Monday, 11 August 2008

Behind The Scene : Shanghai : The Movie : Shooting in Bangkok

BANGKOK, THAILAND: A large neon red sign in cursive script and a painting of a buxom woman wearing a blue bra advertise "The Great World Casino." Nearby, a rice shop displays wooden buckets of grain under a canvas awning.

Chow Yun-fat strolls through wearing a white dress shirt, red tie, suspenders attached to his pinstriped gray pants while extras walk around in body-length robe-like traditional Chinese outfits. The streets are lined with cars and rickshaws.

After failing to get approval to shoot in China, The Weinstein Co. has recreated the East-meets-West world of 1940s Shanghai on a movie set in the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

A Chinese official said earlier this year the government blocked the more than US$10 million World War II-era thriller starring John Cusack because of concerns about its script. Film officials have not spelled out their reasons, but they were likely worried about the movie's setting of Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Many Chinese are still sensitive about the Japanese military's mass killings at the time.

So The Weinstein Co. relocated the project to London, where they shot interior scenes, and the Thai capital of Bangkok, where 300 construction workers recreated old Shanghai's mix of western and Chinese motifs.

On a set visit Saturday (2 Aug), the movie's producers showed off their elaborate two-block set, heaped praise on the local film industry and said China's decision to reject the production was a blessing in disguise.

"Thailand invited us in a great way. We got the possibility to do this fantastic backdrop I couldn't dream of," director Mikael Hafstrom said.

Despite the change in location, producer Steve Squillante said the budget didn't go up because of competitive costs in Thailand.

"We've been able to rethink the film and maybe gain a little bit more production value," another producer, Jake Myers, said.

"I think the construction team has been able to achieve something we would have never been able to do in China," he said.

Cusack said the Thai set is the biggest he's shot on and even the movie's Chinese female star, Gong Li, said it was "bigger and more beautiful" than the sets in China.

"Everything exceeded our imagination ... all the movies set in Shanghai in the future can shoot here," Gong said.

Production designer Jim Clay said filmmakers were supposed to shoot on an existing Chinese set of old Shanghai already used for such movies as Ang Lee's spy thriller "Lust, Caution," which is set in the same period, and the James Ivory film "The White Countess."

No longer confined to that set, the filmmakers could tap their imagination fully, Clay said.

See the Shanghai set in Bangkok :
Slide Show :
"We were going to follow in a lot of people's footsteps. So when we couldn't work there, we suddenly in a way had a breath of fresh air. We thought, 'Well, we can build our own world," and that's what we did," he said, standing on a re-creation of Shanghai's famed Nanjing Road.

The set's Nanjing Road ends in the recreation of the old Shanghai port, where workers built part of a large ocean liner that's moored near several wooden rafts and a shelter with a traditional Chinese curved roof.

"China has a great film industry with a great history, but it is hard place to integrate for a Western film. So we were trying to marry our system with their system. And that's been a little bit easier in Bangkok. The systems here are a little bit more compatible," Myers said.

However, the filmmakers, mindful of their access to a booming Chinese market, were also reluctant to criticize China.

Myers said "Shanghai," about an American intelligence official who investigates his friend's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack, simply ran into bad timing. He noted the movie came before the Beijing Olympics and followed the controversial "Lust, Caution." That movie's lead actress, Tang Wei, was reportedly banned after portraying a Chinese activist who gives away the plot to assassinate a Japanese-allied Chinese intelligence official.

"The government at that moment, not before or after, felt it was risky for them to have another film in the same time period," Myers said.

He added the filmmakers have since resolved their differences with Chinese film officials and received belated permission to shoot there, but by that time the production had already moved on to Bangkok and London.

"With greatest respect to the Chinese people ... they (Chinese film officials) felt that this was not the right time for them to get into this movie. And we did not want to press them on it. We feel there's a great future for ourselves as the producers and for The Weinstein Co. in China. So we respectfully took their decision at face value," Squillante said.

Harvey Weinstein, who founded The Weinstein Co. with his brother Bob, attended Saturday's set visit but did not join the movie's crew and cast on stage in a Q&A session and declined to be interviewed.

The filmmakers say even though they weren't allowed to shoot in China, they still want the movie to be released there. Principal shooting on the movie is scheduled to end 12 Aug and The Weinstein Co. is aiming for a Christmas release in the U.S.

"A film with Gong Li and with Chow Yun-fat? We really have to release it in China," Myers said, referring to the star power of two of Chinese-language cinema's biggest names.

The movie will then be subject to Chinese censorship and may require edits, as did Lee's "Lust, Caution."

The Oscar-winning director edited a line that made it more ambiguous if Tang's character gave away the assassination plot. (By MIN LEE/ AP)

Credit Link:

Present by Tony Wong

In the latest clash between Chinese censors and international artists, the 1940's drama "Shanghai," was forced to switch locations after being banned from filming in China because of the script. The film stars Chinese actors Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li, as well as American actor John Cusack. The crew is now almost finished with production in Thailand. Here's more:

"Shanghai" star Chow Yun-fat said at a press conference on Sunday that there had been problems with filming in China, but didn't go into detail.

[Chow Yun-fat, "Shanghai" Actor]:
"Of course we have some problems in China but finally we shot in London and in Thailand."

The film crew failed to secure a shooting permit because of the script, and has been filming in Thailand since March.

But the actors aren't complaining. Actress Gong Li, of "Memoirs of a Geisha"-fame, says the sets look better in Thailand.

[Gong Li, "Shanghai" Actress]:
"Everything is beyond my expectation, I think the building in Bangkok is much more good-looking than in China."

Chow also compared "Shanghai" to his older projects like "Shanghai Godfather." But he says the production quality of "Shanghai" is better.

[Chow Yun-fat, "Shanghai" Actor]:
"If there people in here when they were young, they're watching Chow-por Shanghai (Shanghai Godfather in English) for long long time. And another 20 years later, I'm still shooting the same old deal. But it is totally different. It's huge, sad, the clash, the costume, lightning, and everything. I mean, the sequence in you a lot of substance about the old shanghai."

Actor John Cusack says "Shanghai" is less commercial than most Hollywood movies, but still has a Hollywood-size budget.

[John Cusack, "Shanghai" Actor]:
"You can do a very very commercial film at big budget, that is very simple. And then you can do art film, that's very interested that have a lower budget. And the opportunity to do both, to do something that has a big budget, a great scope with the great director, and great actor that has a quality level of writing, a level of production design, and the scope of
something like this is once in a life time opportunity. It is very rare that you can get this kind of a quality project with this kind of a budget."

China has locked horns with a range of performers over the past few weeks, drawing criticism ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Earlier this month, the Culture Ministry said it would tighten controls over foreign artists after Icelandic singer Bjork shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" at a concert in Shanghai.

Wrap Party for the movie "Shanghai"

This is the wrap party for the movie Shanghai on the backlot of Moon Star Studios in Bangkok. After a grueling shoot involving 18-hour shifts and all-night filming, the movie finally wrapped up with a great party.

Even though there were thousands of extras on this film, I was one of the few extras that got invited to the crew party because we worked hard, didn't complain (much), and basically stayed out of the way of the professionals.

It was great fun, but I really took a beating during filming, so I'm kinda glad it's over. Still, everyone on the set was really cool and I made lots of new friends, so it was totally worth it!

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