Friendship brings Chinese film debut to Victoria

Times Colonist movie writer Michael D. Reid is covering the Victoria Film Festival. Go to timescolonist.com./VFF for daily updates. Ratings are out of five stars.

A Chinese film saw its world première at the Victoria Film Festival on Monday because of a friendship between its director and a local businesswoman.

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Chouchou Ou, who flew in from Beijing with star Haoran Xiao and crew members, attributed the decision to open The Grand Song here rather than Asia to her connection to Victoria-based Rain Li.

“It’s because Victoria is so unique and my friend introduced me to this film festival,” Ou said through a translator before Monday’s packed 2 p.m. screening at Cineplex Odeon.

Ou was welcomed by B.C. dignitaries and other celebratory events, including a private dinner hosted by Li in Chinatown Monday night.

It was a happy coincidence, Ou said, that the world première coincided with the first day of the Chinese calendar.

Her 146-minute romance is told chiefly through songs that reflect the culture of the Dong ethnic minority, who have no written language and view song as a way of life.

It focuses on Nafu (Xiao), a wealthy city dweller who falls for Alian, a beautiful villager who has eyes for someone else.

The Beijing Film Academy graduate interviewed more than 40 singers and collected thousands of songs over the past four years to make her film.

The director, who grew up in the province of Guizhou and is of Dong ethnicity herself, wore traditional garb. She mingled with fans and sang Miss You, a musical highlight, after Monday’s première. “Not many people know this place,” she said. “They don’t know what the culture is, and I wanted to show how the ethnic minority express their feelings.”

Ou, who donated $1,000 to B.C.-based Rainbow Kids Foundation, which aids underprivileged children, said she also wanted to convey the universality of love. Li, in turn, donated $10,000 to the foundation on behalf of her company Shanghai Rain Holdings Inc.

“This is the culmination of such a journey created over several years, so you want to make it special,” Li said, adding the timing was ideal since “there’s a longstanding tradition in Chinese New Year that adults will give children money. It is believed to bring good luck, so it ties in perfectly.”

Victoria Film Festival director Kathy Kay said organizers were pleased to showcase the film. “For a few years, we’ve wanted to have more Chinese films because we have a significant population here that I think is under-served,” said Kay.

The première got underway with Ricky Chiu and his music teacher, pianist Shoko Inoue, performing classics on matching grand pianos.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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