Feng Xiaogang Unveils Epic 'Remembering 1942' at the Shanghai Film Festival

Feng Xiaogang - P 2012
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The $33 million historical drama stars Tim Robbins and Adrien Brody.

SHANGHAI – Chinese director Feng Xiaogang unveiled the trailer for his upcoming film Remembering 1942 at the Shanghai International Film Festival on Sunday. The 210 million yuan ($33 million) disaster epic, which took 18 years to bring to the screen, stars Feng regulars Xu Fan (Aftershock) and Zhang Hanyu (Assembly) and also boasts two Academy Award winners — Tim Robbins and Adrien Brody —who play a Catholic priest and an American journalist, respectively.

The Huayi brothers film, slated for a late-2012 release, revolves around the true events of a devastating famine that took more than 3 million lives in China’s Henan province at the tail end of Japan’s invasion of China during WWII. Depicting the large-scale exodus of refugees fleeing from the draught-wrecked area, the film featured scenes of more than 2,000 people in its re-creations of the infamous “river of people with no end in sight.”

“Tim Robbins told me after he read the script that ‘this is a story of the darkest of human impulses and the brightest of hope,’” said Feng. “What I learned from this story is that we are a nation of refugees that had survived numerous disasters. From this story, we can learn what we were as a nation, so that we know how to go forward.”

Huayi Brothers has been attached to the project since its inception in 1993, despite the fact that the budget ballooned from 30 million yuan to 210 million yuan, a seven-fold increase. But Huayi Brothers Media Corp. president James Wang said he and his company were “honored” to back in the project.

“This story was the untold history not found in history books that would prompt us to reevaluate our lives," he said. "Many of us don't understand the meaning of physical hunger anymore, but we’re in a state of mental starvation.”

Feng and co-screenwriter Liu Zhengyun also headlined as panelists at the “Tell a Chinese Story to the World” industry forum, where Liu called the title of the forum “the whimper of a weak nation.” China’s attempt to reach out to the international marketplace is particularly hot topic among filmmakers these days thanks to the expansion of Hollywood film quotas, which could pose a bigger threat to China’s domestic film market.

Feng, as one of the most commercially successful Chinese filmmakers in Chinese history whose films have grossed nearly 2 billion yuan (US$314 million) at the box office, said the lack of success of Chinese films in overseas markets was due in part to the fact that “the foreign audience might say they don’t understand a Chinese story, but in fact they are not willing to understand a Chinese story.”

“But when Hollywood makes films,” Feng continued, “it’s not their primary concern how the Chinese audience might receive their stories. They only care whether the American audience understand; if you don’t, that’s your own problem.”
Feng, whose rants are legendary, cited his previous box-office successes such as Assembly (2007) and Aftershock (2010) -- which took 260 million ($41 million) and 670 million yuan ($105 million) at the Chinese box office, respectively -- as alternatives to the cookie-cutter historical epics that flood the Chinese film market.

“There are many routes to success in the Chinese films industry," he said. "Even when there is an influx of Hollywood films into the market, we can still find our own way. Many filmmakers tend to blame Hollywood or the censors if their films don’t make money; and next, they’d blame the audience, and it’d only lead to self-destruction.”