Shanghai fest opens with 'Wheat'

Festival opens with rural war film, closes with 'Angels'

More Shanghai fest news

SHANGHAI -- The world premiere of "Wheat," a cinematic look at war widows of third-century rural China by veteran filmmaker He Ping, opened the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival on Friday.

He told The Hollywood Reporter he was pleased to showcase his first film as a director in six years for an audience of local and international celebrities.

The red carpet reception at the Shanghai Art Museum included Hong Kong directing legend John Woo, Beijing hit maker Feng Xiaogang, "Wheat" lead actress Fan Bingbing, Hollywood-leading lady Halle Berry, SIFF International competition jury president Danny Boyle, and the maestro himself, Quincy Jones.

"Most movies in China these days are about rich people and emperors, but 'Wheat' is a film about the 'lao bai xing,'" said He, 52, using a Mandarin term of endearment for commoners meaning "old 100 names."

In an era when China's cities are building new movie theaters at a breakneck pace to serve a young, growing and materialistic middle class, He applauded festival organizers for giving filmmakers the chance to showcase an occasional reminder of China's poor, rural roots.

Of actress Fan, whose last role was as a moll opposite the gangster played by Jackie Chan in "The Shinjuku Incident," He said: "She has made great progress. She worked hard and we were able to change her popular image to something totally different on screen."

"This festival, too, has gotten better.  It's listening to the voice of the audience and considering the needs of the market," He said.

He said he hoped to catch the festival's retrospective of Alfred Hitchcock films, a first for China, where imported theatrical releases are limited to 20 each year.

"We have much to learn from Hitch. His plots were so simple but packed with information," said He, adding that "Rear Window" and "The Birds" were his favorites.

The festival's closing film on June 21 is "Angels and Demons," starring Tom Hanks.  A Sony Pictures release, it will be the first time an import will close China's largest annual film event, a development pleasing, no doubt, to Dan Glickman, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, also in attendance Friday night. Despite its status as the festival closer, "Angels" has not yet been approved for wide release in China, most likely due to its religious themes.

Taking the festival's day one pulse, Hong Kong distributor Media Asia's deputy general manager Y.C. Chu asked rhetorically, "Can't you feel it? Yes, definitely. There is a lot of excitement here this year."

Some of the excitement stemmed from near chaos in the crowd of VIPS, organizers and onlookers hopelessly and deafeningly mingled together in the echo chamber that is the museum hall. An emcee shouted over a public address system for an hour and a half to try to corral the audience to its final destination, the nearby Shanghai Grand Theater, for the opening curtain.
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