Q&A: Lu Chuan

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Considered one of the most talented directors of China's post-sixth generation, Lu Chuan is reknowned for his stark, masculine film language and elemental vision of nature and humanity. An English major who obtained his master's degree in film studies at Beijing Film Academy, Lu has directed China Film Group's Creative Center since 1988. His sophomore feature, "Kekexili," about mountain patrols who risk their lives to save endangered antelopes from poachers, won rave reviews and festival awards and proved a boxoffice hit in China. Lu's upcoming "Nanking! Nanking!" about one of the most tragic massacres in modern history, is pushing for a premiere at this year's Festival de Cannes. Media Asia, one of several co-production partners, is handling Hong Kong distribution and world sales on the $12 million project. THR's Maggie Lee recently spoke with Lu Chuan.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Since the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, fought concurrently with WWII, numerous war films have been produced in China and Taiwan. Why have only two narrative features (Mou Tun Fei's "Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre" and Wu Ziniu's "Don't Cry Nanjing") made the rape of Nanking its main subject?

Lu Chuan: Not only was the massacre of civilians in Nanjing a disaster for humanity, China also suffered her worst defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. It is too painful an episode for the national psyche and has remained a forbidden subject in Chinese cinema.

THR: So what made you decide to make this film?

Lu: In the past, Chinese films often demonized Japanese soldiers, yet they never probed deeply enough into how and why the war happened. I made this film in order to open a window for more discourse on either side. It takes a more generous or open-minded attitude toward the perpetrators and offers a new perspective on history. Cinematically, it is also very different from past Chinese war films. It is entirely shot using handheld cameras. At the same time, I definitely do not want to use films like "Schindler's List" or other Hollywood films with a war background as a model or reference. When casting actors to play Japanese soldiers, I deliberately passed over candidates who had spent time living in China, because they had become savvy around Chinese people and would make comments on Nanjing that they think are appropriate. Instead, I recruited stage actors who had never set foot in China. I wanted them to experience this country with all the culture shock that Japanese soldiers had when they first landed. All of them said they knew very little about this chapter of history, so their participation became a journey of discovery.

THR: How long have you spent on this project?

Lu: I started looking for finance in 2005, and filming only started in September 2007. We shot continuously for nine months on a huge set we constructed in Changchun, Northeast China. The film will be released this year.

THR: What were the greatest difficulties or challenges you faced when making this film?

Lu: The hardest part was raising the money. From the start, I believed the film would only achieve its intended impact if it was shot in monochrome, but I kept it a secret from the investors. China Film Group became the main financer. Then Hong Kong's Media Asia came on board, as I am a good friend of chairman Peter Lam.

THR: What was the budget?

Lu: Production cost came to 80 million yuan ($11.69 million) and, if one includes publicity spending, will go over 100 million yuan ($14.61 million).

THR: "Nanking! Nanking!" was one of the award-winning projects at the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum in 2005. Were there any changes to the original concept?

Lu: Over three years and after extensive research, I underwent a tremendous shift in perspective, so the final version is radically different in storyline and point of view. At first, I concentrated on representing the Rape of Nanking, but gradually I wanted to explore the laws of nature governing war and how they give rise to massacres. ... It is not about how frightening the Japanese were, but how frightening human nature can be.

THR: How would you compare "Nanking! Nanking!" with your last film, "Kekexili"?

Lu: It is a continuation of and elaboration on "Kekexili's" reflection on the meaning of life and death, a representation of human struggle under extreme circumstances. Only this time, I felt no constraint in my artistic expression.

THR: How do you feel about the controversy in Japan over Li Ying's 2007 documentary "Yasukuni," about the war shrine in Tokyo that honors, among others, Japanese war criminals? Do you expect "Nanking! Nanking!" will stir a similar controversy?

Lu: Li Ying is a good friend of mine, but I have neither seen "Yasukuni" nor heard about the reactions in Japan. However, it is my greatest wish that "Nanking! Nanking!" can get a theatrical release in Japan. I hope the Japanese audience will not think this is an 'anti-Japanese' film but understand that it is my personal endeavor to represent the honest truth.

THR: How do you feel about the trend for blockbuster Chinese productions in the market?

Lu: I think many of these blockbusters are like a dumpling with a large piece of dough on the outside but with lousy stuffing inside. They lack spiritual substance.
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