Iranians are fans of kung fu and Chinese are fascinated by the 'mysterious' country; now, a film coproduction gives both sides more opportunities to bond
Way to Shaolin is the first joint film production for the two countries.
When Chinese producer Shen Jian visited Iran last year, he was surprised by the locals' enthusiasm for Chinese martial arts.
Many young Iranians spoke of Jet Li, the Chinese kung fu star, and his 1982 film The Shaolin Temple, which captivated a generation of Chinese and ushered in a golden era for the martial arts genre on the mainland.
"But it was kind of sad that most Iranians have very few opportunities to see Chinese martial arts movies on the big screen," says Shen. "We believe they (martial arts films) have a big market in Iran."
Iran has film censorship rules that guide domestic titles and foreign movies. So, most Iranian movie enthusiasts see Jet Li and his martial arts movies using video discs. Despite its lack of access to global films, Iranian cinema has made its mark in the world at least since the 1990s.
Films such as A Separation, which won the best foreign language Oscar in 2012 and Children of Heaven, the first Iranian movie nominated for an Oscar, in 1998, have ensured that Iranian filmmakers have received critical acclaim at top film festivals around the world.
Iran's local market and its influence in the region have motivated Shen to tap this somewhat virgin field for Chinese filmmakers.
Shen had the idea for a movie during his Middle East tour and now hopes to take advantage of the opportunity.
In recent years, Iran has been seeking more international cooperation in the movie industry to boost its cultural presence in the global market.
In July, Hojatollah Ayoubi, head of Iran's Cinematic Organization, the country's main movie regulator, made his first trip to China.
Ayoubi says the two countries, both with long histories and resourceful filmmakers, can work together to give moviegoers in China and Iran a chance to know each other better, and take advantage of the two large movie markets, the Chinese newspaper Guangming Daily reported.
"There are reportedly tens of thousands of Iranian youth now practicing Chinese martial arts, which means a movie about the subject is quite likely to win their hearts," Shen says.
Jointly financed by the Chinese studio ShineWork Media and Iran's Farabi Cinema Foundation, work on Way to Shaolin was started during the 2015 Fajr International Film Festival.
Set in present-day Iran and China, the tale is about a young Iranian's journey to learn Shaolin kung fu, one of China's oldest martial arts.
The first version of the script was completed recently and a hunt for the cast is now on. Shen, also the founder of ShineWork, says shooting for the film will begin later this year and the budget for the film is around $10 million (9.2 million euros).
While China's booming film market is seeing a rising number of coming-of-age comedies, Way to Shaolin is an action comedy.
The Shaolin Temple in Central China's Henan province, hailed as the cradle of Chinese martial arts, will provide guidance on the action's choreography and also locations for the movie, Shen says.
"Most foreigners who want to learn Chinese wushu (kung fu) usually seek out the Shaolin Temple. If you visit the temple, you'll see people from different ethnicities and countries practicing there," he says.
Some Chinese movie fans tell China Daily that they would be keen to see a Sino-Iran movie because Iran is a "mysterious" country for them.
Zhang Shaohe, an avid moviegoer from Beijing, says: "Chinese theaters are now dominated by Hollywood films. So, it will be cool to see a title featuring a kung fu hero from a different culture."
(China Daily 03/04/2016 page20)