Interview with "Pavilion of Women's" Liu Yan
By Ross Anthony

The Road to actress/screenwriter/producer Liu Yan's Pasadena home winds up the foothills just North of Highway 210. It's morning and the sun tops the grass as a relaxed Yan stares out of her living room windows, speaking to me about "Pavilion of Interview with Pavilion of Women's Liu YanWomen." Though acting is nothing new to Yan who's been nominated twice in China, "Pavilion" is the first film she's produced.

RA: What brought you to Pasadena?
LY: At the end of '93, I moved to Pasadena because, well you know, Pasadena has that cultural richness, old town, also the Rose Parade. As a matter of fact, my office is located in South Pasadena. Pasadena gives me the best spot, because I can go to Hollywood pretty quick on the 134. Also Monterey Park/Alhambra area pretty fast, local, because I'm Chinese I can get access to my Chinese food. Provides all those conveniences for me. Also kind of quiet. We enjoy living here.

RA: With such a broad acting background, why adapt a novel?
LY: Few productions need a Chinese actress, so I thought if I adapted a novel and produced a film then I'll create an opportunity for myself. Otherwise there's very limited opportunity for Asian actors.

RA: How about in China?
LY: In China there's a lot, I was nominated twice there. But, I feel like I should work on a film that can be distributed all over the world, not just for a country.

RA: Did you make a Chinese language version of "Pavilion?"
LY: I did think about it. 50% of the countries do understand English. We dubbed the whole thing in Chinese. Because nobody cares, because Chinese, they're used to it. Nobody reads subtitles. Technically, American audiences are much more picky; they don't want to read subtitles.

RA: Why did you choose to adapt the book "Pavilion of Women?"
LY: Of course I'm a woman, it's easier for me to handle the subject and this particular book has certain elements that fit today's society and audience needs. It's a movie, it's an entertainment product and you need to attract audiences. The basic line is a cross-cultural love story.

RA: What were some of the changes you made when adapting from the book?
LY: I tried to put a lot of dramatic, visual scenes you can see -- not just like a book. In a book you can feel and think, in a movie you have to see and hear. That's why I put fire, opera, war scenes. Like the birth scene, in order to have Willem and my character meet. You know movies, you have to have main characters run into each other dramatically, immediately. In the book it was later.

RA: How did Willem get involved?
LY: Working with a studio, they have the final approval for every main element including crew. We list all the actors we think will fit the character and run through them, have them approved or not. You call all the agents to see who is Interview with Pavilion of Women's Liu Yanavailable and see who you can afford. After that, you narrow down to a few. Same thing like you send an offer to a real estate agent if you want to buy a house. You send that to their agent along with the script. You give them a deadline, your offer is only in effect on so and so day. You can't send the offer to everyone at once. The agent has to read it first, before they present it to their client. They also have to analyze your project ... whether it's real or not, if you have money or not. Or how the producer will perform, which was hard on my movie because they won't find any information at all. I guess Willem really want to go to china. In person he's not like a star type of actor, he traveled everywhere over 40 countries. Probably his rule with his agent was pretty loose, 'I want to see every offer, I want it to be my decision not yours.' Certain actors they do that. He told me he liked the script, the character. Currently he plays bad guys; he wanted to play a different character.

RA: So why didn't you direct this?
LY: Too much work. It's too huge, the whole of the productions. I still have to act. Producing, every day I finish acting, then go back to the office. Of the two and half months, probably two weeks of the time I ran into an emergency on set, but most of it you can handle in the office. But the tough thing is that we shoot 14 hours on the set, when I get to the office already 16 hours, listen to the problems. All the reports are full of problems, that's the way they're supposed to be ... good things they don't have to tell me.

RA: And the film's budget?
LY: Under five. At least six times more if you have an American producer produce it. The minute you bring all the crew members from here, the price goes up at least four times [in China].

RA: And your next project? Another book to adapt?
LY: "Bamboo Circle" It's about an OSS member, former CIA, went over to China during World War II on a special mission, a thriller.

RA: Will you be acting again?
LY: I'm not sure. Depends on the actor. If I find an actor who is old enough to play with me, I might. Otherwise, I'll just produce it.

RA: How do you go about adapting?
LY: I usually take a long time to do research. The script takes three weeks, write it down doesn't take long. But knowing what to write, figuring it out. I didn't do much in revise. Universal didn't ask me to rewrite. I did it myself, but change only like 10%. I guess the budget is so low, they don't even bother you.

RA: So Universal backed you up with the funding?
LY: 90%, It's too good to be true.

RA: And the other 10%?
LY: My company came up with, and for that 10%, Universal gave me China rights and it's doing very well there. It receives very high box office, higher than "Gladiator."

Liu Yan, hair to her waist, leaves me with a beautiful 100-page picture book, which celebrates the movie. The book is currently available in China while Yan's company seeks a publisher here.

Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 17-Mar-2004 15:36:39 PST