A stirring historical war movie opened the 12th Shanghai Intl. Film Festival, an event that is growing in international profile as the Chinese biz continues to thrive.

Fest, which runs June 13-21, opened with He Ping’s historical action drama “Wheat,” the director’s first film since “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” in 2003. The $6 million movie was produced by Xi’an Film Studio, Beijing Polybona and Beijing Classic Culture.

Shanghai’s fest has long been seen as a provincial affair, but the growing muscle of the Chinese film biz, combined with stark increases in B.O. in the world’s most populous nation, means this year’s event is much more closely watched than ever.

The jury is headed by “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle. “Being involved in SIFF 2009 fulfills a lifetime’s ambition to spend time in Shanghai, one of the world’s greatest cities,” he said. “Chinese cinema began here, and the festival is the perfect way of celebrating that creative energy each year. In the same spirit, I’d like to welcome everyone to what we all hope will be a truly excellent festival.”

Most of the market section of the fest is taking take place in the Shanghai Exhibition center, a much larger venue than in previous years, a reflection of how the booming Chinese biz is bucking the global slowdown.