Time­less river

The new film Cross­cur­rent by direc­tor Yang Chao takes view­ers on a jour­ney in the Yangtze River.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By HONG XIAO in New York xi­ao­hong@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

For Chi­nese peo­ple, the Yangtze River doesn’t just ex­ist phys­i­cally, it is a river of time. It ex­ists in China’s his­tory, said Yang Chao, direc­tor and scriptwriter of the new film Cross­cur­rent.

A blend of wa­ter im­agery, fan­tasy, po­etry and his­tory, the award-win­ning film is now show­ing in the US.

It all hap­pens along the ever-flow­ing Yangzte, from the mega­lopo­lis of Shang­hai to the snow-capped moun­tains of Ti­bet, where Gao Chun sails his cargo ship up the Yangtze, go­ing back in time and be­com­ing more and more in­trigued by An Lu, a beau­ti­ful woman who ap­pears in dif­fer­ent guises at each port.

Af­ter pass­ing a pagoda that still echoes with the Bud­dha’s voice, a flooded town reap­pears along­side the Three Gorges Dam and other trans­formed places — af­ter which he fi­nally ar­rives at the source of the Yangtze, where the se­cret of An Lu is fi­nally re­vealed.

Filmed by Mark Lee Ping-Bing, Cross­cur­rent won the Sil­ver Bear Award for cin­e­matog­ra­phy at the 66th Ber­lin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary.

Yang has said that the Yangtze River has been por­trayed by count­less artists and writ­ers for cen­turies. What he has tried to cap­ture is the grandiose, su­per­nat­u­ral and sub­lime side of the Yangtze that be­longed to the Tang and Song dy­nas­ties.

“A dar­ing mix of re­al­ism and lyri­cal fan­tasy,” com­mented CineVue. “Rarely has China’s ex­plo­sive eco­nomic growth been cap­tured with such grace and with such a heavy heart.”

“Strongly af­fect­ing land­scapes that seem to leap out of Chi­nese paint­ing,” said Hol­ly­wood Re­porter.

Born in 1974 in Xinyang in Cen­tral China’s He­nan prov­ince, the direc­tor has had a spe­cial affin­ity with wa­ter since a very young age. He still re­mem­bers how he en­vied peo­ple who played in the river flow­ing through his home­town be­cause he didn’t know how to swim.

He didn’t do well in the gaokao (China’s col­lege en­trance exam), so he spent a year in a tran­si­tional pro­gram at the Wuhan Rail­way Tele­vi­sion Col­lege and got into Bei­jing Film Academy.

At the time, the hall­way out­side of his class­room had a view of the Yangtze. See­ing such a grand river deeply im­pressed Yang and he be­came ob­sessed with the wide sur­face of the wa­ter.

Af­ter be­com­ing a direc­tor, Yang first shot the Yangtze River in two scenes from his 2004 film Pas­sages. He then de­cided his next film might be about the Yangtze.

In 2005, Yang started writ­ing a draft and shoot­ing footage of the Yangtze, even though he didn’t have a clear story in mind.

But by the end of 2008, when Yang trav­eled to the Yangtze River again, he knew ex­actly what he wanted to do.

He dropped ev­ery­thing and started work­ing on the script. By 2010, he had been through seven rounds of rewrites.

The first round of pro­duc­tion started in Jan­uary 2012 and lasted 63 days.

In the fin­ished film, 80 per­cent of the scenes were shot on the Yangtze River, even though shoot­ing while sail­ing on the river was more chal­leng­ing than Yang orig­i­nally thought it would be.

The crew used three ships: The Guangde, the cargo ship shown in the movie, a sec­ond ship for the cam­eras to shoot from and a third ferry that the cast and crew lived on.

“We set off from Shang­hai (where the Yangtze flows into the East China Sea). Ev­ery­day, we just stopped the cargo ship some­where along the river, shot some footage, sailed away and re­peated,” Yang re­called. “In this man­ner we shot the script in chrono­log­i­cal or­der and sailed all the way to Yibin. We all found the trip to be a very spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The film was shot in win­ter, be­cause Yang wanted to show a stern-look­ing Yangtze in cold col­ors like those in tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings.

“It was freez­ing on the Yangtze River in Jan­uary. We had to get heat from burn­ing fuel on the cargo ship. That drove our pro­ducer crazy. He would turn off the heat af­ter mid­night. Then some­one would wake up shout­ing ‘It’s freez­ing!’ around 2 in the morn­ing,” Yang said.

It costs a lot to shoot on the wa­ter. The crew ran out of money around Luzhou and was dis­missed there.

In Novem­ber 2013, with the ad­di­tional in­vest­ment they got, Yang spent 20 days shoot­ing more footage, in­clud­ing the snowy moun­tains of Ti­bet, which is the source of Yangtze River.

Af­ter three rounds of edit­ing, the film was shown in Ber­lin in Fe­bru­ary.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to China, the team spent more funds to res­can the film and make a 4K ver­sion.

“It shows the au­di­ence a China they have never seen be­fore,” said Yang.

We shot the script in chrono­log­i­cal or­der and sailed all the way to Yibin. We all found the trip to be a very spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.” Yang Chao, direc­tor, Cross­cur­rent


Sail­ing through the ages, the new film Cross­cur­rent takes view­ers to a China few peo­ple ever get to see. Stills from the film Cross­cur­rent .

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