Shanghai: Peter Chan on sharing Chinese stories with the world

Shanghai: Peter Chan on sharing Chinese stories with the world

Veteran Chinese director Peter Chan Ho-sun is as busy as ever these days. Behind the scenes, Chan is laying the groundwork for the new production company Changin’ Pictures, which he formally announced towards the end of last year. In public, the director is one of Chinese cinema’s top cheerleaders, a role he played this week at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

The focus of a MasterClass at the festival, Chan spoke extensively about Chinese cinema and its place in the world. “China has many great stories and many of them resonate with people around the world,” she said. “So why not create these stories that everyone can empathize with? I think we should aim to make the whole world want to watch Chinese stories. We shouldn’t make films that are meant to please them or enhance a stereotypical image of China. This will not lead to progress. And this is something we can change. The Chinese market is also large enough to provide such resources.”

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Chan’s mantra goes hand in hand with this 25th edition of the SIFF which is promoted as the reopening of Chinese industry after more than three years of travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In particular, the festival is making great use of the fact that there is an impressive list of visiting foreign guests and international films in collective programs which adds up to around 450 titles over the 10 days of the event.

And the 60-year-old Chan has long been a creator who can read the room. He emerged in the 1990s with a string of successes that ranged from the purely commercial to the more artistic and worked with the brightest stars in Chinese-language cinema including Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung, Leon Lai and Gong Li. He was also an early adopter of the concept of pan-Asian co-productions which has seen numerous Hong Kong directors and talent collaborate with Chinese studios on big-budget productions that have been devoured by mainland audiences.

In a varied career, Chan has dabbled in musicals (Maybe love) and martial arts epics (The Warlords) and also sports dramas like the one centered around volleyball Jumpwhich was the hope for the Chinese Oscars in 2020. The director reflected on his best works during the MasterClass, discussing the achievements such as the vehicle Cheung-Lai Comrades, almost a love story (1996), still widely considered among the most romantic Chinese-language films ever made.

“A great film really requires a perfect mix of timing, conditions and people. You have to have the best team, the best people and the best story. Of course, the most important thing is that the director firmly adheres to his beliefs,” said Chan Companions. “However, in this process, there will always be people who will undermine you. From investors to actors and celebrities, each will have their own needs and could lead you astray. The director is the person who brings everyone together to create and make choices.”

Chan revealed, surprisingly, that his father had warned him to “never touch filmmaking” as a career. But he went on to study film at UCLA, regardless, and his 40-year career saw him direct 14 films and produce 40 more.

“I’m an optimistic pessimist,” Chan said. “I may be in a cruel and difficult situation, but I have a firm belief that tomorrow will be better. Recently, people often talk about a term called “warm realism” and I really believe in “warm realism” because that’s what they are.

Looking back on his career, Chan had some advice to share with the young filmmakers in the audience.

“You have to stick to those parts that ‘you won’t change anything’ because if you change them, the movie won’t be good,” he said. “Compared to a film that doesn’t sell well, a bad reputation is even more damaging to a director because audiences will always remember it that way.”