BEIJING (AP) -- John Cusack says "Shanghai" co-star Gong Li was part of his cinematic introduction to China, so he jumped at the chance to work with the veteran Chinese actress.
The 44-year-old American actor told a news conference in Beijing on Thursday that China was a "mysterious place" to him as a youth and that he learned about the country gradually through its movies, such as "To Live." In Zhang Yimou's 1994 film, Gong plays a suffering wife to a compulsive gambler.
"I was an admirer of Gong Li for so long ... A role like this, to work with such great actors is a rare honor," Cusack said.
In "Shanghai," Cusack plays an American intelligence official who investigates a friend's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Besides Gong, the movie also features Chow Yun-fat and Ken Watanabe.
Cusack praised Gong, whose credits also include "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Curse of the Golden Flower," as a nuanced performer.
"She's like a Mona Lisa. She has a very subtle way of conveying how the character feels," he said. "She's a very complicated and intricate performer. You have to pay attention to not just her lines but her body movements and subtle gestures five seconds before and after those lines."
"Shanghai," the first Asian production by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, is scheduled to debut in a week, nearly two years after shooting wrapped up in August 2008. Production has been bogged down by repeated delays — including China's refusal to allow shooting in the country.
Chinese officials never spelled out their reasons, but they were likely concerned about the film's historical backdrop — an issue skirted during the news conference. Many Chinese are still upset about atrocities committed by the Japanese military during its invasion.
"This movie is a tribute to China, during a period which they suffered and fought so valiantly," producer Harvey Weinstein told reporters Thursday.
Other problems for the movie included editing, which took longer than usual because director Mikael Hafstrom had to combine visually different footage from London and Bangkok and went through several composers, a person familiar with the production, told the AP in August.
The Weinstein brothers are best known for founding Miramax, which became part of the independent film movement in the 1990s and produced several high-grossing movies including "Chicago." They left in 2005 to form The Weinstein Co.