Love conquers

Updated: 2015-08-27 07:55

By Xu Fan(China Daily USA)

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Chinese director Mabel Cheung's A Tale of Three Cities is based on the wartime experiences of Jackie Chan's parents. Xu Fan reports. Mabel Cheung recalls a scene from her wartime epic, A Tale of Three Cities, in which several Chinese soldiers are beheaded by Japanese invaders.

"When the head falls, blood doesn't flow out immediately. The neck muscles first shrink backward, and then comes the blood," the 65-year-old director says.

The veteran filmmaker behind smash hits like Echoes of the Rainbow and City of Glass is now promoting A Tale of Three Cities in Beijing.

With a stellar cast led by Hong Kong actor Sean Lau Ching-wan and mainland actress Tang Wei, the movie hits mainland theaters on Aug 27.

The vivid presentation of the killings in Cheung's latest film originates from kung fu star Jackie Chan's father, Charles Chan, who was forced to witness the murders with six other Chinese after they were arrested by the Japanese forces over smuggling charges, as recorded in Cheung's documentary, Traces of a Dragon: Jackie Chan and His Lost Family.

Charles Chan led a maintenance team on a cargo ship in East China's Anhui province and was also associated with some black-market linen trade between the cities of Wuhu and Nanjing at the time.

The documentary, released in 2003, made the veteran filmmaker a close friend of the Chan family.

"My mom died during the time, and it made me realize that I should do something for the elderly people who have experienced cruelties during the war," she says.

"The movie carries a collective memory for those who were injured and survived."

Known for in-depth examinations of humanity in her films, Cheung showcases ordinary people's feelings in A Tale of Three Cities, too.

The movie's name references the cities of Wuhu, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where the couples lost and found love.

Based on experiences of Jackie Chan's parents, the film tells the story of two couples during the period between the last years of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) and China's Civil War (1945-49).

Tang plays Jackie Chan's mother in the film. Her first husband is killed in a bomb attack by the Japanese, and she has to smuggle opium to raise her two daughters but is captured by a customs inspector. This is when she meets her future husband whose character is based on Charles Chan.

The two - both injured and having lost their respective spouses - fall in love.

"The turbulent times and the chaos are in the backdrop ... I wanted to highlight a story about love," Cheung says.

Love conquers

At a time when Chinese couldn't say if they'd live to see the next day, love was perhaps the only thing that kept them going, she adds.

Tang expresses admiration for the deep passion her role displays. She describes the film as a "fairy tale during wartime".

Timmy Yip Kam-tim, the film's cinematographer, who is famed for the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, says the production shows rare strength.

"I've made many movies featuring World War II events. But A Tale of Three Cities is particular with the lead characters' optimism. They lived during the war but tried not to be influenced by it, which makes the film powerful," he said at a Beijing media event on Sunday.

With an estimated 80 million yuan ($12.5 million) budget, Cheung took nearly 10 years to convince investors. Then, Huayi Brothers, one of the country's largest film and TV program studios, became its main producer.

When asked about the market expectation, Wang Zhonglei, president and co-founder of Huayi, says it is difficult to promote such an art-house title.

"But the script attracted me. After discussion with Shi Nan-sun, a veteran Hong Kong film producer, on its commercial prospects, we decided to invest in it," he said at the media event.

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 Love conquers

A Tale of Three Cities, starring Sean Lau Ching-wan (left) and Tang Wei, reveals a romance in the 1940s China.Provided To China Daily

 Love conquers

Director Mabel Cheung (right) and lead actress Tang Wei appear at a Beijing media event to promote the war epic.Jiang Dong / China Daily

(China Daily USA 08/27/2015 page8)