Sunday, May 28, 2006

Chinese movies in Cannes 2006

Chinese movies in Cannes 2006.

This year 3 main Chinese films were selected in Cannes (not much!).
Lou Ye's Summer Palace is in the official competition, Luxury Car by Wang Chao in A Certain Regard and Johnnie To's Election 2 in Off Competition.

Remarked by film buffs thanks to his second feature film Suzhou River in 2000, Chinese director Lou Ye came to the Festival de Cannes three years later for the presentation in the Official Section of his third opus Purple Butterfly, focusing on the Sino-Japanese conflict in the 30's. He is back again this year on this first day of competition, with Summer Palace, an ambitious work which, like his preceding film, blends the torments of the heart with those of history. But this time, the ardent passion which unites the two lead characters, Yu Hong and Zhou Wei, is put into peril by very recent events: the student uprising of 1989.

"What I wanted to say is that personal feelings are more complicated. Exterior chaos is more easily resolved," explains the filmmaker. Concerning the revolt of 1989, Lou Ye adds: "It was the first time that China opened up to the outside world, after a long period of containment. Young people soaked up all kinds of new ideas all at once. It was the beginning of a period of reform and students had the feeling they were freer than their predecessors had been and that they could virtually do everything and anything. Today, we know that it was merely an illusion."

Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye, whose film Summer Palace was presented today in the Official Selection in competition, fielded questions from journalists at a press conference, accompanied by the film's stars Hao Lei, Guo Xiadong, Hu Lingling and Song Khoon Lim, as well as cinematographer Hua Qing, composer Peyman Yazdanian and producer Sylvain Bursztejn. Highlights follow.

Lou Ye on the autobiographical character of his film: "I wanted to tell this story, because in 1989 I was myself a student at the University of Peking and was involved in a romance."

Lou Ye on the title: "The two main characters live out a very strong moment on the lake of the Summer Palace. They share highly intimate emotions, both on the physical and spiritual levels. Later, their story deteriorates, but this instant remains for them nevertheless important."

Lou Ye on the construction of the story: "The climax of a film isn't necessarily found at the end. I believe that a film has to evolve in a natural way. There is a very clear break in the middle of Summer Palace, which reflects both the separation and change of social status of the characters. In the second part, I wanted to show how the characters surmounted this trial."

The actors on modernity:
Guo Xiadong: "What's new are both the sex scenes - and this seems to me highly important - and the fact that we wanted to offer a sincere view of life. I hope that audiences will equally sense this."
Hu Lingling: "There is an almost documentary feel to the film. Reality is shown without make-up."

Lou Ye on the fact that his film hasn't yet obtained approval from Chinese censors: "I am prepared to do anything so that the film can be shown in China," including "suppress all the scenes which they want to suppress."
(from Cannes fest. website)

Yesterday Luxury Car won Un Certain Regard-GAN Cinema Foundation Prize.
This film follows the life of a schoolteacher close to retirement, Li Qiming, who sets off to Wuhan in search of his son from whom he has been without any news; his gravely ill wife would like to see him one last time before dying. The GAN Cinema Foundation, associated with the Un Certain Regard Prize, will present the French distributor of Luxury Car with a check for 30,000 euros.
Presented in the section Un Certain Regard, Luxury Car is the last leg of a trilogy about China, directed by Wang Chao, following the first two episodes The Orphan of Anyang (2001) and Night and Day (2005).
"Luxury Car," explains Wang Chao, "falls within the continuance of the reflections and criticisms already expressed in my first two films, on the reality and historic and political allegories of contemporary China. Here, the gap between the rich and poor, the distance which separates people from happiness, the contradictions between the social system inherited from past and the burden of the present are so many problems which I myself, as a full-fledged member of the people, feel all the weight and intensity. That's why it made me decide to shoot the picture."

(from Cannes fest. website)

Election 2 Out of Competition
Contrary to the first episode presented last year in competition, Election 2 by Johnnie To is part of the out-of-competition Official Selection. The Hong Kong director focuses once more on the rivalries which reign between bosses of triads, thus reflecting on the economic situation of his country as its backdrop.

Wo Sing is the oldest triad in Hong Kong. Under the authority of its current boss, Lok, it has become the most respected criminal organisation in the city. Jimmy, a cultivated gangster, tries to rehabilitate himself by building a legal industrial empire. The profitability of his affairs makes him an ideal candidate for the next election as its new head.

But his fame also draws the attention of the Chinese authorities, as he is the perfect intermediary to negotiate peaceful coexistence between the central government and the triads. The Peking regime asks him to open up access to the market of the People's Republic by agreeing to lead Wo Sing for two years. All the irony of the situation in no way escapes Jimmy: so now here he is, compelled to become the boss of a triad precisely so as to escape at last their evil influence... As Jimmy undertakes a campaign which promises to be violent, he realises that his future - just like that of Wo Sing - lies in the hands of a power far more dangerous yet.

Johnnie To explains his vision: "For the residents of the island, to be 'Hongkongese' has never meant being 'Chinese'. The political upsets of the last century have given rise to a major dichotomy between these two notions. Over the past nine years, changes have continually progressed hand in hand, and seem to have gradually filled the gap which separates us. China has freed itself from the yoke of an archaic Communist regime to become an economic superpower. The policy of one 'country/two systems' guaranteed Hong Kong political autonomy. A set of judicious economic decisions has equally favoured the stability of the island."

"The residents of Hong Kong look upon all these changes with concern, fear and confusion. Under the veil of economic stability, questions concerning political autonomy remain unanswered. In the shade of that ambiguous giant known as 'China', what does being 'Hongkongese' mean? Has the 'Hongkongese' identity another meaning today? In Election 2, even the gangsters ask themselves questions. While the protagonist, Jimmy, takes over the future of society of triads, he is - like most of the island's residents - incapable of realising what lies in store for Hong Kong."

Election 2 To respond to questions of journalists, the crew of Election 2, made up of director Johnnie To and actors Simon Yam and Louis Koo, gathered together in the press conference room. Highlights.

Johnnie To on the reason for making this film: "This kind of film is highly popular as one can include many different themes in it: action, brotherhood, honour; all this can be found equally in gangster pictures. But the reason why I made Election 2, was to produce a result somewhat different that would evoke the situation in Hong Kong."

Johnnie To on his actors: "I like working with the same actors because confidence is already established. With new ones, it takes time for this confidence to come into being."

On the work of the actors with Johnnie To:
Louis Koo: "As an actor, I must respect the choices of the director. After working several times with Johnnie To, we've learnt to trust each other. The most important thing is to clearly make the difference between star and actor. What counts above all for me is being a good actor."
Simon Yam: "I've worked with Johnnie To for nearly 10 years, 15 years even. We trust each other. Although we've collaborated together for a very long time, each and every film with him is a surprise. In the past, I've had rather particular experiences as an actor - I've been shot at, threatened with knives, etc. For Election 2, I ended up by developing a certain phobia of hammers."

Johnnie To on the Chinese market: "In Hong Kong, we enjoy the same freedom as anywhere else in the world to do as we wish. When preparing Election 2, I knew that it wasn't the kind of entertainment that fits the Chinese market, but overnight, audiences started to come and see it."

Johnnie To on the place of Chinese cinema on the international marketplace: "Chinese films are becoming more and more accepted throughout the world. I think that if we could make censorship in China somewhat more flexible, this would encourage creativity even more."

On the competition between both actors in the film and the competition at Cannes:
Simon Yam: "The most important thing remains the fact that the film arouses the interest of a varied public. And competition between us may continue, but this doesn't represent a priority. That the film is accepted by one and all is essential. All the rest will follow in due course...
Louis Koo: "It would be nice to be a prize-winner even if I have never felt this kind of pressure before, cooked up by the media. I don't think at all about the prize that we might get."
Johnnie To on the controversy surrounding the film:
"With Election 2, we have a metaphoric film, which corresponds to the situation in the country today. I believe that we are gradually heading toward democracy in Hong Kong."
(from Cannes fest. website).

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