Sino-Australian Co-Production Will Premiere at Sydney Film Festival

Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company

'33 Postcards' stars Guy Pearce opposite Chinese newcomer Zhu Ling.

BEIJING – The Sino-Australian feature film co-production 33 Postcards, starring Guy Pearce, will premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in June, writer, producer and director Pauline Chan told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

With equity investment and screenplay development help from Screen NSW, the tale of a correspondence between an Australian man doing hard time and the Chinese orphan girl whose education he sponsors will be screened out of competition in the "Love Me" section of the festival.

Debut actress Zhu Lin plays Mei Mei. Chan said Zhu left her home near Hangzhou at 14 years of age to join a state-sponsored youth drama club. As a co-production, the China Film Co-production Corp. offered firm guidance about how the film’s Chinese characters should be portrayed, Chan said.

“She grows up developing a fantasy about being a part of Pearce’s family, but the government wanted balance and suggested we insert a caring Chinese character, too,” Chan said. “I was glad for these suggestions. They made me work harder to develop the story.”

In the film, which was shot for AU$3.2 million ($3.5 million) in August 2010 in Sydney and at the facilities of Chinese co-producer Hengdian World Studios outside Shanghai, Pearce’s character and Zhu’s meet very early on, Chan said.

“It’s what happens next that presents the film’s challenge. Our fantasy and our dreams and hopes don’t always match the reality we encounter,” she said.

Chan, who co-wrote the script with Edmond Martin and Philip Dalkin, said she and co-producers Penny Carl-Nelson and Lesley Stevens had only a brief window to work with Pearce, because he’s in such demand for his “chameleon-like talent.”

Chan started writing at an early stage, publishing short stories and essays at 17, but then went to a Hong Kong acting career before she turned to directing shorts, documentaries and finally features in the early 1990s.

Postcards is Chan’s third feature and she was a producer on Dragon Pearl, the first official Sino-Australia film co-production, directed by Mario Andreacchio.

“I read and write Chinese but I don’t live in China, where things change more quickly than my imagination. I’m just so proud that China is such a great ally to be with in the screen industry. They produce such great talent and have wonderful resources,” Chan said.

In its feedback to Chan, the CFCC said she had to present modern-day China -- where the one-party government is sensitive about its image in the media – in a balanced fashion: “I was urged to say where the Chinese care was coming from and why it was that such a young girl chose to run away to pursue her fantasy. I had to work harder to sell the story not only to the government but also to the Chinese audience.”

China, where the box office rose 64% in 2010 to hit $1.5 billion, also has signed co-production treaties in recent years with France, New Zealand and Singapore. 

Postcards and Dragon Pearl were made under the terms of the Sino-Australian film co-production treaty inked in August 2007 after three years of negotiations. Both were preceded by the co-production Children of Huang Shi by Roger Spotiswoode, which, although made after the treaty was signed, did not benefit from all its terms, Chan said.

The treaty, which covers feature films and telefilms, promotes cultural and creative exchange and hopes to help divide the economic costs and benefits of co-productions between both nations.

Features made under co-production treaties qualify for local production funding and incentives and may find easier access to China’s fast-growing movie market.