Targeting the tightly-controlled Chinese film market is a risky business even for the most benign foreign films, which makes “Something Good”, a new thriller from Italian actor and director Luca Barbareschi, a moon stroke.
Set in Hong Kong, the film explores the global trafficking of contaminated food, a hot political topic in China since 2008, when six Chinese children died from ingesting milk powder containing melamine. The incident was the first in a series of food scandals that continue despite assurances from Beijing that it can keep citizens safe.
“Something Good” premiered this week as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society’s Italiano Cinema program. Viewing was the first step, Barbareschi hopes, to gaining distribution in mainland China.
The chances can be long, but don’t count on “Something Good” just yet. Mr Barbareschi is a powerful man in Italy, serving in Parliament from 2008 to this year. To research the subject of adulterated food three years ago, he called the Italian police chief. His film finally obtained financial support from the Italian government.
The project gained new momentum when he added Zhang Jingchu, a star recently seen in this summer’s hit (if critically criticized) Chinese action film “Switch.” In “Something Good,” Ms. Zhang plays a woman who begins again in Hong Kong after her son dies after drinking juice containing pesticides on the mainland. She soon falls in love with the character of Mr. Barbareschi, who, unbeknownst to her, works as a rotten food dealer.
Mr. Barbareschi had originally planned to shoot the film in Shanghai. “But while I was rewriting, I had some censorship issues,” he said. A Chinese donor began to fear the film might be seen as an attack on China, Barbareschi said, and withdrew his name from the project.
The director sees the message of the film – and the food scandals in China – differently. The misdeeds of a few should not reflect negatively on an entire nation, he said.
“If you make a movie in Italy that is about Mafia, I have nothing against that. We have Mafia, but we also have Prada and Armani and Ferrari. We have smart people and we have idiots,” he said. -he declares.
The finished film nonetheless takes care to present the contaminated food as a global plague ruled by international conglomerates. China is credited in the film for stepping up food safety controls in recent years.
“Something Good” has the elegant attributes of geopolitical thrillers like “Syriana” with George Clooney or “Contagion” by director Steven Soderbergh. The score is scathing. The cuts are nervous. Everything is connected and no one can be trusted.
But the film’s use of food as a moral fulcrum seems particularly Italian. This is a movie where Ms. Zhang’s heroine nobly insists, “I just want to give people a chance to eat something other than garbage!” Her criminal lover replies, “People eat with their eyes, not their stomachs. Deception is the name of the game.”
Still, Barbareschi is betting that there is an integrated audience of Chinese moviegoers interested in food security. If the film can get a release, he said, “it will be a big hit in China.”
For now, no Chinese agreement is in place. After Hong Kong, the film will be released at festivals in the United States and Italy this fall before being released in Europe next spring.
Ms. Zhang, for her part, is reserved about the film’s commercial chances on the mainland. But she acknowledged that there were other ways for Chinese citizens to get hold of the film.
“It’s a sensitive subject, and the chance for it to be shown in China is very low. But I just think that’s the role I want to play“ to grow as an actress, ”Ms. Zhang said. “At least maybe people can see DVDs!
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