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Pioneering progress

By Zhang Kun | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-18 07:54

Poster of  1921. [Photo provided to China Daily]

On June 11, the 24th Shanghai International Film Festival opened with the screening of the movie 1921. Named after the year the Communist Party of China was founded, the film presented the historical event in an international context and portrayed the pioneering Chinese communists in the prime of their youth.

More than 400 movies-of which 73 are making their world premiere-are being shown at the SIFF which runs until Sunday. With this being the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Party's founding, many of the films were specially made to commemorate the occasion.

At the opening session of the SIFForum, China Film Group's vice-chairman Fu Ruoqing says his company has made about 10 major film and television productions including some with important themes about China. These productions include Impasse, a revolutionary thriller by Zhang Yimou, and In Wuhan, a documentary series about China's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shanghai Film Corp has also contributed to the making of such productions with 1921 and Wang Dao, a biographical film about Chen Wangdao. Chen was the scholar who first translated the Communist Manifesto into Chinese. The film 1921 is veteran director Huang Jianxin's second movie themed on the founding of the CPC. His first was a movie trilogy that was produced 10 years ago on the Chinese revolution- The Founding of a Republic, The Founding of a Party and The Founding of an Army.

"This is a movie about the young people of 1921, made for the audience who are young in 2021. We can make these important historical figures relevant when we picture them as young people full of emotions, so that today's audience can resonate with them," says Huang, who is also head of the international jury in the main competition of SIFF's Golden Goblet Awards this year. The film is centered on the lives and aspirations of the 13 CPC delegates who announced the founding of the CPC.

"Their passion and aspirations, dedication and strong faith have all been the natural product of youth," he says.

"Three of the youngest delegates went to the Great World Entertainment Park to see the distorting mirrors as soon as they arrived in Shanghai. They were just ordinary young folk full of curiosity and impulse, who only decided to stand out because the country was in troubled waters."

Huang points out that new discoveries by historians were pivotal in the making of this film. For example, it was previously recorded that two representatives of Communist International participated in the CPC's first national congress in Shanghai. But new findings showed that there was disagreement between these two foreigners and the Chinese communists as the latter did not agree with the idea of setting up CPC as a new branch in the international organization. Rather, they wanted to establish an independent party that would serve the people of China.

Director Huang Jianxin speaks
about the production of the film,
1921,which opened the
Shanghai International Film
Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The movie also sheds light on a newly discovered fact that the Japanese were closely monitoring communist activities. Researchers had only recently discovered a telegram from the historical files of the Tokyo police department which shows that the Japanese authorities knew about the planned gathering.

"The telegram contained the address and date, and even information about almost all of the delegates' home provinces," says Zheng Dasheng, co-director of 1921. Zheng suggests that Japan did not want to see the emergence of a communist party in China as it might interfere with the control of its puppet state of Manchukuo.

"Artists pick up where historians cease to work," he adds, noting that while it is important to ensure that significant historical facts are accurately portrayed in the movie, the use of artistic imagination to tell a good story is just as necessary.

Inspired by these historical findings, scriptwriter Yu Xi was able to re-create the story of 1921 with a suspenseful side story involving efforts by outsiders to meddle with the founding and congress of the CPC in Shanghai.

In China, the creation of films about important social subjects, revolutionary history and heroic achievements is often known as "themed creative project". In recent years, the category of "themed movies and TV creations" has become increasingly successful, with many of these productions generating high box-office takings and earning critical acclaim.

Liang Jing, producer of a series of highly popular themed movies such as The Eight Hundred, My People, My Country and The Sacrifice, says that themed movies represent mainstream value and belong to mainstream cinema as they feature heroes or heroic events.

At the China Movie and TV Night event hosted by China Media Group on June 12, director Gao Xixi spoke to China Daily about his new television series Decisive Victory on the three most important battles during the civil war between the Kuomintang regime and the CPC army. Though there is already a successful movie trilogy about the events, Gao explained why he believes it was necessary to make the new TV series.

"The latest technology enables filmmakers to create new visual presentations, and more importantly, we get to tell the stories from a new perspective that today's audience can identify with," he says.

"We try to pull the historical figures a little further down the altar, and show the ordinary human aspects of much venerated national leaders such as Zhou Enlai."

A recent example of such a production is The Age of Awakening, a 43-episode TV drama series about the early 1900s when progressive intellectuals embraced the newly introduced Communist ideas.

The TV series won three Magnolia Awards for Best Director, Best Original Script and Best Leading Male Actor at the 27th Shanghai TV Festival on June 10.

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