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Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 26

Updated: 2013-08-27 13:01
By Raymond Zhou (

Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 26

Chinese director Yang Yazhou is a frequent participant at the Montreal World Film Festival. [Photo/CFP]

When I ran into Yang Yazhou this morning at the buffet breakfast, it was like meeting an old acquaintance. Last year, I spent a whole day with the director and his team while they were at the Montreal World Film Festival. His film "Wings" eventually won the Innovation Award.

This year, the prolific filmmaker, who often walks around in shorts and wears a big smile, again got into the main competition. "Feed Me" is adapted from a novel by Bi Feiyu, a writer based in Jiangsu province. The movie was shot there, too, with Yu Nan and Tao Zeru in the cast. Yu plays a pregnant woman who goes in hiding on a barge where she gives birth and is stopped from abandoning the baby by the old man who operates the vessel, played by Tao. But the story is told from the perspective of the old man's grandson, a young boy not yet into adolescence.

"This is a big departure from the original book. It injects a sense of innocence into the story," explains Yang. I was curious where he found the boy, who looks vaguely familiar. Yang said it was the same boy who marched with Yao Ming during the 2008 Beijing Olympic ceremony, the boy who made headlines from the Sichuan earthquake. He later appeared in commercials with Yao Ming as well.

Yang Yazhou is proud of training Lin Hao, the boy, from a pure amateur into professional acting. "I may not be the best film director in China, but having started as an actor myself I believe I'm among the best in coaching actors." In "Wings" he bravely guided Liu Wei, an armless young man who won a major television talent show by playing the piano with his toes, into the role of the male lead.

Yang's biggest achievement in this area is the many star turns of his wife, popular television hostess-turned-actress Ni Ping. Under Yang's helm, Ni has won almost all the major film and television acting awards in China, and her performance in "Snow in the Wind" nabbed her the Best Actress trophy from Montreal in 2006.

Many of Yang's feature films were either screened or entered the main competition at the Montreal World Film Festival. But he is not happy that the only competitive film festival in North America accredited by the Paris-based International Federation of Film Producers Association scarcely gets any mention in the Chinese press. And he is also hesitant about entering the better-known events in Europe. "European festivals often look for a sense of desperation in Chinese movies they would accept. My work has warmth and hope, which does not fit into their mode," Yang analyzes. His 2005 film "Loach Is Also a Fish" got into the Tokyo International Film Festival, and it was also screened at that year's Montreal festival.

"Montreal is more broad-minded and liberal when it comes to China-themed films," he says. Yang continues that he has so many good stories that he can keep making features that may bring him honors. "But I need to make a living," he says, which means making television drama series. He reveals to me that he may reconcile the two platforms by simultaneously shooting a feature film and a TV series. I'm not supposed to divulge the plot yet, but it sounds like something that will warm the hearts of festival programmers.

Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 26

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Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 26

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