Filmmaker Johnny Ma returns to Vancouver for screening of To Live to Sing

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      When he spoke to the Georgia Straight in 2016, Johnny Ma cheerfully recounted the challenges he faced on his first feature-length film, Old Stone­—not the least of them being a veteran Chinese actor suspicious of the young director’s indie sensibilties.

      “He was 50 years old,” Ma said of Old Stone himself, actor Chen Gang, “coming to a set where the average age was mid-30s. Of course he looked at us and wondered: ‘Can these guys actually do it or are they full of shit?’”

      Their relationship was rocky, but the film went on to dazzle critics and earn international recogniton for Ma.

      The filmmaker chose to remain in China for his second feature, although it’s a sharp about face from the neo-noir attitude of his debut. To Live to Sing follows the fortunes of a Sichuan opera troupe faced with the demolition of their theatre, a notion Ma took from a documentary, subsequently casting its participants in a fictionalized take on their own story. In the film’s press notes, he states: “... if I wanted to make a fiction film, I had to offer something that was wholly original and different. This is when the idea started to simmer in my mind—a genre bending film that begins in reality but then becomes an actual Sichuan opera in the end.”

      As an occasional local (his family is based in Vancouver), Ma will present To Live to Sing when it opens at the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (March 14), followed by a Q&A.

      Meanwhile, read Ken Eisner’s review of the film here. (Spoiler: he liked it.)