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Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 28, 2013

Updated: 2013-08-29 13:48
By Raymond Zhou ( chinadaily.com.cn)

Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 28, 2013

Dai Sijie serves as a juror for the 37th Montreal World Film Festival. Photo by Raymond Zhou for China Daily

I've always wanted to talk to Dai Sijie ever since I saw "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" a decade ago. Another reason is, he is a Chinese emigrant who mastered a foreign language to the point of publishing professional writings in it – a point relevant to my day job as English is a second language to me and now I make a living out of using it.

Imagine my surprise when I finally met him this morning and he told me nobody expected his novel of the same name, upon which the film was based, to be a success. Not his publisher. Not even himself. The publisher reluctantly agreed to an initial print run of 3,000 copies partly because they saw it as an homage to great literature, with Balzac in the title and all.

Dai, born in 1954 in Fujian province and sent down to Sichuan as a youth, first went to France to study film. He got into a prestigious school that enrolled only 20 students a year in its film-directing program. "Doing my first feature was pretty easy," he said. Unlike in other countries, his second and third movies ran into more difficulties and failed to garner the kind of attention his debut feature received.  "They were French stories with a supernatural touch," he said.

Then came the unexpected success of "Balzac” and a film adaptation was inevitable. He and his film company cast Zhang Ziyi in the role of the female lead as the latter had just turned into an international star with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." But then Dai ran into Zhou Xun and thought Zhou was a better fit for the role.

We have to remember that the trio of leads in this movie, i.e. Zhou Xun, Chen Kun and Liu Ye, were not yet stars when Dai cast them. In just a couple of years the three of them would go on to be bona fide A-listers in showbiz. You have to give credit to Dai for having that kind of foresight or maybe luck.


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