Li Xuejian Masterclass Started as Grand Finale: Be Anonymous with Earth-Shattering Contributions!
On August 19, the last Workshop & Masterclass of the 12th BJIFF was held as the grand finale. Li Xuejian, the Jury President of Tiantan Award, was invited as the keynote speaker and the guest panelists included Chen Guoxing, director of Roaring Across the Horizon, Chen Huaiguo, the screenwriter, Li Youbin, the leading actor, Lin Chaoxiang, the art director, Zhang Li, the Cinematographer and Zhou Xinxia, the editor. Li Daoxin, a professor at Peking University, was invited as the guest moderator, to participate in the dialogue with the topics such as “stories behind the film production", “creation of film characters" and "theme films in the context of the new era”.
Over the past 40 years, Li Xuejian has created many impressive characters, his simple and passionate acting style has also won the audience’s recognition and his professionalism has become a legend in the film industry. “I will keep acting until I can’t act anymore.” That’s his love for films and his commitment to shoulder the responsibility of Chinese films. The character General Feng Shi he played in the film Roaring Across the Horizon can best reflect his dedication. In the desolate Gobi, the general sworn to fight against the wind and sand, dedicated everything to the country, which is worth following by all of us. Therefore, this masterclass just started from the theme film Roaring Across the Horizon.
As a film celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of New China, Roaring Across the Horizon screened in 1999 won broad appreciation of the audience and the industry for its high production level. The film won 7 honors at the 20th Golden Rooster Awards including the Best Film and the Best Director. Even being screened now, it is still an extremely high-quality work of all the theme films, and the spirit of dedication conveyed in the film is still worth learning for generations of Chinese. The crew of Roaring Across the Horizon got together once again at the BJIFF about 23 years later. When the cast and crew recalled the stories at the filming location, they were still vivid in their minds.
/ Roaring Across the Horizon, Malan Spirit /
Li Xuejian was the keynote speaker of this Workshop & Masterclass as well as the protagonist of Roaring Across the Horizon. Before taking the stage, he paid tribute to the guests and the audience with a military salute. Despite the serious damage to his vocal cords, he struggled to speak as if every word needed to be uttered with great efforts. He cherishes every chance to communicate with others and shares his insights over the years with all the guests without reservation. What he represented was the tenacity of a generation as well as the spirit of himself and Chinese films, which was enough to shock all of the audience in the masterclass.
When these old friends he made through the film came to the stage after years of departure, Li Xuejian seemed very excited. His trembling voice was hard to cover the joy in his mind. “I am very happy to meet all of you here again to discuss the film Roaring Across the Horizon which was produced in a very difficult situation in those years. I am very glad to see you all again today.”
Under the leadership of Li Xuejian, the guests also expressed their joy and excitement at the moment of reunion. Lin Chaoxiang also mentioned the moving scene not long ago, "I remember one of Zhang Li's assistants burst into tears when he saw the big iron shelf in the Gobi Desert from afar. I can fully understand his excitement, because we have also spent a lot of efforts and we really feel proud of it.”
Chen Guoxing shared the opportunity of film creation. "I remember that Beijing Film Studio showed me a script entitled Malan Grass written by Chen Huaiguo and Peng Jichao, which won the Xia Yan Film Literature Script Awards. It described the story of two generations at the atomic bomb base. The studio leader hoped that I could make it into a film, but I was reluctant to accept the mission rashly, so I decided to pay a visit to the base. Once I came back, I felt that this project should be panoramic with a bigger and higher pattern, so I gathered Zhang Li, Zhou Xinxia and Lin Chaoxiang with whom I have cooperated for years. I told Mr. Li Xuejian a story before inviting him for this film. During the H-bomb experiment in 1971, the bomber could not drop the bomb. If it returned to land on the base with the H-bomb, the possible nuclear accident might draw China’s nuclear test back for a least 40 years. General Feng Shi was the man who stood on the runway to guide the landing of the bomber. As soon as I finished the story, Li Xuejian agreed to participate in the film. I immediately reported to the leader of the studio and then felt completely relaxed.”
Talking about the feeling in the performance, Li Xuejian summarized with only several words “Be Anonymous with Earth-Shattering Contributions”, which was just the “Malan Spirit” mentioned by Chen Huaiguo in the script (Malan is one of China's most important nuclear test sites). Li Xuejian added, "It has been 23 years till now and many people with or without names in the film are all heroes never to be forgotten because they have dedicated their youth and lives for generations. This is the Malan Spirit inscribed on the wall. All the youngsters should go there to have a look. You will burst into tears over there because there are so many tombs of martyrs who sacrificed their lives and the scenes of nuclear tests."
Li Youbin, who played his partner in the film, also talked about his feelings during the filming. "I was really happy when I knew I would play with Mr. Li. For me, I admire him very much and I regard him as an elder brother of mine in the life. I should learn a lot from him in terms of artistic attainments. He is four years older than me and I have watched many of his films. After reading the script, I thought it was so hard for me because I had never played such a character. I really knew nothing about the nuclear physicist at that time. Later, I met Mr. Cheng Kaijia and he introduced a lot for me. Mr. Li also took care of me with much artistic guidance, which greatly touched me. All the achievement in this film is inseparable from everyone's great efforts."
Chen Huaiguo introduced how to create the dual protagonists in the film. "I am very familiar with the two characters. I have worked and lived in China's nuclear test base (Malan Base) for more than ten years. I personally participated in the tests of atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb, then wrote a memoir and interviewed many scientists. Frankly speaking, it’s not difficult to write their stories; however, I felt it hard because it was the first film for a man like me who had never learned it before. It was Mr. Chen and Mr. Li who helped me with the character creation in the script. I also wrote a lot of scripts later, but very few actors would like to talk about the script with you. Mr. Li got involved at an early stage, including his understanding of the character, and what kind of man he hoped the character to become. The director has talked a lot about it, and I just make some supplementations for Mr. Chen.”
Many magnificent and impressive scenes in the film are inseparable from the efforts of the art director. Lin Chaoxiang shared his experience during the scene establishment. "Zhang Li once complained to me that nobody could understand what scene had been established with such a long time of effort. Once the film was screened, many colleagues and friends signed, 'Are you filming in the actual scene?' In fact, the actual site of atomic bomb test had already been destroyed after the explosion and it was also impossible to shoot the film in the area of nuclear explosion. So, I chose a place in the Gobi Desert, about two or three kilometers away from Malan. I felt quite satisfied with the terrain and we created the scene there with 92 tons of steel."
As the photographer of this film, Zhang Li spared no efforts in the film style and tone. He also experienced a great transformation after the filming. Zhang Li admitted, "This film is a watershed in my career and my worldview has been changed after this film." He highly praised the film, "It is a work truly expressing the backbone of Chinese people. It’s very rare. The spiritual essence of Chinese people is fully demonstrated in this film, which is of great significance even now. We have many films with high costs, gorgeous cameras, diverse themes, types and styles. However, we really have very few ones to really express the essence of our national spirit."
Like Zhang Li, Zhou Xinxia said Roaring Across the Horizon was a film really enlightened her in terms of editing. She recalled the scene when they reviewed the first edition on the big screen for the first time. "We all felt depressed at that time because we worked very hard at the beginning including the desert, the wind and sand, and the single scene, everything seemed perfect, but how we all felt depressed in the end? What impressed me most was what Zhang Li had said at that time, ‘Be bold while cautious in editing!” These words kept me awake for several nights. I posted a lot of cards on the wall and thought hard to sort out the storyline. We needed to rebuild on the stage. In so many materials, I must find something to touch me because the audience would also feel moved if I did.” This film aimed to highlight the "Malan Spirit". I had always been looking for the backbone of Chinese culture and the vitality of the Chinese nation. During the process there was a scene of three characters for Li Xuejian, Li Youbin and Chen Jin to play. We were all dumbfounded as they showed up. Several times later, I found that such a line could show the vitality of Chinese people in those days, which was just the feeling of "Malan Spirit". With a subversive experiment of editing, I was bold enough in my work."
The reunion was significant because it could not only recall the past, but also looked back to the history. The filming process was a particularly arduous and huge project which was inseparable with the great efforts of all the cast and crew. They aimed not only to make a film, but also to recreate a spirit originated from Malan and all the heroes who sacrificed themselves on this land. After the filming, all the cast and crew departed from each other with the light of "Malan Spirit". However, under the call of Li Xuejian, they all got together again in the Workshop & Masterclass just to illuminate the Gobi Desert once again on the dark night in history.
Li Xuejian, Chen Guoxing (from left to right)
/ Make good theme film /
More and more theme films have appeared on the market nowadays and Roaring Across the Horizon is an uncommon masterpiece. As the cast and crew, the guests talked about their opinions on theme films.
Li Youbin expressed his opinion first, "I think the theme films should be the really good ones. Any country must have its own theme of era whether in terms of film or TV series, such as Wolf Warriors starred by Wu Jing, it’s a theme film with high box office and rich national feelings, that’s very important.”
Li Xuejian said, “Nobody talked about the theme of era when we filmed Roaring Across the Horizon and Jiao Yulu. The theme of era was conceptualized later.”
Li Youbin, Li Xuejian (from left to right)
Zhou Xinxia agreed with Li Xuejian, “We should not conceptualize the theme film because it is actually a work of film and television. Every film and television can stand the test of time and it must be the truth, goodness and beauty in life to be expressed by these works. Without the details of mainstream values, your film would be insignificant. Why can our film express such a feeling and rebuild the film with it? Because it contains the truth, goodness and beauty so that the audience can still be moved at it about 20 years later.”
In terms of the theme film, Chen Huaiguo proposed a different perspective, "All my works are about the theme of era. I believe that all beautiful emotions and love of human beings can be named the theme of era.”
Lin Chaoxiang expressed his wish, "I hope the theme film can more focus on real life in the future. After all, the great and difficult project as atomic bomb is not so common in China, it is worth expressing with the grandest narrative. What I have seen and experienced is very objective and real.”
Workshop & Masterclass
What the theme film bears is a kind of spirit representing the light of a nation. The films like Roaring Across the Horizon have stood the test of time and highlighted the dedication of the older generation, which should become a spiritual source for the next generation.
In the end, Li Xuejian presented his calligraphy to the BJIFF Organizing Committee, which also drew a successful conclusion to the Workshop & Masterclass this year.
Li Daoxin, Zhang Li, Li Youbin, Cui Yan, Li Xuejian, Chen Guoxing, Chen Huaiguo, Zhou Xinxia, Lin Chaoxiang (from left to right) ）