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Director Li Yu at the shooting site.[Photo:globaltimes.cn]
Domestic director Li Yu, a well-recognized name in the movie industry, is known for films like Dam Street (2005), Lost in Beijing (2007), Buddha Mountain (2010) and now Double Xposure, the latter planned for release at the end of this month. Li's strong individual style and focus in female protagonists often attracts attention from audiences and critics.
But Li does not see herself as an art film director or a director specializing on feminism or women's issues.
"I'd like to shoot a war film, that's a man's thing," she wrote in an e-mail to the Global Times. Li said her intentions are simple, she just wants to shoot a "good" Chinese film.
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing appeared in three movies directed by Li, starting with Lost in Beijing. Many say that Li's films helped Fan gain credibility as an actress, becoming more than just a pretty face. Aside from Fan and Li's cooperation, Fang Li, the producer and co-scriptwriter of the film, is another long standing partner.
For Double Xposure, Fang and Li came up with the idea of producing a commercial film. The brainstorm began with the suspense genre and a storyline surrounding a murder case. After months of discussion, they mapped out a start and ending. But plotting the middle part proved difficult.
"Being entirely original means creating a new world," Fang told the Global Times. After almost a year of discussion, the story finally materialized.
Fang said this was the same approach they used during Lost in Beijng, and the final script was entirely different from the original. They wanted to produce mainstream films since Lost in Beijing, although many did not see it that way.
"A commercial film is not about including all popular elements, but it functions in getting the film to audiences," said Fang.
Fang attributes the classification of Lost in Beijing to its cinematography rather than the storyline.
"I don't want to produce a purely commercial movie," Li wrote. She incorporates her own style in Double Xposure, like works in the past.
In Double Xposure, the protagonist Song Qi (Fan Bingbing) works as a plastic surgeon. After discovery that her boyfriend, played by Feng Shaofeng, is having an affair with her best friend, played by Huo Siyan, Song loses her mind and accidentally kills her best friend. As the story continues, bigger secrets are revealed. What Song has to face and search for is a life lost.
For Li, the commercial or mainstream label on a film is just a way to attract audiences and provide them with an enjoyable experience. More important are the messages and characters in the story.
"This film shows the heart of a woman, [reflecting] the heart of Chinese people. What is desire? How do you deal with it? These are [questions] that attract me," wrote Li.
This being Li's first suspense film, she worked with the production team on various filming techniques, using 5D cameras, 35mm and 16mm film tapes. Aerial photography and special effects were also involved.
According to Li, the special effects bring both a psychological and visual impact to audiences.
Complicated emotions have always been a strong feature in Li's films. The complex story structure and the metaphors in Double Xposure did not deter Li's expectations to develop the characters. In a few scenes, Li let actors ab lib, instead of adhering to the script.
"The script is a blueprint. The film needs to grow. A film growing from a blueprint is how it [finds] life and beauty."
Li finds the "pain" in the film beautiful, especially if audiences can relate to it. In one scene, Song and her boyfriend have a heated argument. Fang said the line "you think I am an idiot," was improvised.
Fang has produced many independent films, including Summer Palace directed by Lou Ye and Wang Chao's Anyang Orphan. The sensitive nature of the films encountered censorship problems.
These films did not bring high profits for Fang. For Buddha Mountain, the original script had to be abandoned, for it to reach theaters. Surpassing expectations, Buddha Mountain took in almost 80 million yuan ($13.3 million) at the box office, a number that few art films in China achieve.
Fang said that as a producer, it is his responsibility to foster film talents. Lacking experience, young directors easily fail without help from experienced producers. Directors often face pressure from sudden schedule shifts or complicated scenes. Producers need to step in at this time.
Fang said the cooperation between him and Li will continue regardless of the reception Double Xposure receives. Their teamwork is based on creative interests.
After the success of Buddha Mountain, Li was approached by many high budget projects. She rejected all of them, considering carefully each project she works on.
"Box office numbers do not represent everything... China needs to discuss what kind of film is good and worth sharing. We should challenge and put pressure on ourselves to produce a good film."
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