Feng Xiaogang’s (馮小剛) Back to 1942 <一九四二>, a large budget World War II epic revolving around one of China’s worst famines, is the first of two films that will compete in the International Rome Film Festival. Back to 1942 is stirring up a media frenzy, and it stands a good chance at capturing the Marc’Aurelio Jury Award for Best Film. At a press conference yesterday, Feng described the challenges he faced while making the movie.
Back to 1942 tells the story of a devastating famine that struck China 70 years ago. The Henan Province was devastated, resulting in the deaths of at least 3 million men, women and children. Although the primary cause of the famine was a severe drought; locusts, windstorms, earthquakes, an epidemic disease, and the corruption of the ruling Kuomintang government intensified the situation. It features Hollywood stars Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins, and Chinese stars, Xu Fan (徐帆), Zhang Guoli (張國立), Chen Daoming (陳道明).
The Stupidest Way to Make a Movie
During the press conference, Feng expressed that making Back to 1942 was an extremely difficult challenge. It took him 17 years and three attempts to bring the novel of the same name to the big screen. Many in the mainland Chinese film industry believed it was impossible feat from the start. However, Feng said he believed that achieving the impossible would be more significant than simply doing something that is achievable. After all, if Feng can brought Aftershock <唐山大地震> to life, nothing is unachievable.
When it came to recreating the story in Back in 1942, Feng and his scriptwriter chose the toughest, or “stupidest” way as Feng described it, to illustrate the story– they recreated the footsteps of the fleeing refugees in 1942. The filming set recreated with excruciating realism the
Xu Fan, the lead actress, explained how she depicted her role of a mother fleeing from disaster and war. During the filming process, Xu Fan felt as if she were reliving history; none of her acting skills were required since she deeply believed she was going through a disaster and just did what a refugee would do. After the filming, she felt as if she just escaped war and natural disasters, and she learned to appreciate the good life she has.
Feng Xiaogang Cautions Looking Too Deeply into the Film
Feng Xiaogang advised the audiences not to spend too much time analyzing the story or to look for any hidden meanings. Until recently, however, Feng was trying to be philosophical and said the story is like a mirror: you will see the evilness of a nation, and through it, you can tell where it is from, and where it is going.
Feng stopped short of expressing his opinion on nationalism. He emphasized how countries such as Germany and the former Soviet Union attempted to redeem their evil acts through music, art, and literature, while the Chinese avoided such subjects. Apparently Feng is refraining from further discussion because it may be too sensitive politically and it may affect the artistic side of the movie.
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