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Interview: HK director Ann Hui brings Chinese literature into Venice film festival

by Marzia De Giuli

VENICE, Italy, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) -- "She is an artist, and I have always wanted to make a film about an artist. But I dealt with her more like an ordinary woman," Hong Kong director Ann Hui told Xinhua in an interview as her new film Huangjin shidai (The Golden Era) closed the Venice film festival here on Saturday.

Huangjin shidai is an unconventional biopic about the woman writer Xiao Hong, whose basic life facts are established but much of the details remain obscure. The film pieces together episodes from her own writings with impressions and recollections from other writers and friends.

Xiao Hong lived through the most turbulent times in modern Chinese history. Her birth in 1911 in Manchuria, northeast China, coincided with her country's shift from dynastic imperial rule to a modern republicanism, and so she grew up in an environment which was open to foreign cultural influences for the first time in centuries.

Much of her stormy life was spent with fellow writers, including Lu Xun, widely recognized as China's greatest modern novelist, whom she found a considerate surrogate father. After escaping the Japanese invasion of China, Xiao Hong died of tuberculosis in Hong Kong at the age of 31.

"I was fascinated by her lifestyle and efforts in art. She had a revolutionary attitude towards human relations," Ann Hui said. "Xiao Hong turned against her family and had an intense love life. If we look at it today, what she did has become the normality for modern women," the director noted.

"Xiao Hong was avant-garde. She believed in writing for the sake of literature and not for any kind of propaganda. This was a very different idea from the preferred attitude of that time, when a lot of intellectuals wanted to write only to foster the anti-Japanese cause," Ann Hui went on saying. "She was sympathetic to them but was still convinced that writing is pure literature," the director added.

Ann Hui explained her film was mostly shot on real locations, including preserved old buildings in different places of China such as Harbin, Wuhan and Shanghai. "Unfortunately I could not find a single building left in Hong Kong of those years," she also noted.

"We used an extreme format that is very experimental to make the story even more interesting to the audience," Ann Hui said.

Since the director started her career in the 1970s, she disclosed, different subjects and faces have fascinated her. "At the beginning I was very attracted by melodramma, suspense movies, violence, kung fu movies. Then, in the middle, I begun to like very static movies about the thoughts, which had to do with how I felt and changed personally," she explained to Xinhua.

"Now I am interested in how people behave and live their own life, especially when they are very ordinary," she highlighted.

"For this reason, despite the historical and intellectual background, I think this movie is not difficult to be comprehended by the general audience. Human nature, love and betrayal are common themes all over the world," Ann Hui said.

Ann Hui was born in 1947 in Manchuria to a Chinese father and Japanese mother. After graduating in comparative literature from Hong Kong University, she studied for two years at the London Film School. She is the only director to have won Best Director in the Hong Kong Film Awards four times.

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