One of China’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Feng Xiaogang, did not comment during the closing session at today’s 2017 U.S.-China Film Summit in Los Angeles – where he is being honored – about the sudden delay in the release of his latest movie, Youth, in both China and the U.S. Success at the box office seemed to be the last thing on his mind, even though his film was scheduled to open on the National Day holiday, among the most lucrative times to open a movie in China.
Feng, 59-years- old, said after writing 23 novels and making 17 movies in a quarter century, he no longer makes films just to make money. He only works on those movies that touch him personally in some way. “I don’t think I should be enslaved by the box office,” said Feng. “I can’t be hijacked by it.”
Feng was highly critical of the American movie industry in particular for its belief in “big data” as a way to predict a movie’s future success; and the insistence in the U.S. and China on making movies for the youth audience. “Some good quality scripts are rejected because it doesn’t meet big data,” said Feng, “but who knows how that movie in the market will really do?”
“You must believe in yourself,” said Feng. “You believe in this script that moved you, that touched you, because you love the characters in it.”
Geling Yan, the novelist who wrote the script for the coming of age story in Youth, said it came about because of a very personal experience she shared with Feng. Yan said she met Feng at the home of a mutual friend a few years ago and they shared memories of when each was in the People’s Liberation Army nearly 40 years ago, and they were assigned to entertain the troops.
“He said we should write about that,” recalled Yan, “and I said I will wait for you to finish your book.” It was nearly four years later when Feng returned with the finished book about that time in 1979 during the Sino-Vietnamese war, and she began the screenplay. Yan was only 12-years- old when she became dancer entertaining the troops. Feng was barely 21 at that time.
“I am very proud of having this kind of experience when I was young,” said Feng, adding: “We grew from those experiences so these experiences deserve to be made into a movie. Certainly, this will be very different than a lot of movies today.”
Too different apparently for the authoritarian Chinese regime.
It was concern over raking up that controversial era which apparently caused the Chinese government to pull the release this weekend, at the same time as the National Congress of the Communist Party is taking place. There was fear of protests, so the movie was sidelined.
When the Chinese release was put off until some future date, the U.S. release was cancelled as well.
Feng said for the first ten years of his career, he wanted to make very commercial movies. After the success of films like The Dream Factory (1997), Cell Phone (2003), The Banquet (2006) and more recently I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016), he said he turned to perfecting his art.
“I have the need to make these (art) films,” he added. “Luckily, because of the box office record I had in the past, I am in the good position of doing such freestyle (movies) now.”