BEIJING — Chinese helmer and thesp Jiang Wen earned a five-year ban for his film, “Devils on the Doorstep,” back in 2000. But the multi-hyphenate variously described as China’s most important film director or his country’s answer to Marlon Brando says making movies is in his blood and he is back with “The Sun Also Rises.”
“I feel the seductiveness that is the meeting of film and creativity is something I can’t give up even if I wanted to. I don’t know what it is, this thing, or where it’s taking me. It’s a challenge and it’s what is the basis of what attracts me to film,” Jiang says.
“The Sun Also Rises” bears no relation to the Hemingway novel; the title is a nod to the passage in Ecclesiastes in the Bible, in which all earthly attainments are dismissed as vanity.
This is his third pic as helmer, and despite a huge reputation in China, getting this particular earthly attainment to the bigscreen has been a tough job for Jiang — the production was dogged with funding problems and personnel changes, about which Jiang is not keen to talk. Jiao Xiongping and Albert Lee of Emperor Entertainment pulled together funding for the pic.
The pic was originally due to screen in May’s Cannes Film Festival, before it was abruptly pulled, reportedly because parts of the film were “mangled during post-production.”
“We hoped it would be selected for the festival, but the organizers didn’t choose it, as is their right,” Jiang says.
Jiang stars in the film, alongside Joan Chen and his partner, Zhou Yun. Pic took one year to make and cost $10 million and, crucially, it has a Chinese release. “The Sun Also Rises” will be released earlier than expected on the mainland, Sept. 13, which means Jiang and his team will be rushing back from the Venice Film Fest and likely won’t make it to the Toronto Film Fest screening.
“I’ve played in five films recently where I’ve not been director. This is very busy, so I’ve no time to think about who the great directors are in China these days. But as a director myself, I admire Zhang Yimou,” Jiang says.
It was through working with Zhang that Jiang got his first major exposure abroad, as Gong Li’s brutal lover in Zhang’s debut “Red Sorghum.” As so often happens during a career at the edge of respectability, this pic was banned in China, as was the first film he played in, Xie Jin’s “Hibiscus Town.”
He earned the ban in 2000 for “Devils on the Doorstep” (Guizi lai le), a B&W drama about Chinese villagers who harbor Japanese soldiers. The pic did not fit with the traditional patriotic Chinese take on the Anti-Japanese War, as World War II is known in China, and his decision to take the movie to Cannes without clearance also riled the local authorities. He was only allowed to act again in 2002, and began work on “The Sun Also Rises” in 2005.
Understandably for someone keen to keep working in the country, he does not discuss his recent run-ins with the Film Bureau. Perhaps like Zhang, he is keen to escape the censor’s attention and just get on with his job.
He describes the film environment in China as being in a period of change, similar to a person moving from the country to the city.
“There are no big-scale film industries in China. In other words, China is not a film industry country, but an agricultural nation,” he says.
“Distribution in China is certainly getting better, but it needs time and experience. As to the future of Chinese films, it’s hard to say. You can see the fast development of Chinese film in the growing box office and the bigger productions. The real challenge for Chinese film is to allow audiences to relish really exciting films.”