Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang believes the strong human drama at the heart of his war epic “Assembly,” which kicked off the Pusan Film Festival Thursday, will overcome the pic’s more controversial political angle.
The $10 million pic is about a soldier trying to gain recognition for a unit of comrades who died in 1948, at a turning point in the civil war between the communists and the nationalist forces of the Kuomintang (KMT).
It’s a tricky subject as far as the People’s Liberation Army is concerned — criticism of the world’s largest standing army, with 2.3 million soldiers, can get you on the wrong side of China’s all-powerful Film Bureau. Fearful of censorship, Feng tweaked the story to give it a more positive spin.
“The film exposes something about the military that’s not very positive, so I had that fear as regards censorship,” Feng said. “But it’s not really the military’s fault either. We talk about a small company that was sacrificed but in order not to get on the Film Bureau’s bad side too much, we let the military restore honor at the end.”
The pic stars Zhang Hanyu, who played a cop in Feng’s “A World Without Thieves.” It is jointly produced by South Korea’s MK Pictures and China’s Huayi Brothers, who also were involved in his previous outing, “The Banquet,” and will handle international sales with Media Asia.
Huayi co-prexy Wang Zhonglei said the core market for the pic would be China and other Asian markets, such as Korea and Japan.
“When we were deciding on whether to invest in this film, there were concerns about its international appeal and our expectations are for the domestic market. If it’s a success in any other markets that will be like a pleasant surprise for us,” he said.
An adaptation of Yang Jingyuan’s novel “The Law Suit,” pic is unlikely to get a release in Taiwan, as it deals with a battle that was central to the defeat of the KMT, who fled to Taiwan after the civil war, establishing self-rule on the island. Cross-strait tensions are always high, with the mainland Chinese claiming Taiwan is a renegade province they will invade to take back if it ever tries to declare independence, as Taipei has often threatened.
Pic also features a number of first-time thesps who clearly reveled in the experience of working with Feng, arguably China’s most popular helmer, famed for domestic hits such as “The Banquet,” “Big Shot’s Funeral” and “Cell Phone.”
“It’s a human drama about a man’s search, like ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ I feel Feng wanted to remind people of forgotten heroes and the sacrifices they made in the war,” actor Deng Chao said.