A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Wang Yu is a famous film producer on the Chinese mainland as well as the former market director of the Beijing Film Festival. He created the Chinese Film Market magazine and produced movies such as “Platform”, “Blind Shaft”, “Still Life” and “The Three Swordsmen”. His “Crosscurrent” is the only Chinese film that was nominated in the main competition of the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. The cinematographer of “Crosscurrent”, Taiwanese Mark Lee Ping-Bing, won the Silver Bear for Best Artistic Contribution. Media outlets have remarked that if there are more movies like “Crosscurrent” entering the international film market and showcasing traditional Chinese culture, it will promote the domestic film industry and enhance audience interest. It will only be a matter of time before Chinese movies attract even more international attention.
Q: Crosscurrent stands out in the current Chinese film market. What attracted you to the project?
Wang Yu: Yang Chao and I were schoolmates at the Beijing Film Academy. He enrolled earlier than I did, and we remained friends after graduation. I’ve always loved his work. The feature film Passages that he wrote and directed won the Golden Camera-Special Mention at the 57th Cannes International Film Festival. Later, Crosscurrent also won awards in the cornerstone unit of the Cannes Film Festival, which has a great impact on the Beijing Film Academy.
As for Crosscurrent, I wasn’t involved in the earlier stage; it was only in the midterm and later filming that I began to offer Yang my opinions. Crosscurrent is very special in terms of its script; I couldn’t find the so-called clues or context in the first edition. It’s a difficult film to interpret from any point of view. The reason why I stuck with Yang is that I was impressed by his perseverance. It’s rare now to see a director who is willing to spend ten years in a movie. Yang devotes his life to this work.
Q: Which specific changes did you bring to Crosscurrent?
Wang Yu: The first edition of the movie was around 150 minutes long. I put forward many suggestions for editing, and revising the narrative mode. Yang Chao had immersed himself in the movie for so long that he had become kind of lost. He was struggling to a certain extent, not knowing what he should take out. So about a year and a half ago, I turned to a renowned French editor for help, and the results were good. I suggested that Yang leave it alone for a while. Later, with new ideas from the French editor and his own thinking, he was able to modify and finally finish the editing. Our original vision for advancing the plot was based on the Yangtze map, but this limited the director’s second cut, so I proposed to break those limits.
In the course of the project, my major role was to encourage Yang. He had spent too much time on the movie. Crosscurrent was even on the list of Ten Extinct Movies in China, as it took so long to finish. This meant that public expectation was high adding to the pressure on Yang.
Q: What type of movie is Crosscurrent?
Wang Yu: I think it is an art house film – a genre film with a focus on the director’s expression instead of pure market considerations. Every director has his or her own characteristics, but Yang Chao is special. Until Crosscurrent came to Berlin, I couldn’t give it a precise definition or post an accurate label. It seems to mix new realism and magical elements – an image poem full of authorship that is both delicateness and rough.
Q: As an art house film, will Crosscurrent find its rightful market in China?
Wang Yu: I think there is room for art house films in China. The difficulty is finding audiences that love this type among the one billion-strong movie-going crowd. Each film has its own viewing cohort – a fact that filmmakers need to face rationally instead of thinking about how to occupy the entire market. So in this sense, while the traditional method of all-media coverage can improve its exposure, it can’t guarantee effective interaction with the main viewing groups. In other words, market segments and the expansion of genres are reforming trends in the Chinese film industry. Previously, our screens were not enough and the total market was too small, with few choices for viewers. However, things are improving rapidly now. We often hear film- makers complain about audiences, which seems to be the traditional way of thinking. The ones who should practice self-examination are the filmmakers themselves; if you want to make a commercial movie, you should use commercial elements to the extreme; on the other hand, if you want to make art house films, you shouldn’t expect huge audiences. Your target audience should be small and accurate. It’s simply unheard of for a niche movie to attract box office figures like commercial films.
Q: As an art house film with an investment of up to 35 million yuan, how does Crosscurrent target its audience, and are you worried about its market performance?
Wang Yu: For an art house film, Crosscurrent was expensive to make, but it’s understandable considering that it was a decade-long project. Production costs of Chinese films are relatively high. I take this trip to Berlin very seriously because Berlin’s European Film Market is the world’s largest film distribution platform, where we intend to have a presence in addition to our regular promotion. I hope that we can eventually find partners with accurate positioning in a balanced international market.
Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing the Chinese film market?
Wang Yu: There is an unhealthy trend in the current Chinese film market whereby whatever type of film becomes popular; everyone starts to make movies in that style. The rapid development of the Chinese film market has seen annual investments growing by billions. This has attracted a lot of unhealthy investment, which inevitably leads to a lot of trash and foam. In my opinion, this is a backward state of mind for many Chinese filmmakers and investment companies, reflecting total irrationality from investment to production. They only look at what happened before; no one is looking ahead. The biggest problem in the Chinese film market is this kind of excessive profit-seeking. The filmmaking period must comply with the law, as a movie is not made out of nothing; it should not be used as a tool to make money for short-term profit. A mature film system should center on the future rather than the past.
Q: Some people say that what China lacks is a not good director but good producer. Do you agree?
Wang Yu: This makes sense. The role of the producer means that he or she must be the CEO of a project. It is necessary for him or her to understand business and art, and even know something about law. In China, private companies started engaging in the film industry in 2002, meaning that they only have around ten years of experience. Most of us filmmakers have no specialized training, and haven’t had enough time to hone our skills. China lacks not only producers and script- writers but also assistant directors and professional distributors. Improvements need to be made.
(Source: Deep Focus, abridged from the original)