June 20th, 2019
Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering’s Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview
By REBECCA DAVIS
Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic change to global audiences.
Though often described as Jia’s “muse,” it’s a term that she herself is uncomfortable with. “I don’t accept it or reject it. It appeared, and I’ve heard it,” she shrugged. “It isn’t a term that I’ve come up with for myself — it’s one that the media has come up with for our relationship.”
Currently, she is at work as a producer on a new literary documentary about the works of Chinese writers Yu Hua and Jia Pingwa that her husband began shooting in May to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Zhao was refreshingly candid with Variety about the challenges facing women in the Chinese film industry in a Kering Women in Motion talk on the sidelines of the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival.
Variety: You often portray strong female characters trying to make their way in a man’s world. How do you prepare for these roles?
Zhao: When I receive a role, it’s really script that gives me the basis I need to envision the character. I don’t think directly about how to make her a strong one. My method is that I get a script and read it through many times, writing down in great detail the feelings it evokes each time. I then love to write a biography for the character. With Qiaoqiao [from “Ash is Purest White”] for example, I began with her kindergarten years. I even knew the exact name and address of her kindergarten and middle school, because I’m really familiar with Datong [where it’s set]. I went on to write when she met her first boyfriend, what kinds of fights they had, when she graduated from college, what problems she faced — all the way up until she’s 60. In that process, I found that the character was telling me that step by step she had transformed from a very simple girl to a very strong woman.
How do you collaborate with Jia Zhangke? How involved are you in developing your characters?
After so many years of collaboration, we have an unspoken agreement that I won’t interfere with his creative process or put forward any demands. We don’t discuss anything during the script development phase, and only talk once he’s communicated with his creative team and decided that I’ll play the role. If he doesn’t give it to me, I don’t ask about it: I’m not dead-set on playing anything, because it’s not important that I’m in it — for us what’s most important is the values our films depict.
What kinds of female characters resonate with Chinese audiences? You’ve shot a couple of foreign films — is it different from what resonates in the West?
Chinese audiences need characters that suit their sensibilities and act in ways that line up with how they’d manage emotions. An example that made a particular impression on me was in Italy on the set of “Shun Li and the Poet.” The director needed me to express extreme joy at being reunited with my child, and wanted me to go into the sea for a swim. I said, I can do it, but from a Chinese woman’s point of view, I don’t think she would deal with happiness that way, putting on a swimsuit for a swim. He thought about it for a long time, because he really wanted that swim, but in the end, we decided that when I was at my happiest I could instead write my dad a letter.
No matter whether my character is in China or Italy, Fenyang or Beijing, I think the problems people encounter, especially women, remain the same. We women will certainly face first loves, and the responsibility of caring for family, for children — there’s no nationality to it. Everyone is the same, but women’s burdens and responsibilities in particular are very much the same.
What do you bring to your craft now as a more mature, experienced actress that you couldn’t at a younger age?
When I first starred in “Platform” in my early 20s, I didn’t have a script so I just did my best to follow the story the director explained to me before every scene. Back then, I was acting. Now after so many years, after I get the script, analyze it and write my detailed backstory, when I’m in the midst of the pleasure of creation, I feel I no longer need to act. Instead, I feel I should be living this character.
What challenge does age pose to Chinese actresses?
It’s a particularly big obstacle. Our current standards of beauty here only appreciate pretty girls in their early 20s, and after Chinese actresses reach a certain age, the roles they get naturally fall into the categories of mothers, grandmas and elders. But it’s actually only by the time you’re 40 that you’ve accumulated a wealth of work experience. At that point, you could not just play a mother or a lawyer but all sorts of crossover roles, because what audiences are looking at is the richness of your inner emotions, and that’s something that only accumulates over time.
You’re the only female member of the jury for the main competition. Why is there under-representation of women in such positions?
This is something we really need to talk about. I think that out of respect for women and their independence, we must judge them and their work by the same standards we use for men. So in the Shanghai Festival, we can be happy to see that there are two works by female directors. I believe in Chinese cinema, and I believe that Chinese women can shoot exquisite movies.
In your eyes, is it important in China to discuss the role of women in the film industry?
I think it’s really important in our industry to discuss the issue of gender. And the law.
The law says that we must respect women, but our society still imposes many limitations on them. For instance, saying that women should have children, take care of the family and manage all the little details of family life, while also being accomplished in their own work. Honestly, I think we ask too much of women. I only realized when I became Jia’s wife and had my own home that too much is expected of women. Especially in the film industry, the proportion of women is particularly small. Other than actresses or costumers, basically every other person is a man. Under such circumstances, using the same standards to measure women’s performance is actually one of the best things we can do to support women.
What inspires you?
In life I’m actually not someone who really likes to socialize. I’m really quiet. Especially when we’re in the midst of a shoot, I like to just stand or sit in one place, to enter into an environment and observe the people in the place where I’m shooting — what kinds of lives they lead, how they eat and play and live. I really like to observe other people. I’ve realized over so many years of observation that each role I play is inseparable from the real problems people are facing in life — emotional dilemmas, family or money troubles. For me, what’s important in cinema is not just telling a story. What’s more important is to use the story as a vehicle to see the person it’s about, and through that person, witness the changes of an entire era.
New Talent Award Filmmakers Bring Energy and Variety to Competition
By Rachel Lu
Fourteen nominees for the Asia’s New Talent Prize introduced their films yesterday at a press conference during the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival.
The filmmakers come from many parts of Asia and bring new energy to the competition with a variety of topics.
Some highlights, including Special Couple, a comedy about two friends trying to gain residency rights in London by pretending to be a legal couple, and the complex but hilarious situations of love and friendship they encountering. Young director Huang Lei hopes that the film could represent the attitudes of contemporary youth.
Indian director Dominic Sangma explained that, he wanted to tell his father’s story through his film Moan, which portraies a son’s and a husband’s longing for their mother and wife. The film attempts to show death as a part of life.
Some movies hope to highlight social responsibilities, and the Chinese film Nimobostratus is calling for more focus on a special group of people in the retelling of true events. “This is a story about small potato with heavy burdens. It’s about their resilience,” said the lead actress Jiang Jiaqi.
Iranian film The Graveless follows the journey of four siblings relocating their recently deceased father’s body to his desired location, but conflicts arise during the grueling journey. Most of the film was shot on the road, and the director Mostafa Sayari said he successfully controlled the pace of the story with the cooperation of the photographer.
The Fourth Wall is a mind-twisted drama about parallel universes. The scriptwriters, Zhang Bo and Qi Hao, hope that the audience could interpret it for themselves while building the suspense. It is the first non-documentary movie shot in Madagascar.
Other films vying for the prize include Chinese movie The Road Home, Send Me to the Clouds, To Live To Sing; Taiwan's The Paradise; Indonesia's Mountain Song; Japan’s Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy; Sri Lankan’s The Other Half; and India's Trijya-Radius.
The nominees expressed their great appreciation for the committee’s approval of their hard work. Chinese director Teng Congcong, of Send Me to the Clouds, emphasized the importance of the Asia’s New Talent prize.
“To be encouraged by the older generation is very important for the confidence of young filmmakers,” she said.
The prize will be awarded on Friday.
All-in-one Shanghai Hi-Tech Center, A New Hub for Film, TV Industry
By Joyce Xu
Shanghai Hi-tech Films and Television City would play an important role in the shape of the city’s production industry, officials emphasized on June 19 during the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival.
The Songjiang District Complex will be an agglomeration of high-tech film companies and studios. In addition to Shanghai Film Park, studios in the City will bring in the avant-garde 5G+3H technology to support film shoots and post-production.
Public service platforms will be built to offer comprehensive support for copyright trade, location coordination, big data analysis and content incubation.
New theaters will be constructed to host a variety of cultural and tourism events in the future. Film and TV exhibitions and competitions will be organized to promote exchanges and cooperation.
Favorable policies will also be adopted in the City to encourage more international Hi-Tech enterprises to settle in Shanghai. Important film and TV projects will receive wide support from local government.
Zhao Yong, the spokesman of Songjiang District Government, said the City would also build film schools and training centers to foster young professionals.
Outstanding Shanghai-produced films will be awarded for their contribution to Chinese cinema.
Classic Shanghai Film Group Corporation, IPs, will also be selected to be developed into new franchises with the help of AI, VR and AR.
Officials said that the construction of the City’s main areas would be completed within 3 to 5 years, and all basic functions were expected to be operational around 2025.
VR Wonderland movies enthral festival audiences with close-up ‘reality’
By Rich Zhu
The emerging moviemaking trend toward VR technology, offering 360-degree viewing and immersive film experiences, entertained audiences at Shanghai International Film Festival yesterday.
Attendees at the VR Wonderland event were equipped with VR headsets to watch features from a schedule of 20 VR productions.
Three works were screened in the morning session at Power Station of Art museum in Huangpu District, one of the festival’s VR Wonderland sites.
They included the Sanctuaries of Silence, featuring sounds of nature in depicting an environmental protection theme; The Journey describing children struggling against poverty and the threat of AIDS; and The Wild Immersion, a close-up experience of animals from all corners of the world.
The most popular was The Wild Immersion in which the kids shouted, and adults gasped as a cobra loomed at them from the screen at the start. The VR technology made the creatures seem to be just centimetres away, said an on-site volunteer from Shanghai University.
A loyal fan of VR movies, the volunteer applied to see over 10 VR productions during the festival.
“They are very popular and tickets for many were sold out within several minutes,” she said, hoping to be able to see VR movies more often in dedicated VR cinemas in the future.
As well as the Huangpu site, the festival’s VR Wonderland will also feature movies at Songjiang Art Museum and Mercedes-Benz Arena’s OPG Cinex.
Forum hears about the benefits of film production standards
By Cheryl Heng
The Chinese film industry is maturing , according to a forum held at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Industry professionals at the forum called for better industry regulation.
According to James Li, co-founder of Fanink Research, 2019 will be a year of challenges for the film industry.
With a more even age distribution of moviegoers, films must cater to a wider range of audience needs. More people aged 40 to 59 are going to the movies, while those aged 18 to 29 are opting for other entertainment options instead of watching films.
Comedy is a popular genre for Chinese moviegoers of all ages, followed by suspense and crime.
Hollywood director Simon West shared details of the differences between the Chinese and Hollywood film industries in terms of work time, preparation and formats.
In China, the film industry is expected to work 7 days a week, typically more than 18 hours a day. More rest time is valued in Hollywood. A 5- or 6-day work week with less than 12 hours a day each time is preferred.
A significant difference is that preparation prior to the shooting is valued.
“The production is the riskiest stage of the film, where everything can go horribly wrong,” said West. “And this is where investors lose their money because things can get out of control. The Hollywood system has tried to mitigate as much of that as possible by putting the emphasis on preparation.”
Every stage of the preparation is carefully monitored, including every day and hour of the shoot in the schedule. The film cannot go into production until the preparation is complete.
In China, greater emphasis is on the film shooting.
“The Chinese and Hollywood systems are not that different. With a few key changes to the processes, the production will be a lot more reliable and risk-averse,” said West.
“I certainly enjoy shooting here. The Chinese film industry has huge potential to be dominating the world movie market,” he added.
“If it adopts a few changes, people will see radical changes in the standardization and industrialization of the industry. This also encourages foreign filmmakers who understand the standards and will not be put off by the differences.”
X Japan leader Yoshiki X Japan leader Yoshiki reveals new plans
Japanese musician and songwriter Yoshiki Hayashi, leader of the rock band X Japan, attended the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival with clips from his documentaryfilm“WeAreX.”
The film records one of the band’ s concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York. It is also the story of the life and dreams of Yoshiki.
Yoshiki plans to cooperate with The H Collective to get more involved in film and TV projects in China. He has also written the theme song and score for the animated spy comedy “Spycies,” joint effort between The H Collective and iQiyi.
The movie has been entered for the Golden Goblet Awards in the animation category.