It was a long time coming, but the Weinstein Co.’s first Asian production, “Shanghai,” finally premiered in Beijing on Thursday, two years after shooting in Shanghai was stopped for political reasons and moved to Thailand and the U.K.
Pic is helmed by Mikael Hafstrom and stars John Cusack as a U.S. intelligence officer trying to find out who killed his friend in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It also features local thesp Gong Li, Hong Kong chopsocky legend Chow Yun-fat and Japan’s Ken Watanabe.
The strong Asian cast should help the pic do well in the growing Chinese market where Huayi Bros. will give it a wide release on June 17.
In the meantime it will play at the Shanghai Film Festival, which kicks off on Saturday.
The news in March 2008 that “Shanghai” had been refused permission to shoot, after hundreds of thousands of dollars had already been spent on the production, cast the project into doubt and battered China’s image as a place to make movies at a time when the biz here was trying to encourage foreign input into co-productions.
No reason was given why the shoot was halted, but it was almost certainly related to sensitivities to do with the Japanese occupation of China between 1931 and 1945 and other political considerations.
“I thought the movie might fall apart. I’d been to Shanghai to do research. I don’t think we’ll ever know why we were stopped,” Cusack said before the preem.
Surprisingly, the Chinese censors demanded just one edit to the final version, he said, involving a beheading scene, which is itself surprising as the authorities tend not to be squeamish about violence but are decidedly delicate on political and moral issues.
It seems the government has changed its view of the movie, as the Beijing premiere was held in the National Political Consultative Conference Assembly Hall — a real Communist bastion.
Cusack praised the movie’s literary feel, saying it was an epic thriller-romance that reminded him of a Graham Greene novel. Pic’s budget was between $40 million and $50 million.
“It was a great opportunity to be in an epic, adult film, they don’t get made anymore,” he said.
Cusack starred in one of the biggest movies of all time in China, “2012,” and is a popular thesp in a country where foreign actors generally take second place to their Asian counterparts.
During the shoot, Cusack told of how Hafstrom became ill with food poisoning and he took over the helm for a couple of days, but did not say whether this was the start of a move to expand his acting and producing career into directing.