Asian directors take a leading role in Cannes

May 9th, 2009 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Andrew McCathie
Cannes, May 9 (DPA) Asian cinema has proven its growing international appeal with a series of trends that have helped to transform nations such as India, China, and South Korea into global movie powerhouses in recent years.

Indeed, countries that were once barely recognisable dots on the world cinema map have been propelled into the top league of movie-making with a raft of Asian directors included in the line-up of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

But apart from the economic fallout from the global recession, a shortage of money and the battle against piracy, the real challenge for Asia’s cinema success - and its sustainability on the market - is connecting with international audiences.

“You are always concerned about how long the good times will last,” said Jacob Wong from the Hong Kong Film Festival. “There is always a worry about whether it is just a flash in the pan.”

However, countries such as the Philippines have always had strong cinema industry. Cinema as an industry, it appears, is hard to dispose of.

Cannes this year includes an unprecedented four films from the Philippines with Brillante Mendoza’s “Kinatay” about a gang of hit men which has been selected for the race for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or.

A surge in TV production has also allowed Japan’s cinema industry to emerge from a period of stagnation, and Beijing’s ambitions to be a major cinema force have driven Chinese movie making ahead.

Most of all, however, it has been the digital revolution that has been the godsend to smaller Asian nations.

By cutting production costs, digital technology has helped directors from nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia draw audiences, challenging even Hollywood and the giants of the Asian movie business - China, Korea, India, and Japan.

A lesson in surviving fickle cinema fads seems to come from Hong Kong.

Leading Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s Vengeance about a man bent on avenging his daughter’s death is also to screen in Cannes’ main competition.

What is more, with a filmmaking career spanning 25 years, To’s professional life also charts the recent turbulent history of Hong Kong cinema.

After a string of commercial successes in the 1980’s at the height of the Hong Kong film industry boom when the city was dubbed the Hollywood of the east, To has turned to more personal dramas for the movies he made over the last decade.

Face from Malaysian-born Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming Lai, whose previous unsettling portrayals of alienation in modern urban Asian life, has also been included in Cannes’ main competition - a boost for Taiwan’s new breed of filmmakers as they struggle to sharpen their industry’s profile.

Also in the main competition is “Chun Feng Zui De Ye Wan” (Spring Fever) about an erotic threesome from Shanghai’s Lou Le whose “Summer Palace” was pulled from the 2006 festival after being rejected by Chinese censors.

But despite the restrictions on filmmaking in China, including the often dead hand of the nation’s studio system and censors, the country’s movie business appears to be full of confidence at the moment.

Once again, however, the question is how long this will last: Many Chinese directors are still battling to break out of the international film festival circuit and to find a global audience among mainstream moviegoers.

The Palme d’Or line-up also includes the new movie from veteran Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s “Bak-Jwi” (Thirst), indicating that Korea may have overcome the crisis that descended on its movie business in the last few years.

It is also the first South Korean film to be co-produced by a major Hollywood studio.

Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” has also been included in Cannes sidebar “Un Certain Regard” and Korean director Lee Chang-Dong is a member of this year’s festival jury.

After dramatically blowing out in recent years, Korean film budgets have been slimmed down along.

At the same time, however, the industry appears to have grown more diverse as the nation’s new younger generation of movie makers have been scaling back grand ambitions and instead produce more films about everyday life, such as family and high school dramas as well gay-themed stories.

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