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Thursday, May 16, 2019, 11:41
First Sino-Kazakh film portrays last years of famed musician
By Xu Fan
Thursday, May 16, 2019, 11:41 By Xu Fan

The biographical feature stars Hu as the prestigious musician, Xian Xinghai. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The first China-Kazakhstan production is a biographical feature, The Composer, chronicling the last five years of Xian Xinghai, a musician best known in China for the song Yellow River Cantata.

Xirzat Yahup, who directs The Composer, had previously helmed Flower, a film recounting the legendary story of an ethnic Kazakh singer in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region

In 1940, Xian was sent to the former Soviet Union to make music for a revolutionary documentary, but his job was suspended when the Great Patriotic War, in which the Soviets fought against Nazi German invasion, broke out a year later. While he was trying to return to China from Almaty, Xian was stranded in the Kazakh city and stayed with a local family.

In the period depicted in the film, Xian was struggling with poverty, disease and separation from his wife and daughter in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, who he was unable to reunite with until his death in a Moscow hospital in 1945.

When actor Hu Jun received the call inviting him to play the role of the musician in the film, he says he was shocked. Most of Hu's best-known screen characters are muscular heroes such as the legendary Qiao Feng in the martial arts TV series Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.

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But the producer Jonathan Shen soon shook off his concerns.

"Hu was born into a musical family. He learned to play the violin when he was young," says Shen, during a Beijing preview event on Monday.

The film is inspired from a speech made by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, Shen says.

Actor Hu Jun and actress Yuan Quan (left) promote the Chinese-Kazakh coproduction film The Composer in Beijing on Monday. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Although Hu had limited knowledge about Xian's last years, he quickly started to dive into the story. And his parents were even more excited about their son's new big-screen incarnation. His father, Hu Baoshan, a singer with the People's Liberation Army arts troupe, told him that he should take the film as a great honor as Xian's music has influenced generations of Chinese.

Xirzat Yahup, who directs The Composer, had previously helmed Flower, a film recounting the legendary story of an ethnic Kazakh singer in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

"But The Composer is a more challenging job. We spent two years shooting scenes taking place in different seasons across three countries: China, Kazakhstan and Russia," he says.

The film uses props and visual effects to recreate the wartime landscapes, especially the architecture of the 1940s.

To shoot a scene of Soviet soldiers rallying at a railway station, the crew borrowed old trains from multiple locations around Russia, the director says.

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"When I visited Kazakhstan to do research on the film for the first time, I was surprised to find that Xian is very popular in music and art circles there. Every year, locals hold a concert to perform his Yellow River Cantata," says Xirzat, adding that he hopes the film will enhance friendship between the people of both countries.

Coproduced by China's Shinework Pictures and Kazakhfilm JSC, the film will be released in China on Friday and in Kazakhstan a few days later.

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