Movie industry opens up

Thursday night, I witnessed the birth of an industry — the foreign-made Chinese movie business.

In the United States, we don’t think twice about foreigners making English-language movies for American distribution. In fact, some of our greatest producers and directors have been foreigners, and two of our biggest studios are owned by Japanese and French companies, Sony and Vivendi.

In China however, until now, all Chinese movies produced domestically have been made by Chinese companies.

Until now.

In March, China Venture Film’s drama “Milk and Fashion” is expected to hit theaters around China. In it, former “Growing Pains” child star Jeremy Miller is the uncle of a young boy, played by Rothstein’s 17-year-old son Kyle Rothstein, in a coming-of-age story about ballet and fashion. The movie is filmed in Chinese, with even the Western actors speaking the language (except for Miller). Kyle Rothstein not only speaks Chinese in the movie — he’s been studying the language since he was a small boy — but also ballet dances.

The movie also stars Hollywood actress Vanessa Branch, known in the U.S. as the smiling British-accented blonde in the Orbit gum commercials. She also played the woman who slapped Johnny Depp in all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. She speaks Chinese throughout the movie, and, in fact, is currently acting in the Chinese drama “Border of Love,” filming now.

The movie is set in Shanghai and in rural Yunnan province and was made for just $1.35 million. Jay Rothstein estimates that it would have cost over $8 million to make the same move in the U.S.

It wasn’t easy to get the movie made, he admits, but it was a labor of love for Rothstein. For example, getting government approval to distribute in China took six months – the final go-ahead came two weeks ago.

It was a true multi-national effort. In addition to Rothstein, who is American, the film was backed by a Japanese investor and by China’s Yunnan Film Studio. The actors were American, Dutch, British, Chinese, and other nationalities, while the director, Roy Chin, hails from Taiwan.

I first met Rothstein and his family four years ago, and he was already talking about the movie. The script has gone through several revisions, and the launch date has been postponed more than once.

It took a lot of commitment to get the movie made, Rothstein told me. A good sense of humor about the process probably didn’t hurt, either.

“Milk and Fashion” demonstrates that it doesn’t take a big budget, or a big-name producer, to do ground-breaking work in China. Sometimes, all it takes is a man and a screenplay.