Watchmaker takes time to restore film classics

Updated: 2014-06-19 07:11

By Liu Wei in Shanghai (China Daily USA)

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While a timepiece reminds anybody of the irreversible flow of time, a good film makes time stand still. Yet, with a common commitment to preserve precious cinematic history, a watch manufacturer and a film festival are ushering in their fourth year of collaboration.

Partners since 2011, Swiss watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre and Shanghai International Film Festival have been working to restore classic Chinese cinema over the past three years.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has financially supported the restoration of nine old Chinese films in cooperation with the festival, which launched its 17th edition on June 14.

The most recent turnout is Stage Sisters, a 1964 drama by the late maestro Xie Jin - the first time an old film was chosen to open the festival.

The 181-year-old watch manufacturer also hosted a benefit auction during the festival to promote the protection of precious cinematic classics. Up for bid was Jaeger-LeCoultre's Duometre Unique Travel Time watch with "SIFF 2014" engraved on the side. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud donated props with commemorative significance - most notably a morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) from the set of his latest film, Wolf Totem. The film is set in China and stars Chinese actors Feng Shaofeng and Shawn Dou.

All proceeds from the event will be used to support more restorations here.

"We are dedicated to paying tribute to the classics of Chinese cinema, and giving back to the market," says Daniel Riedo, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

"We want to be present at the film festival not only on the red carpet, but also for causes that benefit future generations."

Stage Sisters was resurrected mainly in the Cineteca di Bologna's film restoration laboratory in Italy, billed as "the high temple of film restoration". Two teams of 80 specialists based in Shanghai and Bologna spent six months restoring the iconic picture in full color.

According to Davide Pozzi, one of the specialists, the first step was to repair every single frame, splice and perforation of the film before it was scanned. The film scan was performed at the 4K resolution - the first time this has been used to restore a Chinese film - at the lowest speed, in order to keep every detail.

While old negatives of films often suffer from scratches, dust, liquefying and shrinking, the 4K technology restored the images in high definition and at the same time preserved the film's original look.

Next came digital restoration. Experts had to remove every single scratch, fix dirt and dust, stabilize the picture and adjust for light flickering. The sound underwent similar rehabilitation. At the very end, experts turned to color correction, referring to a vintage color print of the film to be sure they were faithful to the original look of the film.

The next Chinese film to be restored by the laboratory in cooperation with Jaeger-LeCoultre and Shanghai film festival will be A Better Tomorrow, a 1986 action flick by Hong Kong director John Woo.

Starring Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Cheung, the film was a milestone not only in Woo's personal portfolio but also in Hong Kong cinema. Its exquisite action sequences had obvious influence on Western filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino.

"A Better Tomorrow is the film that embodies my most honest emotion," Woo says.

"It symbolizes a precious chapter of memory, not only for me, but also for all viewers who love it. For me the most valuable part of the film is the enchanting performance by all the actors."

The Jaeger-LeCoultre team hopes that the project will include some more recent works after nine films, all produced around the 1940s, were restored.

"We are proud of what we have achieved in the restoration project," says Zhu Shanshan, publicist for Jaeger-LeCoultre.

"By introducing some more recent works, we will involve more of the younger generation and raise their awareness of the importance of preserving this precious cultural heritage."

Jaeger-LeCoultre takes pride in its history of working with world-famous film events. The official sponsor of the Venice International Film Festival since 2004, it has financed the restoration of classic Italian films and sponsored awards for prestigious filmmakers.

This year the watchmaker will also work with the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival.

 Watchmaker takes time to restore film classics

Actress Zhao Wei and John Woo (second and third from right) at a benefit auction. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 06/19/2014 page8)