Born in China

Wildlife doc­u­men­tary film opens on Fri­day

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

It is like Zootopia— but real. Born in China, a pro­duc­tion of Dis­ney­na­ture, an in­de­pen­dent film unit of Walt Dis­ney, and Shang­hai-based SMG Pic­tures, is ready for re­lease on the Chi­nese main­land on Fri­day.

The Chi­nese-lan­guage Sino-US pro­duc­tion is di­rected by Lu Chuan.

“I am an an­i­mal lover, and I’m al­ways ready to try some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Lu, 45, said at a pro­mo­tional event for the film in Bei­jing last week.

The film fol­lows the daily lives of a panda and her daugh­ter in Sichuan prov­ince’s Wo­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve; a snow leop­ard fam­ily in Yushu county, Qing­hai prov­ince; a group of golden snub­nosed mon­keys in Hubei prov­ince’s Shen­nongjia Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve near the Yangtze River; and mem­bers of sev­eral other species.

Though the film is be­ing called a doc­u­men­tary, per­haps it is bet­ter to de­scribe it as a real-life ad­ven­ture film based on its vivid nar­ra­tion and the use of voice-over.

Lu be­gan di­rect­ing in 2002 with the thriller The Miss­ing Gun and went on to di­rect City of Life and Death, a 2009 film on the Nan­jing Mas­sacre. Kekex­ili: Moun­tain Pa­trol (2004), his film on the con­flict be­tween rangers and poach­ers in Qing­hai’s Kekex­ili, is still con­sid­ered among the best Chi­nese films on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

He has in­cluded Ti­betan an­telopes from Kekex­ili again in Born in China.

Lu says the new film isn’t me­ta­phys­i­cal but some­thing fun­da­men­tal and sim­ple— to tell a good story.

Prob­a­bly to achieve that goal, Walt Dis­ney cre­ated a mes­mer­iz­ing sto­ry­line based on real im­agery of an­i­mals.

“A good story trans­lates from cul­ture to cul­ture, from coun­try to coun­try,” Roy Conli, a pro­ducer of the film, says in Bei­jing. “Some themes are uni­ver­sal, and their (the an­i­mals’) be­hav­ior in­spires us.”

Conli from Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios pro­duced Tan­gled in 2010 and the Os­car-win­ning Big Hero 6 in 2014.

“What we have crafted is both epic and in­ti­mate. The bal­ance of hu­mor, heart and ad­ven­ture is truly stun­ning,” he says.

For ex­am­ple, Meimei, the baby panda, is de­picted as a cu­ri­ous girl. Tao­tao, the main role in a mon­key story, is like a re­bel­lious ado­les­cent.

Zhou Xun, a top Chi­nese ac­tress, has ded­i­cated her voice to the film.

“It’s about an­i­mals, but it’s also about fam­ily and love. The film will en­able peo­ple to eas­ily find an emo­tional res­o­nance,” Zhou says.

“When I re­call my child­hood, I nat­u­rally find the right voice.”

In 2015, she dubbed for the Chi­nese ver­sion of Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional’s short film Na­ture Is Speak­ing, and that ex­pe­ri­ence may have played a role in her get­ting in­vited to the Sino-US pro­duc­tion. Her voice in­jects a soft tone into the film.

“These are an­i­mals that, for the most part, could only be filmed in China,” says Phil Chap­man, a cinematographer for the film. “We needed a much more in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with lots of de­tail in or­der to build the story.”

He was a co­pro­ducer for the BBC’s renowned six-part na­ture doc­u­men­tary se­ries Wild China.

“That can get re­ally dif­fi­cult, cap­tur­ing that level of footage, par­tic­u­larly with some of these an­i­mals who’ve never set eyes on a hu­man be­ing be­fore. We weren’t sure it was even pos­si­ble,” Chap­man says.

Light con­di­tions were some­times not per­fect for film­ing, for ex­am­ple, but the crew was told by peo­ple of the Qing­hai-Tibet Plateau that the place’s weather changes fre­quently. When con­fronting hail­storms, the cin­e­matog­ra­phers ea­gerly awaited sun­shine and rain­bows, but were in­stead sud­denly met with bl­iz­zards.

Film­ing was done si­mul­ta­ne­ously in five lo­ca­tions across China, each tak­ing 18 months. One team even waited for nearly three months to cap­ture footage of snow leop­ards, and the whole sto­ry­line was nearly aban­doned at one point. Lu says the film­ing plan for some species like the Siberian tiger and the Yangtze River dol­phin changed due to the dif­fi­culty in get­ting enough shots.

As the eighth pro­duc­tion of Dis­ney­na­ture, Born in China is the first one in the se­ries that fully fo­cuses on one sin­gle coun­try.

“It’s rare to find films fo­cus­ing on Chi­nese an­i­mals on the big screen,” says ZhangWei, pres­i­dent of Shang­hai Ori­en­tal Pearl Me­dia Co Ltd, which owns SMG Pic­tures.

“It will re­mind peo­ple to re­spect na­ture and life through the record­ing of growth of these rare species.

“High-qual­ity films telling Chi­nese sto­ries abroad are still few. Per­haps this is the start when more ‘made in China’ pro­duc­tions will take Chi­nese cul­ture over­seas.”

Born in China will be trans­lated into 16 lan­guages for global au­di­ences. It will play in North Amer­i­can the­aters on April 22, 2017, when Earth Day is cel­e­brated.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Born­inChina, a Sino-US pro­duc­tion di­rected by Lu Chuan, will be re­leased on the Chi­nese main­land on Fri­day.

From left to right: Ac­tress Zhou Xun, pro­ducer Roy Conli and Lu Chuan at a pro­mo­tional event in Bei­jing.

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