This past weekend marked the premiere of the movie But Always (Yi Sheng Yi Shi), a 1970s drama that revolves around two former lovers from Beijing who meet by coincidence in New York City and rekindle their lost romance.The film, which features YuanYuan Gao, a popular actress from Beijing, alongside famed Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse, gained $140K its opening weekend throughout the U.S. However, neither plot nor star power makes this release particularly interesting. Instead it’s the circumstances under which China Lion Films is releasing it that is so unique: One weekend, one theatre, one company, and one goal.
China Lion Films’ mission is to release mainland popular Chinese films throughout the United States and Canada. Robert Lundberg, a spokesman for the company, explained that while all the movies are in Mandarin, they have English subtitles, making them accessible to both Chinese and English-speaking communities.
Normally when we think of popular foreign-language cinema, we’re reminded of classic art house films, such as the exceedingly popular Russian movie Andrei Rublev or the French film L’Atalante. China Lion Films is hoping to change this standard in two critical ways—choosing films with well-known Chinese actors to draw media attention, and releasing them in the U.S. and Canada on the same day that they are released in China.
So far, the project has been relatively successful. China Lion Films has been in business for four years, and has released 35 films. Almost all are Chinese pieces, but the company has released some other movies from Southeast Asia, such as the Thai film Bangkok Revenge. The company chose Montreal due to high demand for this type of venture, but the company is wary to release the film to a large audience just yet. If all goes well, China Lion Films is hoping to release Breakup Buddies, a comedy directed by Ning Hao and starring popular mainland actors Huang Bo and Xu Zheng.
For the Chinese community in Montreal, this venture is able to bring them one step closer to their home, and in particular, their family and friends. For those outside the Chinese community, this venture is one that may help to change the game of cultural awareness in a mass media age. Looking to the U.S. in particular, what is known about the common American is understood primarily through films and television series that have been distributed throughout the world.
While China Lion Films is still a small company with a narrow reach, it has the potential to change the rules of the media game. By making the audience aware that foreign language films don’t have to be art house pieces or topically distant due to cultural dissimilarities, perhaps the conversation surrounding the influence of mass media can move from a U.S. monopoly to a more global experience.
But Always will be playing for the following week at Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas (2313 St Catherine Ouest). Admission is $12.99.