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The Pride of the `Peacock'
Latest Updated by 2005-03-02 18:18:55

The directorial debut of famed Chinese cinematographer Gu Changwei took out the Silver Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Xu Wei talks with the filmmaker about the movie and his anguish at having to make some cuts for its commercial cinema release.

It's an ordinary winter's day sometime in the early 1980s. A woman and her two brothers, each now grown up and standing with their own families, are waiting outside a peacock's cage in a zoo. However, they all miss the moment when the peacock spreads its tail.

If they could have waited just a little bit longer, they would have seen the beautiful moment when the bird displays the glory of its plumage. Cinematographer-cum-director Gu Changwei concludes his first directing project -- the just-released movie ``Peacock'' (``Kong Que'') -- with this scene and to him, the film's ending means a lot. ``There are different meanings and connotations to the ending and to the movie's title,'' Gu says, speaking in Shanghai on Monday during a visit to the city to promote the film.

``However, I would never give a specific explanation. So you can discover more through your own eyes.'' ``Peacock'' won the Silver Bear award at last week's Berlin International Film Festival and the movie marks an excellent start for the 46-year-old's career as a director. Clad in one of the black sweaters he wears most of the time, Gu seems modest, reserved and ordinary-looking. But the moment he starts to talk about his film, one immediately notices his passion. ``Some people have told me that `Peacock' is depressing and a little bit gloomy. Nevertheless, I think it's a warm and romantic film that can evoke one's deepest emotions of love and family affection,'' Gu says. He is known in the international movie world as a talented cinematographer for his camera work on ``Farewell My Concubine,'' ``Devils on the Doorstep'' and ``Autumn in New York,'' in collaboration with such famous Chinese directors as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige who were also his college classmates.

Gu has always kept a low profile even after one of his works, director Zhang's ``Red Sorghum,'' won a Golden Bear at 1988 Berlin Film Festival. If not for his debut as a director or for his winning of the Silver Bear, Gu would be staying quietly at home with his family -- wife Jiang Wenli (a renowned Chinese actress) and their three-year-old son -- rather than touring the country to promote the movie in the glare of the media spotlight.

For two years, Gu's life has revolved around the 160-million-yuan (US$19 million) project of making ``Peacock.'' ``I initiated the venture into directing as I wanted to make a film according to my own aesthetics and style,'' Gu says. ``The scenes are rooted in real life and the emotions are simple and sincere. Luckily, it seems I have got off to a good start.'' ``Peacock'' tells the stories of three teenagers from an ordinary working-class family in the late 1970s and early 1980s in a small town in central China's Henan Province. Filmed in three episodes, it shows the lives of the retarded elder brother (Feng Li), the idealistic sister (Zhang Jingchu) and the rebellious younger brother (Lu Yulai).

Their experiences mirror the live of many other Chinese in those years. Their dreams come into conflict with the hard truths of life: The elder brother falls in love with a beautiful girl but ends up in a marriage with a crippled woman; the sister dreams of being a parachutist after she falls for a soldier but ends up divorcing a man she didn't really love; and, the younger brother leaves home but finally returns with a wife and a step-son. ``I was absorbed by the script which shows big shocks can arise from the routine and mundane life led by ordinary people,'' Gu says.

"In any era, individuals can feel helpless and unable to control their fate. But their struggles which convey their young vitality and their strong desires are worthy of respect.'' If "Peacock'' is a story about ordinary people living ordinary lives, maybe it also offers a glimpse into Gu's own life. Born into a worker's family in Xi'an, capital of northwest Shaanxi Province, Gu was an obedient child. However, as he grew up he found he had a restless young heart eager to escape the confinement of a close and closed environment and to embrace the great world outside.

"My affinity with the art of filmmaking began when I spent years working as an intern for a local movie theater during my high school years,'' Gu recalls. ``But if I had not received a letter of admission from the Beijing Film Academy in 1978, my road to becoming a cinematographer would have remained as a dream.'' His successful collaborations with Chinese movie directors lead Gu to Hollywood in 1994 but he became dissatisfied with being only a cinematographer. ``When the idea of being a director occurred to me, new and unforeseen challenges also came along,'' Gu says.

"Compared with the role of a cinematographer who pays attention mainly to the visual quality of the film, a director has to make sure the whole film crew unites to ensure the film goes in the right direction.'' Fortunately, Gu had a good team for his first effort as a director. ``I chose Gu to turn my maiden work into a film mainly for his unparalleled passion, experience and full understanding of the background set in my work,'' says Li Qiang, the 30-something scriptwriter of "Peacock.'' ``We will continue the collaboration in my second script -- `Li Chun' (`The Beginning of Spring') soon.''

"Gu is adept at creating a comfortable and easy atmosphere when shooting scenes,'' says Feng Li, a Beijing-based Central Theater Academy student who plays the elder brother in the movie. "Seeing that we are young and haven't undergone that period, he told us to grasp the tiny emotional changes of the characters.'' Gu first wanted to invite actress Zhang Ziyi (``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' and ``House of Flying Daggers'') to play the role of the sister but finally settled on Zhang, a directing major at the Beijing Film Academy. Gu notes that he has chosen young actors for the movie and he thinks it will make today's younger generation -- who didn't experience what the older generation had to face -- think hard about their lives.
"It is a film about the young people growing up, mixed with their dreams, regrets and drops of happiness,'' he says. "It involves such comprehensive themes as adolescence, sex, love, marriage and family -- problems every generation encounters.'' Liu Haibo, associate professor in film art from Shanghai University, appreciates the exquisite details expressed in "Peacock'' and shares his understanding for the title.

"The briquette buildings, the old-style bicycles and the clothing worn by people in the movie will evoke bitter-sweet recollections in many people who lived through that age,'' Liu says. "A peacock spreads its tail to attract a mate. All the three main characters have fallen in love. Whatever the result, they were at least beautiful and brilliant at one time.'' Filmmaking is always an art with regrets. Gu and his assistants have worked on the footage for eight months to delete some of the original 240 scenes for a running time of about two hours and 20 minutes.

If uncut, the movie would have to be split into two parts for showing in cinemas. ``If the film could have been 10 to 20 minutes longer, I think that would have helped in fleshing out the characters,'' Gu says. Films have always been an art form filled with optimism. Later this year, Gu will start shooting his next work under well-known Hollywood filmmaker John Woo. The film is to be called "Chi Bi Zhi Zhan'' ("The Battle of Red Cliff''), which is remembered for the old saying "The few defeat the many and the weak defeat the strong'' set during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD). ``I do not make films for awards but for the enjoyment of the audience,'' he says. So Gu will go on making films from his own dreams and from that most beautiful peacock in his breast -- his heart. "Peacock'' is currently being screened at major theaters in Shanghai. Please refer to Page 18 for detailed screening schedule.

Source: eastday

Editor: Donald

By: Source:CRI website
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