Wang Xiaoshuai returns to Cannes

Shanghai native brings a little controversy with 'Blues'

BEIJING -- "Chongqing Blues" director Wang Xiaoshuai is no stranger to Cannes or controversy.

The man, who will turn 44 on the Croisette this year, won the Jury Prize in 2005 for "Shanghai Dreams," the story of a father and daughter torn apart by the Cultural Revolution.

A Shanghai native who was "sent down" to Southwest China in the upheaval of the 1960s, Wang was blacklisted for his first feature, 1993's "The Days," releasing subsequent films under an assumed name.

In Competition with "Blues" this year, Wang will show the jury another film focused on China's growing pains. But there are signs that the trained painter, screenwriter and occasional actor -- he appeared in Jia Zhangke's "The World" and Lou Ye's "Weekend Lover," for instance -- may have mellowed with age, choosing to work inside China's restrictive film establishment when, for the first time, the potential for domestic commercial returns is real and the need to please festival juries (and overseas distributors) is diminished.

China's boxoffice shot up 43% last year to $909 million and is expected to expand further as the growing middle class develops the moviegoing habit and begins to demand more than politically correct kung fu films and period war epics.

In "Blues," Wang revisits the kidnapping theme of 1998's "So Close to Paradise" and takes viewers deep into the largest of China's self-governing municipalities, Chongqing, home to more than 31 million people.

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Based loosely on the true story of a Chinese policeman who shot and killed hostage taker in a shopping center in 2008 -- and coming on the heels of news reports of widespread corruption and kidnapping in the southwestern megacity -- "Blues" could shine a timely, dramatic light.

When lead character Old Lin discovers that his estranged 25-year-old son was gunned down by police for stabbing a waitress and kidnapping a nurse, he searches for reasons for his son's failures and finds only his absence to blame.

But Wang chose not to put the policeman at the center of "Blues" because, he said, "the censors wouldn't have liked that." He chose instead to tell the story from the perspective of Old Lin, the victim's father.

In a telephone interview, Wang addressed the meaning of the son's tragedy and his father's search for redemption, cautiously allowing that Old Lin, played by veteran actor Wang Xueqi, is a "little bit" of an stand-in for China today.

"There are so many stories of kidnapping in China, but this one stuck out because the policeman wrote about his regrets on the Internet afterwards, answering netizens' questions," Wang said.

Further revealing the allegory between art and life in China, Wang's choice to work closely with censors -- who made "very little change" to "Blues" -- gave him hope that his film may be released here in June.

Self-censor and get paid seems to be the message: "I think they want to put it out at the Shanghai Film Festival," he said, hopefully.

It would be hasty to dismiss as compromise the choices made by director Wang and his lead actor, whose career stretches back to Chen Kaige's "Yellow Earth (1984). To lovers of Chinese cinema, both men are symbols of the finely honed adaptive skills it takes to make movies in China.