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Wang Anyi's Latest Novel Shot into Movie

Another of Shanghai writer Wang Anyi's novels is being made into a movie but her tale of young love takes place in the city as it was some 30 years ago. In director Chen Miao's first film the story has been set against the hectic pace of life in the dynamic metropolis that exists today.

On a recent Saturday, on the roof of the former Shanghai No.1 People's Hospital with its spectacular view over the Bund and Suzhou Creek, a film crew is in action. It's a perfect location for a movie which has a typical Shanghai flavor.

It's one of the last days of filming for Mini and the crew is keen to finish after a nearly a month of hard work. On the roof of the building, an old storehouse has been magically converted into the cozy residence of Ah Kang, the rebellious protagonist of the movie who is played by young actor Liu Ye.

In the scene, the handsome Ah Kang and his girlfriend, Mini (Angelica Lee) are excitedly planning a happy future together.

After shooting the scene, Liu says with a grin: "This movie is really a big challenge for me. How can I, who was born and raised in northeast China, portray a typical Shanghai boy? At the outset, I even tried to persuade myself to believe that this dramatic shift in roles was true.''

The 27-year-old star graduated from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing in 2000. For his impressive performance in Lan Yu, a film by Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, he won the Best Actor Award at the 38th Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan's version of the Academy Awards) in 2001 right after his graduation. His role in the movie The Foliage won him the Best Actor Award at the 24th Golden Rooster Awards on the Chinese mainland last year.

In March, Liu played the leading role in the drama Amber, his first collaboration with director Meng Jinghui, in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

To Liu, the term "Shanghai boy" means a young man who has good fashion sense, delicacy of feeling and patience. However, he sees himself as a young man with a more masculine personality, someone who is direct, frank and sometimes a little impatient.

"Luckily, the stylish and exquisite accessories on the costumes worn by Ah Kang help me to bring out his character,'' he says.

Wang Dawei, producer of Mini, is happy with Liu's performance.

"Liu is undoubtedly a creative actor,'' Wang says. "In a commercially minded era when many young actors are keen only to copy the characters they are playing without giving any depth to their portrayals, Liu tries to grasp the soul of the role and he has shaped Ah Kang in quite a naturalistic way.''

Liu says that the screenplay, adapted from renowned Shanghai female writer Wang Anyi's eponymous novel, revolves around two lovers who are young, passionate and madly in love with one another.

Ah Kang works in a video and DVD store and is a rebellious Shanghai guy; but because of the strictness of his widowed mother he is quite lonely. Mini, an acrobat, falls in love with him. Both believe their love will never end but find life can be cruel.

"We made a consensus to alter the novel's background from the late 1970s to modern Shanghai,'' says Zhao Chuan, the scriptwriter. "The bustling urban life of today can make young people feel bewildered and helpless. From the movie, one can see how pure human emotions can change and degrade in a materialistic age.''

Though an increasing number of filmmakers want to use Shanghai as a backdrop to their movies -- whether it's "old Shanghai'' or the dynamic city of today -- Wang, the producer, says that Mini is more than just a story that happens to be set in modern Shanghai.

"Actually, the distinctive personalities of the characters can be found universally among today's younger generation,'' he says. "The movie goes beyond the boundaries of its location and can definitely be shared, enjoyed and applauded by people who live outside Shanghai.''

Accordingly, the film uses Mandarin in the dialogue between the main characters while Shanghai dialect can be heard in the background.

The film is also the maiden film project for Chen Miao, the only woman among China's "sixth-generation'' of film directors.

A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Chen is a classmate of many noted directors including Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle) and Lou Ye (Purple Butterfly). In the late 1990s, she had three years of experience as a producer in a Hollywood studio affiliated with 20th Century Fox.

In 1998, she returned to Shanghai, her hometown, and shot a series of art documentaries, including Shanghai at Night, Snake Boy and Lulu and Me.

Her films show a deep affection for the city and have received high praise. Some have been selected to compete at international film festivals.

"Fortunately, Wang Anyi (the author of the novel) appreciated my documentaries, a big encouragement for me,'' Chen says. "When we were creating visual images to tell the story of the novel, she trusted me completely and allowed me the intellectual freedom to make any changes.''

Compared with the big budget of some 25 million yuan (US$3.05 million) for the film Song of Everlasting Sorrow -- another adaptation of a Wang Anyi novel that directed by Stanley Kwan -- Mini is a comparative small production with a budget of only 4 million yuan.

However, the cast list has some big names. In addition to Liu Ye, the top-flight Malaysian actress Angelica Lee, plays the heroine Mini. Her "pure acting style'' and her expressive eyes immediately won her the role.

"I was deeply enchanted by the storyline at first sight,'' Lee says. "The girl Mini's characteristic perseverance in pursuing true love moved me a lot. It was also the first time I have been in a movie set on the Chinese mainland. It was a big challenge but also a lot of fun.''

For her stellar work The Eye, a thriller directed by the Pang Brothers, Lee picked up the Best Actress Awards at both the 39th Taiwan Golden Horse Awards in 2002 and the Hong Kong Film Festival Awards in 2003.

"Lee is so lovely and diligent,'' says her co-star Liu. "We both hope that today's audience will become much more aware of the plight of disadvantaged groups in the city -- like the characters Lee and I play in Mini.''

According to the crew, post-production work on the film is expected to be completed in July and it will be released for public screening later in the year.

(Shanghai Daily April 26, 2005)




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