Feng honors 'forgotten' dead in war film


More news from the Pusan fest

BUSAN, South Korea -- Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, whose "Assembly" will play to more than 5,000 people at the Thursday opening of the 12th annual Pusan International Film Festival, said he hopes the film will remind the audience of the real terror of war.

Feng, who served in China's army from 1978-84 during a period of conflict with Vietnam, said he was inspired by the rawness of "Saving Private Ryan," "Enemy at the Gate" and the Korean "Taeguki," ("Brotherhood"), whose crew helped him shoot battle scenes near China's border with North Korea last winter.

"In the past, Chinese war film heroes were unafraid," Feng said, sitting under a tree, chain smoking under the brim of his trademark baseball cap. "This film should remind the world of the horrors of the regular soldier. No sacrifice should be forgotten, no matter what side you're on."

The film, about the struggle of a communist captain (Zhang Hanyu) to commemorate his fallen colleagues after a series of bloody battles in 1948-49, was drawn from a Yang Jingyuan short story and co-produced by Huayi Brothers Pictures of Beijing, Media Asia Films of Hong Kong and MK Pictures of Seoul.

"Assembly's" premiere occurs two days after South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun walked across the most heavily armed border in the world into North Korea to visit dictator Kim Jong-il -- the first top-level meeting in seven years between the two nations, which technically still are at war.

But "Assembly" is not a political film, and its Pusan premiere is a coincidence, Feng said.

"In China, because of censorship, we always tell the film bureau that 'a film is a film.' Otherwise, there's too much pressure on what should simply be a creative project," Feng said.

Creative, sure, but the $10.8 million production is no art house movie and already has seen its Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia rights sold by partner Media Asia, producer and Huayi Bros. Pictures general manager Wang Zhonglei said.

"This week, we hope to close rights for sales for Korea and Japan. Any sales beyond that of China's first nonpropaganda war film will be a pleasant surprise," Wang said, adding that he will take"Assembly" to the American Film Market in Los Angeles on Oct. 31.

Where Feng and Wang were circumspect about the politics of "Assembly," his cast of newcomers expressed clear hope that their performances will inspire their Korean neighbors, and their countrymen in China, to remember what is important in life.

Zhang Hanyu, who had a supporting role in Feng's "A World Without Thieves," said, "The spirit of 'Assembly' is something that has been lacking in China for a while now -- one of friendship and sacrifice."

"North and South Koreans are all the same people, and someday soon I hope they will unify in peace," Zhang said.