Zhang Ziyi to star in China AIDS film

'Life is a Miracle' co-produced by Stellar Megamedia

BEIJING -- Actress Zhang Ziyi joined director Gu Changwei in Beijing on Tuesday to tout the making of China's first feature film to address the country's growing HIV/AIDS problem in what producers hope will be a commercial release at the end of 2010.

"Life Is A Miracle" -- budgeted at about 20 million yuan ($3 million) by Beijing-based Stellar Megamedia and Beijing Forbidden City Film Co -- also stars Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok and Pu Cunxin, an actor who has spearheaded China's official AIDS awareness campaigns.

Much of the current rapid spread of HIV in China has been through intravenous drug use and prostitution, resulting in as many as 1.5 million people affected, with some estimates going much higher.

Gu, whose film "Peacock" won the Silver Bear at Berlin in 2005, was feted at a news conference by members of the government for tackling a rural love story following two HIV infected characters played by Zhang and Kwok in their first on-screen collaboration.

"The point of this movie is to use the medium to show our society caring for AIDS victims," a Ministry of Health representative said. "Only then can we create a good atmosphere for treating the prejudice they suffer."

In many rural areas of China during the 1990s, particularly in the province of Henan, hundreds of thousands of farmers were infected with HIV when they donated blood to state-run programs that used contaminated needles.

China's AIDS villages drew the attention of the world film community in 2007 when Ruby Yang's "The Blood of Yingzhou District" won the Oscar for Best Short Subject Documentary. Critical of the government, the film has never been allowed wide release in China.

Actor Pu and the rest of the cast of "Life" also will feature in a short documentary by director Gu called "The Era of Magic," due to be released at end of 2010.

Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, called the projects' subject "difficult," adding, "If successful, these films will pass a good message to the audience about the need to treat AIDS in China."

UNAIDS China coordinator Mark Stirling, sitting in the audience, was supportive of the project, saying: "It's a great thing that this community is going to make a film about issues of sexuality and AIDS in China. It can only help the education process."

"Life" will be Zhang's first film since she began to emerge from a public relations cloud that gathered around an alleged failure to make good on support for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Asked to expound on the new film's theme of love for all, Zhang said, "Everyone needs to be loved and needs to give love," while AIDS ambassador and co-star Pu said, more specifically, "Love is a matter for couples, between a man and a woman," hinting that "Life" likely will avoid addressing homosexuality, still largely a taboo subject in Chinese media.

At Cannes this year, Bill Kong’s Hong Kong-based Edko Films is trying to make advance sales of "Life," a project Stellar Megamedia executive Qing Hong said he expected would break 100 million yuan at the Chinese boxoffice.

Gu, who called the film's story "a mixture of fashion, love and magic," said he had invited a number of HIV-positive actors to join the film's cast.  None announced his or her presence at the event.
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