Chinese rom-com brings Bordeaux to big screen

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A Chinese film crew has taken over an 18th-century French wine estate to shoot a silver screen sequel to one of the country's most-loved romantic TV series, now set in the vineyards of Bordeaux.

Until now the region was virtually unknown as a Chinese film location.

Yet twelve years after "Cherish Our Love Forever" ended its hit run on Chinese television, the follow-up sees its two lead characters -- star-crossed lovers -- reunited far from Beijing in the sun-dappled wine hills of southwest France.

"They were looking for something picturesque, classical, old stones, countryside -- basically everything that's typically French in their eyes," said David Hurst of Dublin productions.

In the Bordeaux-set melodrama, a tale of dashed dreams and unrequited love, the character played by Chinese actress Xu Jinglei, now a decade older, is trapped in a troubled marriage to a Chinese wine estate owner.

Leading man Li Yapeng plays her one-time lover, while Mandarin pop sensation He Jie co-stars as the mistress of her winegrower husband.

Their two-week shooting schedule took in some of the region's most beautiful scenery -- the medieval wine village of Saint Emilion, the dramatic Dune of Pyla, the quiet elegance of historic Bordeaux.

For the rest of the shoot -- one third of which took place in France, two thirds in China -- they used the vineyards and chateaux of a local wine family, the Gonets, to bring the life of a wealthy Bordeaux winemaker to life.

"Wine estates, castles, life in a chateau seems so far away for us. To see how wine estate owners live -- it's beyond what I imagined," said Xu.

Local chateau owners rolled out the red carpet for the stars and director, initiating them to a centuries-old local wine association, or Connetable, before celebrating over a dinner of spit-roasted lamb and wild boar.

"Before Bordeaux was only a name, something I knew had to do with wine. I had no idea that the light, the beaches, the vineyards and the very old towns were so beautiful," said Yibai Zhang, the movie's director.

But just as the series' protagonists have changed in 12 years, so has China, with the country of 1.33 billion becoming the most important export market for Bordeaux wine after Europe.

Fine wines are seen as a byword for romance by urban Chinese consumers, and Bordeaux is synonymous with a sophisticated, upwardly mobile lifestyle.

"When Chinese people think of red wine, they think of Bordeaux," said Yapeng, also a co-producer on the movie.

The project received support from the local film commission while the French Embassy in Beijing helped with visas, in the hope it could spur trade and tourism in a region that currently draws few Chinese visitors.

"I want to show the beauty of the city and wine, and introduce this to China," said Zhang, who is already thinking of new projects he can set against the backdrop of Bordeaux.

Shooting in France, however, has not come without adjustments. Crews in China work seven days a week, are on call 24 hours a day, and eat on the run. French crews work regular hours, rest on Sundays and break an hour for lunch.

"Filming in France is very pleasant. In China we film non-stop," said Jie. "Here it's calmer, we have the time to sit down and have a quiet cup of coffee."

How the 35-person crew, three stars and their entourage, ended up in Bordeaux came down to a mix of chance and business.

The producers initially planned to film in an Australian winery, but like a growing number of Chinese entrepreneurs, they had become involved in the business of importing wine.

On a trip to Bordeaux in search of a chateau to buy, they met the Gonet family, seventh-generation Champagne producers and owners of several estates in Bordeaux, who hosted the shoot in exchange for publicity in China's exploding wine market.

Charles-Henri Gonet's personal home, the Chateau Haut-Bacalan, dates back to the Enlightenment, but will be known in China as the backdrop for a romance that hopes to reach an audience of millions.

Wine product placement has had intoxicating results in the past, with the box-office hit "Sideways" credited with boosting sales of Pinot Noir.

And James Bond, known by generations to prefer martinis and vintage Bollinger Champagne, created a stir amongst spy-loving oenophiles when he uncorked Chateau Angelus in "Casino Royale".

His brother Frederic summed up the wine-meets-film tie-up as a business no brainer: "For China, this is better than being in James Bond".

© 2010 AFP

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