Miller still in 'Fashion' with Chinese audience

Pic eyes boost from familiar face

Chinese fans of "Growing Pains" star Jeremy Miller never forgot the young American from the hit 1990s TV show, one of the few imported series allowed into the country back then. So when Miller, now 31, recently returned to China to make a unique new movie he was besieged by fans and media.

The Chinese production, "Milk and Fashion," marked a return to acting for Miller, who had gone on to study cooking and open his own catering firm after his series ended. The production also attracted a fair amount of attention locally because it is the first to include Chinese-speaking Caucasians in lead roles.

A $1.4 million U.S.-China-Japan co-production by Taiwanese television director Roy Chin, "Fashion" is being pitched by its Shanghai-based American producer Jay Rothstein as the " 'Billy Elliot'-esque" story of Tyler, a white, Chinese-speaking teenage ballet dancer nicknamed "Milk" who falls in love with a Chinese ballerina nicknamed "Fashion."

Rothstein's son Kyle plays Tyler, who gets his moniker from his fondness for milk. For Kyle Rothstein, 16, the role is a natural. He started learning Chinese in San Francisco when he was 5 years old, then later joined the city's professional ballet school. He now lives in Shanghai with his dad.

"If you want a story about a white kid who speaks Chinese and dances ballet, you basically have to come to me," the elder Rothstein said in an interview at the recent Hong Kong Filmart, where he shopped the project around to distributors.

Rothstein's China Venture Films co-produced "Fashion," its first finished film, with the Yunnan Film Studio in southwest China, getting some backing from first-time media investor MedicBic of Tokyo.

Rothstein said he hopes the subject of cross-cultural learning and relationships — and Miller's popularity here — will make the film a hit in China. "We were looking for the most adored star in China," Rothstein said of his decision to reach out to Miller. "Miller's a star here."

Miller plays Jack, Tyler's uncle, a Shanghai fashion show manager. Miller is the only member of the cast who doesn't speak much Chinese.

The film's other white, Chinese-speaking star is Vanessa Branch ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "John Q"), who grew up all over the world as the daughter of a hotel chef and studied Chinese at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Fledgling actress Michele Du, a Chinese national who studied in Canada for six years, co-stars as Tyler's love interest Yao Yao, or Fashion, while his stepmother is played by Yang Namu Erche, a popular singer in China and aa world-traveling former fashion model whose 2003 memoir "Leaving Mother Lake" briefly was on the New York Times' best-seller list.

The script is by American Paul Collins, known for his 2001 feature "Pavilion of Women." That film starred Willem Dafoe and Lou Yen and is considered one of the earliest Hollywood-China film co-productions.

"Milk and Fashion" will premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.