A new dawn

Will remake of Russian classic still chime with Chinese audiences?


From Russia with love (and plenty of guns)

In the autumn of 1982 China and the Soviet Union resumed vice ministerial level talks – a major diplomatic step given the two countries had frozen their relations in 1959. To mark this improvement in their ties, the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV took the symbolic decision to show a Russian movie. In 1983, it aired The Dawns Here Are Quiet, a 1972 film based on Boris Vasilyev’s novella of the same name.

This week a remake of the Soviet era classic is being shown in China again – this time it’s part of the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of China’s victory over Japan in World War Two.

Directed by Renat Davletyarov, the movie is a patriotic tale of a senior sergeant in the Soviet Red Army and five female anti-aircraft gunners, who battle invading German troops in 1942.

“No matter how many times Shakespeare’s or Chekhov’s works are moved to screens, people will not be bored,” Davletyarov told China Daily. “That’s the power of a classic.”

“Russian World War Two-related films represent another perspective, other than Hollywood productions, to represent history,” added Davletyarov, who claims to have stuck closely to Vasilyev’s original book in making his film.

As with Thursday’s march past the Forbidden City by Russia’s 154th Preobrazhensky Independent Commandant’s Regiment (the Russian phalanx was one of 17 foreign brigades taking part in China’s V-Day parade on Thursday), the movie is the latest sign of growing closeness between two neighbouring giants.

The Soviet Union and China were close allies until the late 1950s. At the time Chinese cinemas were full of Soviet propaganda flicks, but relations soured and they became fierce rivals despite their supposed ideological affinities.

But Sino-Russian ties have grown much closer recently. President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met five times during 2014, and they will meet at least that often this year.

Xi travelled to Moscow in April for a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War Two (conspicuously absent from the event were President Barack Obama and EU leaders). And Putin has just returned the favour this week by showing up in China’s own V-Day military parade, (again while most Western leaders were absent).

For Russia, battered by economic crisis and sanctions over its actions in the Ukraine, China offers more opportunities, and that includes as an outlet for Russian films.

Russia and China have signed a rash of deals, cooperating on film festivals and discussing ways to screen more Russian films in China, and make more co-production. Of course, Russian films – like those from Hollywood – still have to contend with the censors.

Thus in the Chinese version of The Dawns Here Are Quiet, nude scenes, such as when the five female soldiers bathe in a waterfall, have either been cut or edited so as to show the actresses from the neck up (much as was done with the TV show Empress of China, where Fan Bingbing’s cleavage scenes were heavily edited, see WiC265).

“I think this part [the waterfall scene] is not pornography because the original novel had this part and the old version of the film also had it,” Davletyarov told local media at the movie’s premiere. Author Vasilyev said the reason for the nude scene was “to show that the female body is very beautiful but in the cruel wartime, a woman’s body is also very fragile.” (CCTV faced the same nudity conundrum when it aired the original in 1983. As with on this occasion the bathing scene was cut, regardless of its purported artistic purpose.)

In spite of the edits, the original movie proved very influential in China, particularly in how subsequent war movies were made.

“The 1972 film opened the door for us to expect almighty heroes in our own war films,” Zhao Baohua, who is deputy director of the Chinese Film Literature Association, told China Daily.

“The pursuit of love and deep human emotions are condensed against the backdrop of war, which was fresh for Chinese cinema, since it had just stepped out of the Cultural Revolution. Soviet war films should remain important references for Chinese filmmakers and TV producers,” said Zhao.

The spirit of cooperation is strengthening. At the Beijing International Film Festival this year, Artem Tsypin won the best actor category in the Tiantan Awards for his role in White White Night, while Yulia Peresild won best actress for her role as a sniper in the same film. Fedor Bondarchuk, the prominent Russian filmmaker, actor, producer, and Chairman of the Lenfilm studio Board of Directors, was on the Tiantan Jury.

Then in Shanghai in June, Leviathan director Andrey Zvyagintsev headed the Golden Goblet Jury.

In August, the Chinese animation producer and distributor Flame Node Entertainment said it was teaming up with Russia’s Wizart to produce the third film in the successful Snow Queen franchise.

Tong Gang, who is deputy head of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV, told a Sino-Russian cultural forum last year that World War Two was a tie that bound the two nations, while Nikita Mikhalkov, who directed Burnt by the Sun, was equally effusive.

“China and Russia fought side by side in the Anti-Fascist War, therefore this theme has a special meaning for the two countries’ cooperation,” he told the ifeng website.

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