Long journey to Zhang's Maiden film

'Waiting in Beijing' marks a pair of milestones

BEIJING -- When Alan Zhang's intercultural romance "Waiting in Beijing" opens in December in Los Angeles, it will mark a pair of milestones for its Chinese producer-writer-director.

The film's North American premiere not only is Zhang's directorial debut but also the first shot across the bow from his new Beverly Hills-based shingle Red Maiden Entertainment.

An entrepreneur from China's Yunnan province, Zhang said Thursday that, though his background is in garments, e-commerce and real estate and he speaks little English, he made the English-language romance "to transcend the perceived barrier of language."

Inspired by an Iraqi woman he met just as the U.S. invaded her country in 2003, "Waiting" revolves around how she falls in love with an American man in Paris. They promise to meet in Beijing, but as SARS breaks out in China, they are kept apart despite the helpful intervention of a Chinese woman. A love triangle emerges against the backdrop of war and disease.

"I overcame the language barrier by learning to understand Western culture," said Zhang, who splits time between Beijing and Los Angeles. "As long as you understand the world, language barriers are easy to get across. It is a story about love, and that is something everyone can understand."

Shot for $6 million in Paris and Beijing with cinematographer Wen Deguang ("CEO"), "Waiting" was co-produced with Beijing-based Tiandihetai Film in association with the China Film Group, the state-run studio that released it in China in October on 200 screens.

U.S. distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures tried to sell "Waiting" at the American Film Market but has had no luck. The film will premiere Dec. 10 at the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills before a limited engagement begins Dec. 12 at the Laemmle Downtown Grande and Regency Fairfax Theaters in Los Angeles.

Zhang, a former rural schoolteacher, said it took him 20 years to prepare to break into the movies since he first saw "Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind," and then, in 1995, beheld Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

"My fascination for this industry solidified my determination to make movies," he said from Los Angeles, where he believes it is vital to open an office to establish a connection with the U.S. filmmaking business.

In 2009, Zhang plans to produce four films for a total of about $23 million -- two in English in the U.S. and two in Chinese in China. They will include two he wrote himself: a romantic comedy about a stock trader who feigns insanity to avoid debt collectors and a drama about a psychotherapist who loses his wife in the Sept. 11 attacks.