The Weinstein Co. said Saturday that its decision to shift production of “Shanghai” to Thailand after failing to receive permission to lense in China was based on the need to ground the production in Asia.
“It was the wrong timing when we applied to shoot in China, with the Olympics approaching,” producer Jake Myers said at the Moonstar studio in Bangkok.
He insisted that Chinese officials’ refusal had nothing to do with the political content of the film and that he’d try to get the pic released in China next year.
The film stars John Cusack as an American who arrives at the Japanese-occupied city and falls for a club singer, played by Gong Li, leading to a conflict with her boss, played by Chow Yun-fat.
“The Shanghai of 1941 is an opulent city with a lot of Western influences, and we can’t find that Shanghai any more, even in China,” Myers said. By shooting in Bangkok, “We can be more imaginative; we can rely more on set dressing and get more production value.”
Production started in the U.K. and shifted to Thailand in early July. Since the beginning of this year, Thai crews have built a large backlot set, said to be the biggest in Southeast Asia, re-creating the Shanghai Port and the neon-splashed city circa 1941.
The stars, Myers and exec producer Steve Squillante held a press conference Saturday, but while company co-prexy Harvey Weinstein was present, he did not participate. At one point, he joked to the room that he was simply “Chow Yun-fat’s driver.”
Squillante praised the skill of the Thai crew and the first-class facilities of the soundstage, but suggested that the country needs a competitive tax rebate program.
“Thailand has great production services companies and facilities,” he said. “But the topper is a tax incentive program that will cement the amount of foreign productions to come here every year.”
Last month, the Thai Cabinet approved in principle a tax incentive policy aimed at boosting the competitiveness of the country, though the plan will have to be scrutinized by Ministry of Finance and the Board of Investment before implementation.
“Thailand is usually well known for outdoor locations,” said Chris Lowenstein, managing director of Living Films, the Thai coordinator working on “Shanghai.” “We hope that this film can change outside perceptions about what we can do with big sets and with our creative potential.”
The shoot wraps Aug 12.