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Top French director wants to see more Chinese films

By MA ZHENHUAN and QI XIAO in Hangzhou| Updated: December 19, 2023 L M S


A poster for the film Dogman, directed by Luc Besson, featuring the protagonist Douglas, played by American actor and musician Caleb Landry Jones, which is showing in Chinese theaters. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Luc Besson, one of the most commercially successful French directors, said he was keen to see more stories about Chinese history, culture and mythology made into films by Chinese directors in the future.

"I will be thrilled to watch such movies and understand more about the Chinese people through these stories," he said, in reply to a spectator's question at a Zheying Shidai Cinema in Hangzhou, capital city of East China's Zhejiang province, on Dec 12.

The veteran director, best-known for such works as Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and Lucy, was on a recent tour of China to promote his latest movie Dogman, which was officially released in Chinese theaters on Friday.

But he also said he will not direct such a film himself.

"I think it would be very pretentious," he said. "Imagine a Chinese director going to Paris, making a movie about the French."

Coming to a country like China, with 5,000 years of history and culture, Besson refuses to simply barge in.

Back in October, Besson made his first trip to China in six years, when Dogman was screened at the Seventh Pingyao International Film Festival in Shanxi province.

Inspired by a true story that Besson had read, in which a family forced their own child to live in a cage, Dogman depicts a wheelchair-bound man who has to deal with a similar trauma, faces rejection, and finds friendship, solace and eventually salvation through his canine friends.

At Pingyao International Film Festival, the movie not only brought many audience members to tears; Besson himself also shed tears, overwhelmed by the warm reception from the Chinese viewers. He received a 6-minute standing ovation when Dogman had its world premiere during the Venice Film Festival at the end of August.

In making the new film, Besson said he is still "the same little boy who tries to express himself" every three or four years.


Luc Besson, French director. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"You try to be a sponge, you follow the people, and you follow what you feel," he said.

But one should never dwell on balancing a film's commercial value, that is, the box office, with its artistic value, Besson cautioned.

"The best way to maybe have a success is not to think about it and do the real movie," he said. "You have to put your soul, your heart, your brain. You have to give, and that's it."

The artistic value of Dogman, a crime thriller packed with both canine and human action, and tinged with spiritual and psychological undertones, is undoubtedly greatly enhanced by the towering performance of the American actor and musician Caleb Landry Jones.

Jones, who won the Best Actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival for Nitram, spent nearly six months preparing for the role, much of which sees him in a wheelchair.

In his words, the purpose was to "understand how it feels to be disabled and how people look at you".

Starring as Douglas, the protagonist who is abused in childhood by his violent father and then turns to his canine companions to alleviate his loneliness, Jones was thankful to have stepped into Besson's world and participated in his new project.

"I've never had a role where I had to talk as much as I had to in this film," said Jones. "It was a very challenging film in many ways."

Fortunately, as a master of the filmmaking craft, Besson had created such a space where Jones said, self-deprecatingly, he just needed to "follow Luc's vision and energy".

In Dogman, a central theme of the vision is about pain in life, according to Besson.

"The pain is everywhere," he said.

But more importantly, it is about how to face, and eventually overcome and even conquer pain.

"Love is what we need," he continued, "to replace the pain'.'