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Terence Chang on the journey of The Crossing

Terence Chang on the journey of The Crossing

By Kevin Ma

Mon, 19 May 2014, 15:15 PM (HKT)

Talent News

Terence CHANG 張家振, the longtime producing partner of John WOO 吳宇森, talks to Film Business Asia about his personal history behind The Crossing: Part 1 太平輪 上集 (2014), censorship and converting the film to 3-D.

Because of the sinking of the Taiping in the film, the film has been called the Chinese Titanic. Do you mind?
I don't mind the comparison, because Titanic (1997) is not the only film with a ship sinking. Life of Pi (2012) also has a ship sinking. Our film's [Chinese] title may be named after the boat, but it's not literal. The Taiping serves as a symbol of something. The boat used to travel back and forth between Mainland China and Taiwan. When the boat sank in 1949, that link was separated.

The boat is meant to bring out a story about Chinese people. Not just those in the Mainland or in Taiwan, but all Chinese people in the generation before me. The boat is a symbol. The story doesn't entirely take place on the boat, because the boat actually sank soon after it left Shanghai. It's just the story of the people on it. It's about why these people got on the boat and why it was overloaded. The sinking doesn't occupy much of the story.

About the "link" you mentioned, did you want to say something about the modern link between Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong?

Actually, I developed the story with my writer WANG Hui-ling 王蕙玲 because I have a family member who died during the sinking of the Taiping. So, when Wang told me that she wanted to write about this story, I said yes immediately. My parents also fled Shanghai at that time, but they went to Hong Kong instead. This is a very typical story for people in that generation.

The scale of the film seems very much like a classical Hollywood film. Is that something John Woo was aiming for?
This is a Chinese story, but the director's way of expression is very much an international one, as in he's not just making it for a Chinese audience. Since this is a story about love and hope, it has universally accepted values. He wasn't just aiming for a Chinese audience, nor is he trying to imitate Hollywood.

Will you be creating a two-and-a-half hour version of the film for international markets again, as you had done for Red Cliff?
The film is still in the editing room, but we have three love stories in the film, so it can't be told in just two hours. The Asian market and even some European markets have asked for the film to be released in two parts. Some regions have also requested a shorter, single-film version.

Red Cliff 赤壁 (2008) was based on history, with a lot of well-known characters. I personally had wanted some of the story or characters to be taken out of the film, because I was dealing with audiences who were not familiar with Romance of the Three Kingdoms. If I had put everything and everyone into a two-and-a-half-hour film, that would've exhausted the audience. Some international audience didn't fully understand the film because they weren't familiar with the history.

The Crossing is different. It's an emotional, humanistic story, so it's much easier to edit it down.

The director said in an interview that the censorship authorities requested certain changes to characters, is that true?
John had already been working on the script for a year before he fell ill, but that script had trouble passing censorship because there was a difference in perspectives. To those of us in Hong Kong and Taiwan, people fled Mainland China due to the civil war between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party. However, the Chinese officials disagreed with that point of view. They didn't see it as a civil war, but rather a war of liberation that needed to be fought. So, the people should've stayed to support the new government. This difference in ideology caused the censorship process to drag on for a year.

At the same time, there are some events in the film that were put in because they really happened, not because of censorship. For example, there really were Nationalist Party members who converted to the Communist Party because of corruption in the Nationalist Party. In the end, the script passed.

What were some of the new challenges you faced in making this film?
This film was far more difficult to make than Red Cliff. That film was based on a story many people were familiar with, and we shot the whole film in Hebei Province. This film took us to a lot of locations. We went to Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, and we shot in several places in Taiwan as well. We also had more than 1,000 special effect shots.

We hired a foreign crew for special effects because we needed to work at an international standard. We've hired the German company who did Hugo (2011) and Oblivion (2013) for the ship sinking sequence.

We're also converting the film to 3-D. We think that this film is a natural fit because the shots are not quick to the point of making people dizzy. The director has created very complex, lyrical shots that would look fantastic in 3-D. A lot of people think action looks great in 3-D, but the editing is so quick that the films actually make people feel exhausted.

With so many locations, was the filming process smooth?
It actually wasn't so smooth due to weather issues. When we were shooting in Taiwan last December, we ran into constant rain in Taipei. So we were not able to get much footage. When we were shooting in the south, the wind was so heavy that people couldn't stand still. So the weather really hurt us.

We had a two-month break for New Year holidays in January and February. If you take out those two months, the production period was about nine to ten months.

What changes in the Chinese film industry has you seen over the years?
The market has grown considerably compared to the time of Red Cliff. The two films made a combined RMB600 million (US$96.1 million). That figure would be a lot bigger now. Also, with the market becoming bigger, we've had to rely less on foreign crew members since local crew members are now very competent.

Would you or Woo consider returning to Hong Kong?
I don't think Woo will return. The stories he wants to tell are mainly for the Chinese-speaking markets now because his films cost more. The Hong Kong film industry can't bear the cost. But I know that many people miss his Hong Kong gunplay films. As for myself, my expertise is making Chinese-language films that can travel to the rest of the world. Quite frankly, I wouldn't know how to make a film for China. Red Cliff, The Crossing and even Reign of Assassins 劍雨 (2010) traveled abroad. But if there are region-specific stories that I'm really interested in, I would be interested in doing them. But most of the time, I'm going to make Chinese films for the world.

And Hollywood?
I still have a company in Los Angeles. There are a few projects in development there. I've worked really hard to build that company up, so I'm not going to give it up.

Is there a huge difference between working in Hollywood and China?
Of course there is a huge difference. Hollywood has a very sound, robust system, so it's more relaxing. Each studio has a department for everything, so I didn't have to handle everything myself. They're more professional. I had a harder time on The Crossing.

What's next for Woo?
He has a few films planned. Flying Tigers 飛虎群英 is still in script stage, but the financing is already secured. There's also a western crime film that's mostly set in Japan. Those are the two most likely projects at the moment.

Do you have any advice for Asian film-makers looking to go to Hollywood?
I think the most important thing is to make sure you make the film in the most suitable place. Don't just go to Hollywood for the sake of going to Hollywood. It's good if you have the ability to go to Hollywood, but the most important thing is to just make a good film.

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