“Wings Over Everest,” a new action-adventure film from veteran producer Terence Chang and “Wolf Warrior 2” producer Lu Jianmin, is poised to join the burgeoning Chinese sub-genre of rescue movies.
The Chinese- and English-language film stars Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu (“Project Gutenberg,” “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”), Japanese actor Koji Yakusho (“Babel,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and Taiwanese actor Austin Po-Hung Lin (“The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang”). It is the first feature from writer-director Fei Yu, a former VP and lead game producer at Gameloft, who later transitioned into screenwriting and content development.
“Everest” is backed by Lu’s Spring Era Films, Fei’s firm Mirage, Beijing Saite Century Films, and Tokyo-based entertainment company VAP, a subsidiary of Nippon TV. It is the second collaboration between producer Chang and actress Zhang, who previously worked together on the Andy Lau-starring 2017 action film “The Adventurers,” which grossed $34 million (RMB237 million).
Shot in China, Canada and Nepal, the movie tells the story of a rescue team that must go after a crashed plane in the Himalayas to recover important CIA documents that could prevent a terrorist incident. The team has 72 hours to locate the files in a “death zone” nearly 30,000 feet above sea level, so high up that it’s unreachable even by rescue craft, where temperatures are below minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
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It will be the second Chinese drama set in the Himalayas to be released in the second half of the year, following Shanghai Film Group’s “Climbers,” which tells the tale of a Chinese expedition to ascend the north face of Everest. That film stars Wu Jing, Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi. Other upcoming rescue-themed films include Bona Film Group’s firefighter action title “The Bravest,” which arrives in Chinese theaters in August, and Dante Lam’s “The Rescue,” set for release next January.
Fei spoke of his experience as a high-altitude mountaineer who has climbed Mont Blanc and Nepal’s Manaslu. He planned a massive 2,200 shots for the film, and apparently was shooting about 75 a day, his actors said.
Chang said he was convinced to board the project because of the script. “Thanks to Fei’s climbing experiences, the characters are written in a very touching, real way. I thought it was impressive that, although he’s never shot a film before, he knows how to use visual language to tell a story,” Chang said amidst the cheesy antics of a press conference on the sidelines of the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Chang’s involvement convinced Yakusho to join the project. “He’s a real veteran and very famous, and I think that it’s rare for different Asian countries to work together on a film, so I wanted to be a part of something that involved that kind of cooperation,” Yakusho said in Japanese through a translator.
Zhang Jingchu plays a member of the rescue team who has climbed all the world’s peaks except Everest, but was the sole survivor of her last attempt to conquer it after an accident killed her team and her boyfriend.
“She knows her boyfriend is almost certainly gone, and that she will likely either die alongside him or bring only his body back. But this is why she keeps going out there,” Zhang said. “The character really moved me. Even though she knows there’s no hope, she doesn’t give up.”
Nevertheless, Zhang hesitated taking the role because she was afraid that the shoot in grueling outdoor conditions would spoil her looks. “To be honest, at first I was really afraid it would be disfiguring. As an actress, I was afraid of what it’d do to my face, that I’d have all these black spots,” she said. “But I read the script and thought about it for six hours and the next morning said I’d go.”
Though dialogue in the trailer was mostly in English, Chang brushed off concerns that the film would get mired in current U.S.-China trade tensions, telling Variety that the film wasn’t shot in the U.S. and its Western actors are Canadian.
Lu added: “I can’t even read the first two pages of most scripts that show up on my desk, but in this case I read it in just two hours and immediately called to ask if we could start signing actors and directors. I feel like this was a good gamble.
“My previous films, including the ‘Wolf Warrior’ series, were all about Chinese heroes,” he said. “I think that this is an era that calls for heroes, and this movie fits that expectation.”