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Brokeback director addresses Chinese film industry

Brokeback director addresses Chinese film industry

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee offered China fatherly moviemaking advice Sunday, hinting that he was unsure how to work in the nation's restricted marketplace. "It's very important that you understand how you plan to attract people into your version of the black box," Lee said of the country's cinema industry.

Speaking at the ninth annual Shanghai International Film Festival, Lee made only passing mention of the film that earned him Best Director at this year's Oscars. Brokeback Mountain could not screen in China because of a prevalent taboo against homosexuality. What Lee did say--to an audience of about 400, including lots of local reporters--was that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, his martial arts coproduction with China in 2000, had disappointed at the box office here despite a wide release and a local star, Zhang Ziyi.

Seated next to popular mainland director Feng Xiaogang, Lee said China must learn how Hollywood works if it wants to recapture the glory Shanghai's studios enjoyed in the 1930s. China's government restricting the import of foreign films to 20 a year won't help, he said. "I don't think national pride should come first," said Lee, who left his native Taiwan in 1975 before earning two graduate arts degrees in the United States. "Commonalities should come first, then individual characteristics."

Director Feng--whose Cellphone established him commercially with China's growing movie audience in 2000--at one point took a comedic bow in Lee's direction and later stood to declare, "I am not afraid of Hollywood!" However, Feng said that he was generally in favor of China's caps on imported films. He cited neighboring Korean directors' concerns about overwhelming competition from Hollywood when foreign film quotas were relaxed this year. "Certain restrictions are needed for cultural protection," Feng said. "But overdo it and Chinese directors will become lazy."

Feng said some academy-trained directors, including his countrymen Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and Tian Zhuangzhuang, already appeared to him to have forgotten how to tell stories for their home audience. "They try to be as vague as possible. In fact, I think they despise telling stories," Feng said to hearty, mostly local, applause. Some of Lee's movies were "too deep" for him too, Feng added.

Undaunted, Lee will try to rejump the East-West divide with his next project, Lust, Caution, a Shanghai-set World War II-era story by Eileen Zhang, the late novelist and screenwriter who left her native Shanghai for Hong Kong and then Los Angeles, where she died in 1995. Like Brokeback, Lust first struck Lee as a bad story for a film. Then, he said, it stuck with him. "When you read it again, you find the hidden beauty."

Asked about criticism of directors Zhang and Chen for making films allegedly tailored to Western stereotypes of China, Lee compared their predicament to that of the Chinese basketball star who plays for the Houston Rockets. "Like Yao Ming and the NBA, it's sometimes good to play on the big stage," said Lee, adding that "going to Hollywood for Chinese directors is a two-way street. Hollywood influences us, but we also influence Hollywood."

Lee said one rude awakening Chinese directors should look out for as their commercial film industry develops is the product marketing attached to filmmaking. Lee said 5 million pairs of rubber gloves were sold in connection with his film The Hulk. "I like to think I am the savior of the soul," Lee said, but "in the end, sometimes the films we make are kind of an advertisement for all the products around them." (Jonathan Landreth, Reuters)

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