The growing collaboration between America and China in the film business has been big news for years, but with the recent signing of Bruce Willis and a pair of below-the-line luminaries, the makers of the Chinese-language war epic, “The Bombing,” hope to create more equilibrium in the flow of talent across the Pacific.
Yang Buting, the executive producer of the film and former China Film Group chief executive, believes that the big-budget picture will be the first of many to lure U.S. stars, directors and craftsmen to China. And another producer working in China said that, in the wake of the news that Willis was taking the role in “The Bombing,” two name-brand Hollywood stars inquired about coming to the Far East to work in Chinese-language films.
“It’s coming,” said the producer, who declined to name the American actors prior to the inking of deals. “There is a desire for American talent, to improve the quality of our films and to help us bring up our own film industry.”
Willis agreed to make “The Bombing,” whose reported $90 million budget is one of the largest ever in Chinese cinema, during a late-May meeting with producer Yang in New York. The actor departed last week for Ningbo, on the eastern coast of China, for eight days of shooting on the film, a dramatic re-creation of the more than five-year siege Japan laid to the city of Chongqing during WWII. The story revolves around the struggles of the people of the city during air raids that killed more than 11,000, mostly civilians. While the Chinese had fighter planes, they initially lacked pilots, and relied on American volunteers to teach them to fly. Willis plays one of those volunteers, with Korean actor Song Seung-heon as a Chinese trainee learning to protect his homeland.
The consortium of companies behind the production had already quietly assembled an all-star group of Americans behind the camera. Oscar winner Vilmos Zsigmond (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) is consulting on cinematography, while another Academy Award winner, Richard Anderson, will act as a consultant on sound editing, according to the producers.
Yang said the American expertise and star power will help assure “The Bombing,” has the look, sound and feel of a top U.S. production. “We have an ancient culture with a long history and many stories to tell,” he said. “America has a relatively short history, but you have a much greater technology in film. So we are trying to take the history of China and meld it with the modern technology of America to make a modern film that is of the highest quality.”
Yang said he is in talks with other American artists about future projects. He was assisted by two U.S. firms, Hifex and Bruber Enterprise, in sealing the deal with Willis and his agents at CAA.
Among the wrinkles for Willis in finalizing his first-ever job in China: the request of the Chinese to attend a formal contract-signing ceremony. Such paperwork is usually a behind-the-scenes afterthought, but the star agreed to the public signing when he learned how important the formality of the event was to the Chinese. That meant sitting down with Yang at the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan, in a scene that looked less like a movie deal than it did a summit between two heads of state. After the signing, the Chinese delegation presented wine connoisseur Willis with a bottle of limited-edition Opus One.
“That was a nice touch,” said Willis’ rep.