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SHOW OF THE WEEK Howard Rosenberg

May 05, 1985|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"THE HEART OF THE DRAGON," Monday, 8 p.m. (28) (15) and 9 p.m. (24); Tuesday 10 p.m. (50)--The Bamboo Curtain was lifted, allowing Britain's Ash Films to go through.

The result, to be seen on PBS through the end of July, is this 12-part series on the People's Republic of China, a series that won the 1984 International Emmy for best documentary.

Hosts Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer (of the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour") have been added to the program for American consumption. They introduce each episode and interview a guest expert at the conclusion.

Each weekly episode deals with a specific universal activity as it applies to contemporary China, such as "caring" (the subject of the premiere), "eating," "marrying" and so on. Among situations apparently unseen by American viewers before is the trial of a Chinese cat burglar and her life inside prison.

"When I first arrived in Peking in 1980, the Chinese were trying to parcel out their country to Western producers like real estate," says executive producer Peter Montagnon. "They offered one company permission to film the ancient silk route, another the top half of the Yangtze River, still another the bottom half. They offered me the Great Wall."

Montagnon says he told Chinese authorities he wasn't interested in that arrangement, that he was interested in the Chinese people. He paid the Chinese $1 million for film rights.

Montagnon (who co-produced the famed British series "Civilisation") and his crews were allowed to travel for 18 months in all parts of the country, filming all areas of society, including even Chinese millionaires. They labeled one of them the Cantonese "Colonel Sanders" because his takeout chicken business earns him a fortune.

The producers shot some 240 hours of film for "Heart of the Dragon," according to Montagnon, and none was censored by the Chinese.

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