Helmer passes ‘Go’ into home territory

'Broke' a tough sell to censors given social climate

SHANGHAI — Some are describing it as China’s “Full Monty,” but without the stripping. Still Wang Guangli’s latest film of gritty working-class heroes wasn’t a sure bet to be make its way into Chinese theaters. Shot in just 12 days, “Go for Broke” was filmed in 1999 and hit international festivals last year, but is only now making it onto the Mainland’s big screens. The fact that it made it at all is perhaps a sign of changing times.

“I spent a long time working over the final cut with the censors,” explains the 36-year-old director. “It could have been a bit more hard-hitting, but I was determined to have it released here.”

“Go for Broke” follows six jobless friends as they form their own private construction firm, lose everything to a scam and then win the national lottery.

Wang’s tale of laid-off workers and their attempts to make ends meet was always going to be difficult to clear with the censors at the Beijing Film Bureau. With unemployment rates rising dramatically as state-run companies lose out to private ventures, the government is keen to put a good spin on the social climate.

The film, with its cast of non-professionals and a hard-hitting docudrama feel to the cinematography, caused a stir in the local media last year, despite never having played here. Southern Weekend (one of China’s more respected newspapers) placed it No. 6 in their list of the best domestic films of 2001.

Abroad, “Go for Broke” premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival, then continued on to Vancouver, London and Tokyo, where it received a warm reception. It is set to play at San Francisco this April.

Shot in Shanghai, in the local dialect, as a co-production between independent production company East Line and Shanghai Film Studio, the film was a natural fit for Shanghai cinemas. It finally premiered last December, but despite making a profit very quickly (the budget was under $100,000), two weeks later it was removed.

These are tough times for low-budget domestic films looking for Chinese distribution, as Crystal Chu, in charge of marketing at Shanghai-based Golden Cinemas, notes: “There are so many foreign and Hong Kong films set for release this year, it’s hard to find a slot for local productions. Even (high-profile filmmaker) Jiang Wen (“Devils on the Doorstep”) is having a tough time getting his latest film on screen.”

Despite the setbacks, Wang is optimistic about the prospects for “Broke”: “We have full-scale Shanghai release set for March. We are in talks with a national distributor to take us to Beijing and beyond by April. And we have signed a deal in Japan for release in September.”

East Line’s producer, American-born Cory Vietor, who has worked with Wang since 1998, says they have learned a lot from the experience. “It’s been — how shall I put it? — a real challenge working with the Shanghai Film Studio. New regulations now mean we can work independently, so we’ll probably just be buying services from state-run studios as and when we need them from now on.”

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