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Welcome to the dream academy
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It looks similar to universities in the capital's western Haidian district, a nondescript dull-gray cluster of 10 buildings.

Do not be fooled by appearances, though. This is the Beijing Film Academy, where the next movie director with the flourish of Zhang Yimou, or a Chinese actress with the doe eyes of Zhao Wei, could graduate and take the silver screen by storm.

Entering the school on a Friday afternoon in autumn, it is difficult to appreciate this is one of the largest and most influential institutes for film and television production in Asia.

The academy, more commonly known as Bei Ying (ying means film in Chinese), had less than 2,000 students in 2006. It boasts one of the lowest admission rates in the country and some say, the world. It is not difficult to understand why.

Many Chinese hold dreams of stardom, but those who manage to enter Bei Ying's gates can actually get a leg up to star in or direct a life-changing blockbuster.

Only a handful of Bei Ying students wear makeup on campus, far fewer than what you would find in a Los Angeles Valley high school. The academy's most dolled-up students arrive at the entrance of its performance institute in sports cars. There are also teams of students hauling around cameras and spotlights.

But look more closely: That girl pondering a movie script on a stone bench could be the future generation's answer to Xu Jinglei, the director-actress who once held the world's highest number of hits for her blog.

With epic Chinese productions like Zhang Yimou's Hero continuing to capture imaginations worldwide and fresh-faced Chinese actresses like Liu Yifei making their mark in Hollywood, the stars are certainly bright for Bei Ying.

(China Daily November 12, 2008)

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