Actress Li Bingbing and French director Jean-Jacques Annaud arrive at… (ChinaFotoPress )
SHANGHAI — The opening-night screening at a major film festival is usually a hot ticket.
Not so in China — at least not for the VIPs visiting from around the world, most of whom fled after the government officials' speeches and lifetime achievement awards at the start of the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival on June 16. They ducked out before director Wuershan's action fantasy "Painted Skin II: The Resurrection" got a chance to prove itself.
As the international film industry who's who headed for the exits at the Shanghai Grand Theater, Chinese students with nosebleed seats sneaked down into the orchestra to mingle. The white-haired festival jury president,Jean-Jacques Annaud, posed in black tie for a snapshot with a tousle-haired teen in neon green pants. The French director then stood for a second shot with the teen's girlfriend, clad in denim shorts, towering wedge heels and a teensy top.
Annaud, visiting Shanghai for the first time, hopes to attract young Chinese moviegoers to his new film, "Wolf Totem," now in preproduction with the China Film Group. It's a late 1960s tale of a Beijing student's discovery of the wolf spirit of the Inner Mongolian nomads he is sent to live among during the Cultural Revolution.
Photos snapped, Annaud and his young admirers quickly parted. Perhaps time was short or he and fellow jurists such as Hollywood actress Heather Graham were hungry or wanted to be the first to arrive at one of several boozy after-parties sponsored by Cadillac and luxury watchmaker Jaeger LeCoultre.
Two visiting film industry veterans with strong ties to China respectfully refrained from the rush to Champagne, remaining in their seats to watch the "Painted Skin" sequel, Wuershan's take on what it's like to battle the wrath of a fox spirit.
One straggler was Terrence Chang, the Los Angeles-based producer of John Woo's big-budget "Red Cliff" epics, huge hits in East Asia. The other was Isabelle Glachant, the French producer of multiple films by Wang Xiaoshuai.
"Everybody left," Glachant said the next day. "But it's great that the kids get to come in and watch. I was surrounded by girls who all loved the lead actor [Chen Kun] and giggled and shrieked, saying, 'Oh, no! What will happen to him? Will he die? Who will save him?' It's important to know what turns these kids on."
Time out for golf
On the sidelines at the film festival Wednesday, former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (China's most famous athlete) and Feng Xiaogang (the country's most bankable movie director) took some time out for golf.
They weren't on the links but at a news conference at the sleek Langham hotel to announce their participation in the 2012 Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am golf tournament. The event, to be held at the course on the southern island of Hainan in October, has a $1-million purse and good causes attached.
Joining Yao and Feng were film director He Ping, Hong Kong actor Simon Yam, actor-producer-director Eric Tsang and Mission Hills' chairman and vice chairman — brothers Ken Chu and Tenniel Chu from Hong Kong.
The movie and sports celebrities struck poses with their clubs and then used drivers — yes, drivers — to putt golf balls into a basketball hoop-sized hole cut into the stage floor.
Feng, who has played golf for five years, visibly backed away when asked to demonstrate his form, but he had a few words about the sport's advantages.
"Golf has changed my life," said Feng, whose last film, the earthquake disaster flick"Aftershock," was a hit in China but fizzled in the U.S. "When I'm finished directing, golf is good for my energy and health. It makes you face failure every time, and helps me face challenges."
Yao, who took up golf two months ago, declined to swing a custom-extended driver for the cameras, looking up at the chandelier overhead with concern.
Tsang, short in stature, was happy to swing for the cameras, smiling and ribbing Yao. "Height is no advantage in golf," Tsang said to applause from the Chinese press corps.
There was humor in the room, but also a lot of spiel about bringing the sport to the youth of China to get them game-ready for the 2016 Summer Olympics, when golf returns to the rotation of events.
"We need to change the perception that golf is just for the elite," said He, whose last film work was as an actor in the 2009 movie "The Founding of the Party," commemorating the ChineseCommunist Party's90th birthday.
"In China, the government focuses a lot of attention on supporting sports like basketball," said Tenniel Chu. "Now golf is getting that same attention."
Feng, who made his name in down-home comedy hits about average Chinese people, is equally beloved these days for his frank public talk about the need for artistic freedom.