In the mood for movies

Updated: 2011-09-27 07:46

By Sun Li (China Daily)

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In the mood for movies

British cinephile Rob Hemsley presents Reel China at China Radio International. [Provided to China Daily]

British cinephile hosts an online show to help Western audiences understand Chinese films. Sun Li reports.

British cinephile Rob Hemsley has channeled his passion for Chinese films into a sought-after English-language online show. Reel China has been airing on the website of China Radio International (CRI) since September 2010, and is aimed at enhancing Westerners' understanding of Chinese movies. "Back in England, my own experience of Chinese films was a typical undergraduate experience - largely restricted to Bruce Lee's movies," the 28-year-old former theology student says. "It seemed to me that the world of Chinese celluloid was mainly about a land of kungfu."

But Hemsley's move to Anhui province in 2005, as a TV presenter of an English-language travelogue, opened his eyes to a whole new world of Chinese cinema.

Hemsley says the program that he hosted had a variety of video clips from movies that featured the country's top tourist destinations. This exposure to a variety of Chinese films and their diverse themes left a deep impression on him.

"I was surprised to find that Chinese films also include such genres as Western and black comedy," he says, adding that he was blown away by movie maestro Zhang Yimou's Hero.

"I'd never (before) watched a Chinese film that could integrate intricate martial artistry and a poetic narrative," Hemsley says. It was this film that ignited his interest in Chinese films and soon had him diving into the dazzling sea of DVDs.

Although the films came with less than stellar English subtitles, Hemsley says the translation errors did not stand in the way of his enjoyment.

"The biggest advantage was that I was living in China. I (was able to) communicate with local people and study a film's historical background," Hemsley explains. "That helped me grasp the essence of a film."

Considering that China's movies remain largely unexplored outside the country and stereotypes abound, Hemsley came up with the idea of doing an entertainment-based show to introduce Chinese films to English-speaking audiences.

Hemsley approached CRI and found their editors receptive to his ideas.

"Another important factor was that no one else had done such a thing before. So, it was a trail-blazing idea," Hemsley says. That was the beginning of Reel China."

The weekly episodes, each 15 minutes long, are divided into three parts.

The first part, which zeroes in on a smash hit, is followed by a gossip section that introduces its stars, and ends with a round-up of the top five box office hits of the week.

"In this fast-paced society, you have to intrigue people nice and quickly," Hemsley says. "Once you have the audience hooked, you cannot but reel them in immediately, so 15 minutes became a proper time for the three parts.

"I select the movie according to its influence and genre. To keep the show's freshness, I present different types of movies," Hemsley adds.

He is often guided in his choice by what he calls a "common frame of references".

"For example, when introducing Hong Kong star Leslie Cheung's Inner Senses, I pointed out its resemblance to Hollywood psychological thriller The Sixth Sense, as both revolve around the haunting experience of seeing dead people," he says.

"If a common frame of reference cannot be built, I simply focus on its novelty," Hemsley says, citing Hero as an example.

While the first part of his program explains a film's historical context, the gossip section, co-hosted with the show's Chinese editor Jin Dian, offers a peek into the lives of the films' leading lights.

For example, Hemsley says, when talking about Hong Kong actor Edison Chen, he would hint at Chen's connection to the showbiz scandal involving Nicholas Tse and Cecilia Cheung.

"So our show does not simply offer movie info, more importantly, we want to create a complete picture and a cultural bridge for our audiences," Hemsley says.

Hemsley says he has met such important figures in Chinese film circles as director Lu Chuan.

"I had a great conversation with Lu and I put the dialogue into the show to enliven the episode," he says.

"I'm looking forward to participating in more events and knowing more key players in China's movie industry," he says. "I hope to invite them on Reel China and make the program more interactive."


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