Nansun Shi seeks stars for new generation

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Veteran producer Nansun Shi said that new talent, the right attitude towards copyright and a commitment to legally-biding contracts will help bridge the Chinese film industry to the world and create a greater understanding of China.

In Busan for Sunday's official launch of Irresistible Films, a $16.75 million film fund dedicated to discovering new talent in Asia, of which Shi is the managing director and Lorna Tee the general manager.

Founded by Hong Kong-based producer Bill Kong, Hugh Simon and Japan's Avex Entertainment, Irresistible's debut is "Claustrophobia," award-winning screenwriter Ivy Ho's first foray into directing, which will premiere in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival next month. It also has in production "Strawberry Cliff," directed by Los Angeles-based Chris Chow and starring Hong Kong singer Eason Chan. Both films are repped by Hong Kong's Edko Films.

The fund was established to find and nurture new Asian filmmakers, Shi said, because succession is one of the problems facing the Asian film industry, especially in China and Hong Kong. Shi is now looking for new talent and new projects through the Pusan Promotion Project for Irresistible Films.

"We have to create stars – not only performers but behind-the-scene filmmakers. Directors, art directors, action directors ... We have to have stars to continue the industry. This is a fault of the industry. Who is a star now? Only those who came out of the 1980s and 90s." Shi's goal is to create an atmosphere akin to the Hong Kong "New Wave" in the 1970s, when dozens of new filmmakers emerged simultaneously.

The glamour of the film industry is attracting a lot of Chinese money, but it will be necessary for investors to accept the basic concepts of legally binding contract and copyrights bridge the gap between China and the world. Shi believes that the time has come for the film industry to expand, as Hong Kong filmmakers who were familiar with the world film industry and worldly about international filmmaking were available to share their expertise with Chinese filmmaking community. Moreover, it is at the age when different resources are at one's fingertips. "We can now film in China, do the score in Japan and post-production in Australia", Shi said.

"The soft power of film is enormous,' she said. "Its influence goes beyond borders. There is no trade barrier for film. As the world understands so little about China, we have to build up a film industry to let the world know more about the country. We have to show the different faces of China to the world. That's how we understand about other countries," she said. Shi remarked that the overall development of Chinese industries and its people are uneven, although some, such as information technology or international trading, are very advanced, but others have a long way to go.

A 30-year-veteran of the industry, Shi also heads Distribution Workshop, which she established in June along with former Media Asia distribution head Jeffrey Chan and China's Bona International Film Group, where Shi sits on the board of directors.

The international distribution outfit will make its first appearance at the upcoming American Film Market with "Rain Fall," directed by Australia Max Mannix and starring Gary Oldman with a Japanese cast that included Masami Nagasawa ("Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World"). The company will also handle the international sales of Irresistible Films' future slate, as well as the 50 million yuan ($7.3 million) earner, Chinese sleeper hit "Almost Perfect."

Shi will also consider new business models for distribution of Chinese-language and Asian films. "If the legislative framework of economically developed countries is set up to contain a certain extent of Internet piracy, then the distributors can deliver the product to consumers directly," Shi said. "Theoretically, if I can aggregate Asian films to set up an online platform for Asian cinema, with a safe payment mechanism, then I can deliver the products to anywhere in the world.

"The technology is not expensive. But we'd have to raise money for it. I've seen around the world that there is already an audience for Chinese-language cinema, but the volume is not big enough for distributors to buy a film. So in the long run, this is a feasible model. The model is already working for Indian films. We'd have to build it up."

As the producer of Tsui Hark's "All About Women," Shi was disappointed that the film hasn't obtained a release permit from the Chinese authorities in time for its debut at PIFF. She noted that Chinese authorities' approval process has slowed down this year.

"Since 2001, we've gotten used to the pace of the approval process, but both the script approval and release approval process had slowed down a lot this year,' Shi said. "The reason is not known and we can't speculate, but the process is certainly slower. This is a big problem that we will certainly try to reflect to the government, as many films are delayed." The slower process results in loss of marketing cost and a higher postproduction cost and scheduling problems to accommodate the changes required."
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