‘Opium War’ preems as H.K. reunion nears

HONG KONG — China celebrated the imminent return of Hong Kong to the motherland with the premiere Monday of “The Opium War,” which tells the Chinese version of how Britain took control of the colony in the last century.

Many of the country’s top political leaders were at the Beijing opening, which is part of the official hand-over festivities. It premieres June 11 in Hong Kong.

The film was directed by veteran Xie Jin with support from teams from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The official cost of the epic is pegged at $9.6 million, though estimates run as high as $15 million. Either way, it’s the most expensive movie made on the mainland.

“The aim of shooting such a movie is to remind all Chinese of the past,” the 74-year-old Xie told Xinhua, the official Chinese state news agency. “For any nation, ignorance of the outside world means backwardness, and a backward country is doomed to be bullied.”

Xie has said the film is his “Schindler’s List.”

The film chronicles the 1840-42 war fought over Britain’s controversial importation of opium into China in exchange for silk and tea. When China set fire to shiploads of the drug, Britain replied with firepower that overwhelmed the Chinese. To secure peace, the Chinese had to sign away Hong Kong.

The humiliation over that loss helps fuel the country’s unbridled enthusiasm for the July 1 reunification of the colony with the mainland.

In the Beijing audience were vice premier Qian Qichen and Radio, Film & Television minister Sun Jiazheng. Sun told Xinhua, “Only when a country really stands equal to other nations can she look her past humiliations in the face.”

Filming began in May 1996 and more than 50,000 people, including 3,000 foreigners, appear in the epic. In addition, more than 20,000 props were made and 47 ships were constructed or rehabilitated.

Xinhua reported that “The Opium War” is scheduled to be shown initially in 300 cinemas in 14 cities around China before going wide and that it has found distributors in South Korea, Japan, Germany and Italy.

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