Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Co-produced by Hong Kong’s Media Asia Films and China’s Huayi Brothers, the US$20m (HK$160m) epic “The Banquet” held its Asia-Pacific press conference in Hong Kong yesterday (Aug. 14). Director Feng Xiaogang led his stellar cast of Ge You, Zhou Xun, Daniel Wu and Huang Xiaoming to meet the press, but actress Ziyi Zhang was unfortunately absent due to filming commitments in the U.S. As this is the film’s first press conference in Hong Kong, it attracted numerous press representatives from Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Guangdong, Taiwan, and across Southeast Asia. The film is scheduled to open nationwide and throughout Asia in mid-September.

During the conference, director Feng Xiaogang praised the performance of every cast member in his film. He felt safe to have Ge You in this picture because he was a bankable actor with acceptable pay. He then brought down the house with laughter by noting that unlike in Hong Kong and Taiwan, it was tough to find a handsome actor in China, so Ge was the best he could find! The director confessed that he had had second doubts about casting Daniel Wu initially, lest his acting be incompatible with his Mainland co-stars. But after viewing the dailies, he was totally relieved. Feng then wished that Huang Xiaoming’s recent popularity in TV serials would contribute to the film’s success.

People often assume mega stars within the same picture will be at loggerheads when off-screen. But Feng assured everyone that it never happened in this film. The two female leads, Ziyi Zhang and Zhou Xun, became close friends after the film and went out for dinners and movies together. At the Cannes Film Festival, Zhang often took care of Zhou and walked side by side with her in front of the cameras, as Zhou was a lesser known actress internationally.

Zhou Xun has just won the Best Actress kudos at the Hong Kong Golden Bauhinia Awards on Aug. 13, but she was not able to receive the award in person as she had to complete shooting a commercial in Guangzhou. When director Feng and co-star Huang Xiaoming admired how she could garner three kudos within a year, Zhou smiled and noted that she had simply picked the right film. She also expressed gratitude towards the Hong Kong audience and industry professionals for their recognition of her work. When asked if she would request a pay raise, the actress noted that money was not vital, and it was up to her company to decide. When asked which award she would like to get next, Zhou quoted Chinese athlete and world record holder Liu Xiang: “Diligence is a necessity, but it also depends on timing, people, and luck.” She felt all these elements contributed to her win, yet she was more aspired to playing a great role.

Renowned for his comedies, director Feng Xiaogang felt that making “The Banquet” was actually easier because it was not as exhausting. He had paid especial attention to the script this time, since most audience turned away from major productions because of inferior stories.

Actor Ge You thanked the director for his praises, adding that these were Feng’s friendly but truthful comments. Although this was the first collaboration between Ge and Ziyi Zhang, he found her performance had reached a higher level than in her previous works. There was an intimate scene where Ge had to massage oil on Zhang’s naked back. When asked how he felt, Ge laughed and confessed that he felt nothing because it’s plain acting. Some noted that Zhang used a body double for this scene, and Ge admitted it to be true because the scene required the actress to lie down for a long period of time, but the massaging hands were definitely his very own. He then stated that it was a normal practice to employ body doubles in films, and audience often could not tell the difference. So it would be better if the general public knew less about the movie magic, or it would simply spoil the fun for them. Ge is famous for his aerophobia, so he had to take a 25-hour train ride to Hong Kong for this press event. But he will have no choice when he heads to the Venice Film Festival later.

“The Banquet” is one of the most extravagant historical epics in Chinese cinema, and it will open nationwide and across Southeast Asia in mid-September and is officially selected for the Venice Film Festival. The Hong Kong gala premiere that is scheduled on Sept. 12 will be sponsored by Christian Dior. The event will open with a star-studded charity banquet to match the night’s theme, complemented by a fashion show and a charity auction on behalf of the HKU Spinal Cord Injury Fund. One of the featuring auction items will be an enormous fan-shaped poster with the five main cast members in costumes along with their autographs. It will definitely be an invaluable collector’s item. Media Asia Films will also organize a pan-Asian props and costume exhibition beginning Aug. 17, and will tour Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong during this month.

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