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Busan: Larry Yang and the Right Kind of Co-Production

Chinese director Larry Yang, whose “Mountain Cry” is the closing film of the Busan Film Festival, is a champion of cross-border collaborations. Too often co-productions have been fitted together out of production necessity or misguided financial ambition.  Yang’s experience, however, sees international elements and experience harnessed for the benefit of a film that is clearly rooted in a single culture.

The story is one of injustice in 1980s post-Cultural Revolution era China — Yang describes it as a “romance” — involving a man who must look after a mute woman after her husband’s violent death.  “Truly, this film is a love story. It deals with big social issues, entrapment, child abduction and psychological damage, but we see that love heals the woman,” says Yang.

“It is also a parallel with my own story, about finding one’s voice,” says Yang, who grew up in China, spent eight years of his early adulthood in New York and Edinburgh, Scotland, and studied acting in Beijing.

The film came into being as a result of project markets at the Beijing and Cannes festivals and as a co-venture between Chinese production group Hairun Pictures and Village Roadshow Productions Asia. (The U.S.’s Ivanhoe Pictures was also briefly on board.) VRPA is the three-year-old China- based film production and investment unit of Australian conglomerate Village Roadshow, whose interests stretch from Down Under theme parks to co-financing of Warner Bros.’ Hollywood slate.

Yang read the underlying novel in 2008 and wrote a speculative adaptation as part of his self-taught conversion from acting to filmmaking. After the script was rejected several times he forgot about it for four years, while he was hired as a contract director for Hairun. Yang revived the second draft of the script when he learned of a call for submissions by the Beijing Festival’s Pitch & Catch project matching event and surprised Hairun and himself when it was shortlisted.  VRPA’s Ellen Eliasoph was a judge at the event and boarded a month later  the same time as the script travelled for the China project event in Cannes.

Yang credits Eliasoph as his mentor and an open-minded producer ready to bring in foreign craft elements — including Patrick Murguia as cinematographer and Malaysia’s Jeffrey Kong as production designer — that would add fresh eyes to the creative package and elevate the quality of the finished product.

“This is very much something grown from Chinese soil, which was watered by outside attention,” says Yang.

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