent studio FilmDistrict, according to people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. FilmDistrict is finalizing a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that produced the movie in 2009.

In the original "Red Dawn," a group of teenagers in a Colorado town battle invading Soviet forces; in the remake, the invaders were changed to Chinese. But that decision turned the film into a hot potato.

After MGM emerged from bankruptcy in late 2009 and decided it wouldn’t release the movie, no other studio wanted to touch “Red Dawn” for fear of offending the government of China, a hugely important market in the increasingly global film business.

As a result, the movie’s producers last winter used digital technology and creative editing to change most of the invaders to North Koreans. (Staunchly communist North Korea is economically isolated and not a market for any American products.) Still, it took most of the year to find a distributor willing to take the movie on.

FilmDistrict Chief Executive Peter Schlessel declined to discuss “Red Dawn.” Given that final details are still being worked out, however, it likely won’t hit theaters until 2012.

The new “Red Dawn” cost about $60 million to produce. It stars Chris Hemsworth, who played the title character in “Thor,” and was directed by Dan Bradley, second unit director on the last two “Bourne” movies and the upcoming “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

FilmDistrict, which is backed by finance and production company GK Films, launched in April with the horror hit “Insidious." Its most recent release is the Ryan Gosling L.A. noir film, “Drive.”

[For the Record, Sept. 28, 2:15 p.m.: An early version of this post incorrectly said the teenagers in the original film who battled invading Soviet forces lived in Washington. ]


Hollywood tried to stay on China's good side with 'Red Dawn' remake

China is on a cinema-building binge

Reel China: Christian Bale's 'Flowers' picked as Oscar submission

— Ben Fritz and John Horn

Photo: A scene from the original "Red Dawn" in 1984. Credit: MGM / United Artists.

Reel China: Christian Bale's 'Flowers' picked as Oscar submission

September 23, 2011 |  2:59 pm

Lost Flowers

Christian Bale won the supporting actor Oscar earlier this year for “The Fighter.” If China has its way in next year’s Academy Awards, Bale could be represented in the foreign-language race.

China’s Film Bureau said Friday that “The Flowers of War,” an ambitious war story that is set and was filmed in China, will be the country’s official entry for the foreign-language trophy. Although large parts of the film are in English, the production, directed by Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “Hero”), is principally in Mandarin. Bale plays John Haufman, an American caught in Japan’s invasion of China in 1937.  In a Nanking cathedral, Haufman fights to protect a collection of young girls from the Imperial Army.

The American release plans for “The Flowers of War” have not been finalized. Bale is currently working on the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises.”


Reel China: It's rough out West for Chinese films

Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China's good side

Reel China: U.S. film producers are engaging the Chinese

--John Horn

Photo: Christian Bale in "The Flowers of War." Credit: New Pictures Film

Legendary East's first film project: scaling China's 'Great Wall'

August 23, 2011 |  5:53 pm

Legendary Pictures is kicking off its new China venture with a movie about the country's best-known structure. The newly formed Legendary East announced Tuesday that its first production will be "The Great Wall," which will tell "why this magnificent structure came to be," according to the company.

"Last Samurai" and "Love and Other Drugs" writer-director Edward Zwick is penning the screenplay with his longtime collaborator Marshall Herskovitz. It's based on a story by Max Brooks, writer of the upcoming thriller "World War Z," and Thomas Tull, Legendary Pictures' chairman.

Legendary East aims to produce English-language movies in China based on local culture that are intended to be released around the world. Because it works with a local distributor, Huayi Brothers, its films are not subject to the communist country's restrictions on how many foreign movies can be imported each year.

"The Great Wall" will be directed by Zwick, but does not yet have a release date.


Legendary East to go public with initial value of $441 million

Legendary Pictures to produce movies in China through joint venture

Relativity Media opens a door into China

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Marshall Herskovitz, left, and Edward Zwick at an AFI event in June. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

China Lion to bring Fox International's 'Love in Space' to U.S. theaters

July 12, 2011 |  1:28 pm

Hot-summer-days-2010-3 Fox International Productions has built a small yet thriving business making low-budget foreign-language movies that almost never travel beyond their country of origin. But now Fox International and China Lion will try to see if there is an American audience for one such local-language production, scheduling a Sept. 9 U.S. release for the Chinese romantic comedy “Love in Space.”

Since October, China Lion has released seven Chinese films in U.S. theaters, hoping Chinese Americans (and perhaps some English-speaking art house enthusiasts) will turn out. So far, the results have been spotty. China Lion’s highest-grossing release, 2010’s “If You Are the One 2,” grossed $427,000 domestically, a fraction of what it made in China.

The returns were materially poorer for some other titles, which include the Communist Party history “Beginning of the Great Revival” and a Mandarin-language remake of “What Women Want.”

Fox International has made movies in India, Russia and Brazil, among other places, with its Hong Kong-based comedy “Hot Summer Days” among the most successful. “Love in Space” comes from the same directors as “Hot Summer Days,” Wing Shya and Tony Chan. The film, which opens in China the same time the film premieres in North America, stars Aaron Kwok, René Liu, Eason Chan, Gwei Lun Mei, Angelababy, Jing Boran and Xu Fan.


Reel China: It's rough out West for Chinese films

Reel China: Targets an elusive film fan — the Chinese American

Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China's good side

-- John Horn

Photo: Movie poster of "Hot Summer Days." Credit: Fox International Productions




Can China pull an 'Avatar' in reverse?

December 20, 2010 |  5:27 pm

1 American movie studios love doing business in China — “Avatar” grossed more in the world’s most populous nation than any territory besides the United States.

Now the country’s China Lion Film Distribution and Huayi Bros. want to see if the opposite might work, and will release "If You Are the One 2" in American multiplexes the same day it premieres in Chinese theaters. China Lion said the simultaneous release, set for Dec. 24, is the first day-and-date premiere for a Chinese film in both America and China.

Writer-director Feng Xiaogang’s “If You Are the One 2,” a sequel to his 2008 romantic comedy, is the second U.S. release for China Lion, which also distributed Feng's “Aftershock.”  That film, China's biggest box-office hit, is the country’s official submission for the foreign language Academy Award.

“If You Are the One 2” will premiere in about 20 AMC and Cineplex locations, China Lion said.

-- John Horn

'Aftershock,' China's domestic box-office champ, finds a way to U.S. theaters

October 26, 2010 |  5:57 pm

"Aftershock," China's highest-grossing domestic film of all time, has found a way into U.S. theaters. The movie, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival, will open at selected AMC theaters across the country Friday. Earlier this month, China Lion Film Distribution announced a partnership with AMC Entertainment to introduce mainstream Chinese films to American audiences.

Directed by one of the country's most popular directors, Feng Xiaogang, "Aftershock" revolves around the aftermath of the massive 1976 Tangshan earthquake.

Made for $20 million, which is a big budget by Chinese cinema standards, "Aftershock" was released in 5,000 standard and 14 IMAX theaters this summer in China. By August, it had outgrossed "The Founding of a Republic" to become the most successful Chinese film with nearly $80 million in ticket sales. ("Avatar" remains the all-time king of the Chinese box office, with more than $200 million in sales.) "Aftershock" is also China's official entry in the foreign-language Oscar category.

Locally, "Aftershock" will be playing in Arcadia, the City of Industry, Monterey Park and Tustin. Watch the trailer below.

-- Susan King



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