HONG KONG — China is not an easy environment in which to make films, but “City of Life and Death” helmer Lu Chuan has managed to stick to his artistic guns while winning international plaudits — and the coin to make his projects real.
Local auds didn’t flock to “City of Life and Death” in expected numbers, partially because Lu made the Japanese general in the war movie a real character.
Now the director wants his vision to appeal to auds in the booming China market as he gets ready to unveil “The Last Supper,” a costume drama about two warring generals, toplining mainland-friendly stars Liu Ye, Daniel Wu and Taiwanese thesp Chang Chen.
“I hope the film will be accepted by a Chinese audience,” Lu said in an interview with Variety on the eve of Hong Kong Filmart.
Lu remains the most uncompromising of the Sixth Generation of filmmakers. For him, filmmaking is not a business, it’s art, like writing a novel. Combining strong storytelling with technical ability is what makes his a name to watch among Chinese helmers, particularly with competition on the way from the West, with the recent decision to allow more foreign movies into China.
“I’m not making a movie for the market,” Lu says. “But audiences are becoming sophisticated, educated by these wonderful movies coming in from foreign directors.”
Lu sees the growing challenge from Hollywood as a healthy one.
“We need competition,” he says. “We need to set standards, and we need more foreign films to enter the market.”
Still, to compete, Chinese directors must be afforded the same kind of freedom from censorship that foreign filmmakers have. “We need to be treated equally,” Lu says, while noting: “My three previous films, ‘The Missing Gun,’ ‘Kekexili: Mountain Patrol’ and ‘City of Life and Death’ were sensitive, but they all got approved.”
“City,” which won best picture at San Sebastian, grossed more than $24 million B.O. in China in 2009, but might have done better if not for controversy over its account of the 1937 Rape of Nanjing. The pic wound up as a seeming yardstick by which censors will judge permissibility.
For Lu, though, the filmmaking process is uncompromising.
“I have to make movies to educate people and change people’s minds,” he says.