Shanghai’s star turn

Thursday, June 26, 2014, 10:37
Shanghai’s star turn
By Matt Hodges


Shanghai's star turn
Drago Lazetich (front) poses with other cast members of the Chinese TV drama Detective Yang Jinbang. Lazetich plays the head judge on the show. (Photos provided to China Daily)
Shanghai's star turn
Alexia Kalteis performs in the musical Rock On! Halloween at a popular theater in Shanghai.
Shanghai's star turn
Independent filmmaker Richard Trombly coaches actresses Emily Feist (middle) and Emily Wallace-Kalouch (left) during the making of his latest production, Analysis.

Hong Kong continues to be a movie magnet, but foreign actors and filmmakers with an eye on the mainland hope to cash in on the action as it moves to China’s financial hub. Matt Hodges reports.Drago Lazetich is among a growing stream of European and American actors who are banking on Shanghai’s motion picture industry becoming a top regional if not global player as domestic movies grow in stature, co-productions proliferate and new infrastructure takes root.

Shanghai DreamWorks Animation, for example, is building a $2.4-billion entertainment complex in the city in conjunction with Chinese investment fund CMC Capital Partners. The project is already being touted as the next big thing after New York’s Broadway and London’s West End.

This will mean more jobs for foreign actors, screenwriters, directors of photography and even visual effects’ artists as fresh opportunities arise and entrenched attitudes change, expats say.

“I thought for sure before I came to China they’d have me playing bad guys, as a foreigner, but I can count the number of those roles on one hand,” says Lazetich, who claims to have “co-starred” in 50 films in China, although the majority did not involve speaking roles.

His latest role as a Roman gladiator in Jackie Chan’s Dragon Blade saw him spend three weeks filming fighting scenes in the Gobi desert.

“I’ve been a priest, a general for the Flying Tigers (squadrons of American pilots who fought for the Chinese Air Force in World War II), a US spy,” says the hulking actor, who studied for a time at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has a martial-arts background. He is wearing a black Warner Hollywood Studios bomber jacket and black Reebok Pump sneakers when we meet at a coffee shop downtown.

Lazetich, who is in his early 40s, was born in Mostar, a city in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina. He got hooked on showbiz as a cast member of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers World Live Tour in 1995.

“I mostly do TV shows and World War II films,” he says. “Sometimes months can go by while I’m waiting and waiting for the phone to ring.”

He earns between 400 yuan ($65) to 3,000 yuan a day, depending on whether the role is silent or scripted and is about to work on an indie movie that will be filmed in Shanghai and Beijing. He hopes this will be his big break.

Shanghai has carved a role for itself as a magnet for big-budget Hollywood flicks in recent years from Mission Impossible III (2006) to Skyfall (2012), Looper (2012) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), which featured several futuristic-looking backdrops in Pudong among other shots.

The city’s under-construction “Dream Center” will include the film production facilities of Oriental DreamWorks. One of the studio’s most high-profile animations, Kung Fu Panda 3, is due out next year. One-third of the animation work is set to be done in Shanghai.

The city is also set to open its much-anticipated Disneyland at the end of 2015.

“Shanghai, in my opinion, is the new Hong Kong,” says Austria-born actress Alexia “Lexi” Kalteis.

Like Lazetich, Kalteis has been living and working in China for about a decade. She studied Chinese and acting at the Shanghai Theater Academy and now serves as co-chairperson of the city’s East-West Theater.

Among her film credits are stints in the Jet Li flick Fearless and The Painted Veil starring Edward Norton (both 2006). She also teaches drama at a local primary school.

“So many movies are going to be shot here. The rate has already shot up so much since 2004. There wasn’t much work for struggling actors back then, but the competition is increasing like crazy now,” she says.

Hong Kong became synonymous with bloody police-gangster flicks and martial arts movies in the late 1980s thanks to directors like John Woo and stars such as Chow Yun-fat. For decades, the territory’s motion picture industry was only bested in size by Hollywood and Bollywood. Then South Korea crept in and stole the show with ultra-violent hits like director Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy (the second installment, Old Boy, reached theaters in 2003).

One of the biggest releases from South Korea in recent years seems to point the way forward: Na Hong-jin made the male leads of his excellent thriller Yellow Sea two ethnic-Korean Chinese from Yanbian, Jilin province. Having rival gangsters from both countries engage in a long bloodbath was guaranteed to draw an international audience.

Lazetich, meanwhile, is keen not to put all of his eggs in one basket. He says he has found a niche with Wise Hit, the web series he both stars in and directs. The spoof Western set in a modern Asian city has met with enviable success on and Blip, another online platform for original web series.

Given the explosive growth of Chinese cinema, it is little surprise that local productions are creating more speaking roles for expats, with the caveat that they often have to say their lines in Chinese.

“I like the fact that most of the roles I’ve been playing recently are the good-guy roles, not the stereotypical ‘bad foreigner’ that seems to be all too prevalent in Chinese productions,” says Karl Dominik, who owns Constellation talent agency in Shanghai.

“I am daunted by the amount of Chinese I have to learn, but I love a challenge.”

Another of Shanghai’s top foreign acting talents, Englishman Charles Mayer, had a high-profile supporting role in Yip Man 2 (2010) as a corrupt police sergeant in wartime Hong Kong. It was exactly the kind of racially charged role people like Dominik are eager to avoid.

“Things are changing, which is great, because there are some real acting heavyweights here like Arran Hawkins, Christy Shapiro and Jim Bennett,” says Kalteis, reeling off a list of well-known names among Shanghai’s theater community.

“The Chinese used to treasure looks way above acting skill. If you weren’t model-skinny they weren’t interested, but now they appreciate real talent,” she adds.

Others say Beijing offers greener pastures than China’s glamorous commercial hub.

Richard Trombley, a Beijing-based independent filmmaker, left Shanghai several years ago to forge closer ties with industry figures. He says he is now seeing his efforts bear fruit.

“All the big deals these days are done in Beijing. It’s still a bit more government-run than in Shanghai, but the industry is also more developed and professional here,” he says.

“It’s still very challenging for anyone to initiate a project here, but there are plenty of ways to get involved if you have some talent, for example as a director of photography or screenwriter.”

“Commercials, corporate videos and indie films are really the way to get your foot in the door,” he adds.

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Analyzing Analysis

Jude Jiang is a partner at and Producer of our short film “Analysis”. Here is her insight on why she produced this film with director Richard Trombly.


“I was thinking about the target audience of ANALYSIS.

The so-called mainstream movies present the conventional emotions like excitement, happiness, pleasure, tragedy and such. These emotions easily can be understood and well accepted by ordinary people. And the conventional theme these movies present is closely related with love, suspense, action, hero and such genres.

But ANALYSIS doesn’t attempt to present or show that to people. Instead, it wants to explore something hard to be understood but necessary to be told. Because it seriously touches the topic of  how human is naturally anti-social and also related to the social. It’s definitely not something light.

I think what’s really special about ANALYSIS is that it did it through a teenager’s perspective. An Asperger syndrome person’s POV. Which is more intensely exploring this theme of being socialized or not.

A lot of times, i have the awareness that when i get hurt, i want to hide in my little shell, but there will always appear an attractive reason for me to get out of the shell.  And the circulation actually goes on. It never stops.

Being socialized or not ? and how to be the self by not hurting the others?

This is a question. ” – Jude Jiang

Shanghai short film screening and industry networking event

The next China Independent Film Showcase

Presents in cooperation with

Shanghai KINO



Entry 20 RMB

Date: Saturday 17 May 2014   Time: 7:00 to late night.

A night of short film screenings and creative industries networking event

which will be held at:

Strictly Designers United

Shanghai’s South Bund area 上海南外滩

55 Fuxing dong Lu 复兴东路55号,

near Zhongshan nan Lu 近中山南路
Phone: 156 0187 7199


Nearest metro station : Line 9 Xiaonanmen Station地铁9号线, 小南门站


Event Curators:

Richard Trombly +86 13818837641


Vivienne Wei

The showcase features short works by local and foreign directors made in China or by Chinese talents around the globe. Featured works include Actress/Director Zheng Mei Huizi (Lost in Beijing and Summer Palace) , Yao Garu, Tim Chu, Richard Trombly and more.Some of the film makers will be present to discuss their films Some select films from Shanghai KINO will be played and founder Vivienne Wei will introduce the Kino group and her own experiences in low budget film making.

All are welcome…

Obscure Productions and Crashdown Studio Create Content Partnership

16 November 2013, Shanghai – Obscure Productions ( announced its partnership with Shanghai-based Crashdown Studio to create unique content for international markets.

Crashdown Studio Shanghai

Crashdown Studio is a boutique animation and visual special effects company that is currently working with Obscure Productions to produce the animation and VFX-packed short film ANALYSIS by Obscure Production’s Richard Trombly with 2D animation by Pierre DeCelles (

Pierre DeCelles and Richard Trombly will be collaborating with Crashdown Studio to provide content creation and development of animated TV series and films for international markets.