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'Eleven Flowers' to Bloom under Wang Xiaoshuai

Wang Xiaoshuai Eleven Flowers
Chinese Shadows

The film is the first under a new Sino-French co-production treaty.

BEIJING – Eleven Flowers, director Wang Xiaoshuai’s coming of age drama set in southern China in 1976, is the first official co-production under a Sino-French film treaty signed in April, producer Isabelle Glachant told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

Wang, 44, first caught the world’s eye with Berlin Silver Bear-winning Beijing Bicycle (2001) and most recently competed at Cannes with Chongqing Blues. Eleven tells the autobiographical story of four 10-year-old boys discovering the world of adults -- and its violence and sexuality -- at the end of China’s decade-long Cultural Revolution.

Wang’s previous films have won awards at world festivals. His Shanghai Dreams won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2005 and In Love We Trust won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay in 2008.

Eleven is a 1.6 million-Euro ($2.1 million) co-production between the director’s company in Beijing, WXS Productions, Glachant’s company, Hong Kong-based Chinese Shadows, and French label Full House -- a cooperation between two Paris-based firms, Maneki Films, led by Didar Domehri, and Borsalino Productions, led by Laurent Baudens and Gael Nouaille.

Shot from early October through early December in the Si Mian Shan area of Sichuan Province, Eleven – whose script Wang wrote with Paris-based Chinese co-writer Kong Lihong – got early attention by winning the 2008 Pusan Promotion Plan first prize of $20,000 and the 50,000 Swiss Francs ($52,000) first prize at the 2009 Open Doors competition in Locarno.

The rest of the budget was split between French investment of 500,000 Euros ($666,000) and Chinese private investment of the balance. “More and more companies are getting into film investment in China but most are interested only in big movies with big stars,” said Glachant, a co-producer on Chongqing Blues.

That film grossed 1.5 million yuan ($225,000) for distributor Bona Film Group in its first three days of release in China in November, but was pulled from theaters soon after, Glachant said, adding, “With Xiaoshuai, the investors come in for the new film because they know his works will land in festivals overseas.”

Glachant said she and the other Eleven producers are looking for distributors for in- and outside China with help from Paris-based Films Distribution.

As Eleven is a Chinese story told in Chinese and shot entirely in China with no French characters, the French contribution to the co-production will come mostly in post-production, Glachant said. Nelly Quettier will edit the film and a French composer will create its score.

“Usually, co-productions are foreign filmmakers trying to get their projects into China, so this one is a bit unusual, especially as it’s the first Sino-French co-production,” said Glachant, who worked at the French embassy in Beijing in 2002 when the idea of a film treaty first was raised.

Eleven stars four little known Chinese boy-actors, led by Liu Wenqing, who plays a character loosely based on director Wang’s memories of the time his Shanghai family was “sent down” to Guizhou to help the Communist nation develop its countryside.

By 1979, Wang and his family had moved to Wuhan. When he was 15, Wang moved to Beijing where he attended the Central Art Academy Middle School to study painting before eventually studying directing at the Beijing Film Academy. 

After graduation, Wang shot The Days (1993), which attracted the attention of typically strict censors, who included Wang in a ban imposed in April 1994 on six filmmakers, including Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Yuan, and He Jianjun.

Wang followed up The Days with another Beijing art film using the moniker Wu Ming (literally, "no name"). The result, Frozen, was shot in 1994 but not released until 1997. After a lengthy period of self-criticism, Wang was finally allowed to start making movies again.

An actor when not directing, Wang has played roles in films by Lou Ye (Weekend Lover),  Francois Girard (The Red Violin), Wang Guangli (Karmic Mahjong) and Jia Zhangke (The World).