by Julia Puierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- "It seems like there are Chinese investors on most Hollywood films these days," motion picture producer James T. Bruce told Xinhua at the opening of the cops-gone-wrong revenge picture, "River Runs Red."
Not only society injustice in the abstract, this joint work produced by U.S. and Chinese filmmakers also showed a diverse world in the entertainment industry, from content to investment and cast list.
Written and directed by Wes Miller and with a stellar cast of Taye Diggs, George Lopez, John Cusak, Jennifer Tao (Hong Tao), Luke Hemsworth and Gianni Capaldi, the modestly-budgeted indie film premiered Sunday night at the Downtown Film Festival, founded by Artistic Director Henry Priest.
Producer Bruce spoke enthusiastically of the positive impact of Chinese investment in their film.
"And in our case, Chinese participation was invaluable. It created a domino effect that allowed us to close our senior debt, our tax credits, and our other equity. It made this film possible. It wouldn't have happened without it," he said. "We're really grateful."
Though not an official U.S.-Chinese co-production, "River Runs Red" proved to be a workable model of international cooperation, in which an individual Hollywood picture pulled in co-funding from Chinese and Chinese-American investors.
The deal was struck by Jennifer Tao, her producing partner Catherine Wang, executive producer Yufu Chen from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Foundation, among many others.
Tao, the female lead, is known as a kind-hearted Chinese actress, producer, and philanthropist with over 100 screen credits to her name, whose performance in RRR puts her in the rarified ranks of a handful of Asian actresses who have played the female lead in a Hollywood movie.
Dressed in a flowing, period cheongsam in the 1930s Shanghai style, Tao told Xinhua, "I am proud to represent China in this wonderful film with its important message. I always lead with my heart. This film does too."
The film is about heartbreak and loss and consequences that spiral out of control when two grieving fathers seek to redress the murders of their sons by unscrupulous cops who go unpunished.
Failed by the very system that Charles Coleman Sr., a federal judge who has spent his life upholding -- played with sensitivity by Taye Diggs, he embarks on a quest for justice that devolves into vengeance when he enrolls garage-owner, Javier, to help him, played with intensity and conviction by TV comedian, George Lopez.
Director Wes Miller told Xinhua, "I was very idealistic. As a former civil rights attorney, I have an insider perspective on the weaknesses of our system. I wanted to explore that."
As a single father for over a decade while working his way through law school, Miller was drawn to the plight of other fathers who were powerless to protect their children.
"You're supposed to look out for your children -- to protect them. But you're also supposed to trust the system to operate fairly. Every civilized society depends on its judicial system and rule of law. So what do you do when it fails you? How do you get justice for your family?"
He concluded, "We need to examine what is happening to our kids and to our immigrants -- the escalating violence that's happening too frequently now."
Miller feels that as artists, it is the job of filmmakers to weigh in on the difficult moral questions and challenging issues that confront society.
Lopez shares his view. "For me, going from the comedy that I'm known for to drama in a film like this just felt right. I lost someone close to me when I was 20 and it changes you forever. The streets aren't really safe for kids and people of any color. You can't turn away from this subject -- sooner or later it must be resolved."
Proud of the film, he added, "With all the assaults going on now on our culture, on Latinos, on female rights, we have lost respect for each other. This is the kind of movie that stays with you and can help change that."
"Wes's script was mind-blowingly good. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make sure this film got made," Bruce said.
The filmmakers stressed the importance of authenticity and inclusion when casting the film. "We had nearly every ethnicity represented. African American, Hispanic American, Chinese... We live in a diverse world and our art should fairly represent the world we live in," the director Miller told Xinhua.
However, these filmmakers also stressed that the film was not intended to be black and brown vs white, or cops vs people, rather, a way to point out that you can serve the system better by exposing and correcting its failings.
When asked why he gave up law for a career in motion pictures, writer/director Miller told Xinhua, "When I started practicing law for civil rights, criminal defense, fighting for the people, I saw you can help people individually, but it was much harder to make sweeping changes that could effect the lives of many."
"But with film," he went on, "I found I could influence people's decisions without preaching -- by telling stories that got them to empathize with people who didn't look like them or live like them. That's how you make a real difference in the world."
Cinedigm will spearhead the North America release on Nov. 9 in select theaters and via Video-on-Demand in a deal negotiated by Melody Fowler, vice president of Acquisitions. Blu-ray and Ultra HD will follow close behind on Dec. 11. Cinedigm recently announced a multi-picture deal to make Chinese co-pros with prominent Chinese film companies.