Can a bicycling film break through China’s traditional indifference to sports films? Hong Kong director Dante Lam tells Wang Kaihao why he believes so.

Known worldwide as the Kingdom of Bicycles, China has been unnaturally reluctant to showcase cycling on its silver screen-until now.

To the Fore, which premieres on Thursday, promotes the sport’s strong roots in Chinese people’s everyday lives and its increasing popularity among outdoors enthusiasts.

The star-studded cast includes Eddie Peng, Dou Xiao and Wang Luodan.

Choi Si-won, a South Korean actor and also a member of boy band Super Junior, was also invited to play a major role, thanks to his popularity in China.

“I’ve been preparing for this film for 15 years,” says Hong Kong director Dante Lam, who spoke about the movie at a news conference on Sunday.

“Well, I wanted to be the leading actor at that time,” says the 50-year-old, who’s also a cycling fan. “But it’s better for me to be a director now.”

Nevertheless, the actualization of the film appears to be based on more than a personal vision.

“For Chinese people, bicycles represent sweet memories, happiness and even loneliness in childhood,” Lam says. He expects the film will easily resonate with Chinese mainland audiences.

The film depicts several cyclists’ painstaking growth from amateurs to professional athletes.

“We won’t boast about individual heroism. Esprit de corps is greatly needed for today’s young people,” the director says, adding it is unfair to only remember the award winners.

So is this a film with more youth energy and typical Chinese characteristics? That’s part of the buzz.

Like many youth films in recent years, a soap-operalike love triangle is also part of the plot.

However, after a tiny sip of the cliched romance, the storyline gives way to the main theme: young people pursuing their dreams.

“Youth films do not necessarily have to include contentious topics,” Lam says, adding that he hopes the film will encourage the country’s filmmakers who appear to be more eager to pursue lucrative productions.

After all, all those working on the film rode more than 110,000 kilometers in total and no stunt doubles were used for the major roles during the shooting.

The crew’s persistence sounds like a real-life marathon victory.

“Sports films contain a lot of positive energy. It’s a pity Chinese-language cinema lacks very successful examples. Let’s come back to tell a story hailing those strong spirits,” the director says.

Unfortunately, although inspirational sports films sporadically come out of Hollywood, such locally made films are seldom seen in Chinese theaters.

The only thing close: Some officially made productions that are warm-ups for major sports events.

Zhou Tiedong, Novo United Films’ president, said at a seminar on sports film in Beijing last month that the only ubiquitously considered classic in Chinese sports-film history probably is 1958’s Woman Basketball Player No 5.

“That is mainly because the Chinese public still considers sports to be athletes’ business, not part of their own life-styles,” says Zhou.

He adds that sports flicks’ storylines can require a relatively long preparation time, which is a major hurdle for filmmakers.

Nevertheless, He Wenjin, a film distributor from China Film Group, told the seminar that a combination of sports with diverse genres is a practical method to gradually nurture the market in China.

“No matter whether you are a sports fan or not, you can share the same emotions with the protagonists,” he says.

“Films like To the Fore attempt to create emotional bonds.”

Wang Luodan, the lead actress in To the Fore, was on hand to promote the film at the Sunday news conference, saying: “The film represents puzzles and problems commonly faced by the young people in today’s China. Maybe it will help them to find their own positions in the confusion.”

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