A Chi­nese theater re­boot of a wartime clas­sic

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -


The 1972 film Wal­ter De­fends Sara­jevo was a ma­jor block­buster dur­ing its time, viewed by 300 mil­lion peo­ple all over the world. While it was well re­ceived in Bos­nia and Sara­jevo, it ac­tu­ally owed much of its suc­cess to, oddly enough, movie-go­ers in China.

The film was in­tro­duced in China in 1977 and be­came im­mensely well re­ceived be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors — only a few for­eign films were al­lowed to be screened dur­ing that time and the Chi­nese au­di­ences loved the non­stop ac­tion se­quences.

“It was like a James Bond film at the time,” said Nick Yu Rongjun, play­wright and artis­tic di­rec­tor at Shang­hai Dra­matic Arts Cen­ter (SDAC).

Set in World War II, the plot cen­ters around a mys­te­ri­ous man known as Wal­ter who poses a se­ri­ous threat against Ger­man oper­a­tions in Sara­jevo, which was at that time part of the King­dom of Yu­goslavia, a so­cial­ist state com­pris­ing coun­tries such as Ser­bia, Mace­do­nia and Croa­tia. The Ger­mans then send an op­er­a­tive to in­fil­trate the re­sis­tance forces in an at­tempt to iden­tify the real Wal­ter. What makes the story even more in­ter­est­ing is that this op­er­a­tive from the no­to­ri­ous Se­cret Ser­vice pre­tends to be Wal­ter him­self, re­sult­ing in an in­trigu­ing tale of be­trayal and mys­tery.

This leg­endary vintage film about the re­sis­tance ef­forts dur­ing World War II will now get a Chi­nese adap­ta­tion by the SDAC as part of the cen­ter’s ef­forts to com­mem­o­rate the 70th an­niver­sary of the con­clu­sion of the war. In or­der to cre­ate an au­then­tic pro­duc­tion, SDAC hired Bos­nian theater di­rec­tor Haris Paso­vic.

“Many theater and artis­tic in­sti­tu­tions in China are cre­at­ing projects to mark the cel­e­bra­tion of the vic­tory against Fas­cism. We want to be part of this and at the same time cre­ate a play of en­dur­ing artis­tic value,” said Yu.

This is the first time Paso­vic is work­ing in China. A well re­spected fig­ure in the theater and film scene in South­east Europe, the 54-year-old had worked in some im­por­tant the­aters in the for­mer Yu­goslavia. When the Bos­nian War broke out and Sara­jevo fell un­der siege from 1992 to 1995, Paso­vic had also or­ga­nized in­ter­na­tional theater and film fes­ti­vals and shot doc­u­men­taries that called for peace and hu­man­ity which were shown all over the world.

“Peo­ple in Sara­jevo feel like it is some­thing very close to them. It’s kind of a diplo­matic movie about the city,” Paso­vic said. “We are all proud to have this movie be­come so pop­u­lar in China in the past sev­eral decades. It is un­usual that a movie from a small coun­try be­comes so pop­u­lar in such a big coun­try like China.”

Paso­vic be­lieves the main topic of the film has not changed and is still highly rel­e­vant in to­day’s world, say­ing that the re­sis­tance ef­forts still res­onate with many peo­ple to­day.

“In this mod­ern day and age, I think we still face lots of chal­lenges com­ing from Fas­cism in dif­fer­ent forms,” Paso­vic said. “I be­lieve my col­leagues here at Shang­hai Dra­matic Arts Cen­ter agree that the spirit of re­sis­tance is im­por­tant for all of us.”

As Yu did not want to pro­duce a di­rect theater adap­ta­tion of the film, he de­cided to bring the sub­ject to the con­text of mod­ern China in­stead, cre­at­ing a new story that takes place at the press con­fer­ence for a theater pro­duc­tion of Wal­ter De­fends Sara­jevo. In his de­sign of this unique “play within a play”, the orig­i­nal story will take no more than one third of the new pro­duc­tion.

Yu also wants to take the topic of war and op­pres­sion to a broader con­text, in­cor­po­rat­ing them into mod­ern day life. He said: “There is war be­tween art and money, be­tween au­di­ence and the ac­tors, even news­pa­per jour­nal­ists and new self-media peo­ple are fight­ing.”

“Peo­ple are fight­ing time. Wars take place time,” Yu added.

Paso­vic has heaped praise on his Chi­nese coun­ter­part, call­ing Yu a sub­tle and deep play­wright who has opened a dis­cus­sion about war and re­sis­tance “in a very smart, very com­plex, but very in­ter­est­ing way” in to­day’s world.

“I think the play that Nick Yu wrote is not only rel­e­vant to China — it is rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tion­ally. It talks about how the con­tem­po­rary world re­acts to the is­sues of free­dom and re­sis­tance and the strug­gle against dark forces like Fas­cism,” said Paso­vic. all the all the


Bos­nian di­rec­tor Haris Paso­vic will be work­ing with Chi­nese ac­tors in this big pro­duc­tion.

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