Wartime drama spot­lights Chi­nese hero of the Holo­caust

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By XU FAN

When Gao Man­tang vis­ited Prague, he was stunned to see tens of thou­sands of graves of Jewish vic­tims who died dur­ing the Holo­caust.

The Euro­pean jour­ney to re­trace World War II his­tory gave Gao, a scriptwriter, the in­spi­ra­tion to pen his new TV se­ries, The Last Visa.

The 46-episode se­ries, in­spired by the late Chi­nese diplo­mat Ho Feng-shan’s heroic deeds dur­ing the war, will be­gin its run on Bei­jing Satel­lite TV on Jan 1.

Hailed as China’s Oskar Schindler, Ho served as the con­sul gen­eral of the Kuom­intang govern­ment’s con­sulate in Vi­enna be­tween 1938 and 1940. He saved about 4,800 Jews from the Holo­caust by is­su­ing them visas to flee to safety in de­fi­ance of his su­pe­ri­ors.

“It’s true his­tory that has been hid­den for 78 years,” says Gao, who was in Bei­jing to pro­mote the se­ries last week.

“In Europe, many re­searchers or old peo­ple know the his­tory, but it is not known in China. I feel sorry about that and hope the se­ries will en­sure that more young­sters know Chi­nese hu­man­ism and great­ness dur­ing the war,” says Gao.

From The Leg­end of En­trepreneur­ship to The Chi­nese Old Peas­ant, the vet­eran au­thor is known for his han­dling of his­tory-themed tales.

Gao is be­hind more than 20 hit dra­mas and re­spected as one of the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful writ­ers in the coun­try.

he dili­gent au­thor says he has the habit of in­ter­view­ing as much as pos­si­ble be­fore be­gin­ning to write.

“I heard Ho’s story around 10 years ago, but there were very lim­ited his­tor­i­cal records about him, and the tim­ing was not right to shoot abroad,” says the 61-year-old au­thor.

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, Ho hardly men­tioned his deeds to his fam­ily or TheLastVisa friends un­til the very end of his life.

His story drew world­wide at­ten­tion by ac­ci­dent. When Ho’s daugh­ter pub­lished his obit­u­ary in 1997 — men­tion­ing the tale of him sav­ing Jewish friends held at gun­point by the Gestapo — it at­tracted the at­ten­tion of a cu­ra­tor and pushed his­to­ri­ans to dig out the story.

To de­velop the tale of The Last Visa, Gao toured Europe three times and vis­ited World War II sites, in­clud­ing con­cen­tra­tion camps, mu­se­ums and me­mo­rial halls.

“For me, the records on com­put­ers are cold and emo­tion­less. It is only when I saw the sites, which once held tens of thou­sands of Jews, and their ceme­ter­ies, that I felt I was con­nected to the story,” he re­calls.

As many wartime build­ings were dam­aged in Aus­tria, the crew shot most of the scenes in what is now the Czech Repub­lic, which makes the se­ries the largest-ever Chi­nese-Czech pro­duc­tion in his­tory.

Up to 250 crew mem­bers from both coun­tries worked on the film­ing in the Czech Repub­lic, and more than 10,000 ex­tras from the Czech Repub­lic, Poland, Aus­tria and the United King­dom were used. To re­solve the lan­guage prob­lem, the crew hired 35 trans­la­tors.

Gao re­calls that, with the sup­port of the lo­cal govern­ment, the Czechs once closed a rail­way sta­tion and sev­eral blocks for the shoot­ing, and let them use an 1890 li­brary as a film set.

As records re­lated to Ho were lim­ited, Gao dra­ma­tizes the tale. The tele­vi­sion ver­sion cen­ters on a young visa of­fi­cial and his men­tor-like su­pe­rior, the vice-con­sul gen­eral of the Chi­nese con­sulate in Vi­enna.

In the se­ries, af­ter wit­ness­ing Nazi atroc­i­ties, the duo team up with other Chi­nese diplo­mats to work to save Jews.

The of­fi­cial is played by rising actor Wang Lei, while award-win­ning vet­eran Chen Baoguo plays the su­pe­rior.

The se­ries will be also broad­cast in such mar­kets as Ger­many, the Czech Repub­lic, Italy, Aus­tria, Switzer­land and Is­rael, says the pro­ducer, Zhu Kai.

Zhu says the se­ries will be re-edited to a con­densed, 12-episode ver­sion that will be broad­cast abroad.

He says they plan to in­vite Steven Spiel­berg — the di­rec­tor of the 1993 epic Schindler’s List — to be that ver­sion’s art con­sul­tant.


The TV se­ries will be broad­cast on Jan 1. Di­rec­tor Hua Jing (left), scriptwriter Gao Man­tang (cen­ter) and actor Chen Baoguo at a pro­mo­tional event in Bei­jing.

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