Thursday, April 22, 2010

Screen Time: Chollywood Takes on the World & Edwin Maher on the Big Screen

My weekly Beijing film news roundup from

“A vibrant film industry capable of competing with the best Hollywood can produce” – that’s the image being pushed on a new English-language site ( designed to raise China’s screen profile on the world stage, according to UK newspaper the Guardian.

When I tried to check out the site was only carrying a message of remembrance for the Yushu Earthquake victims, but you can read about the site and the Chinese government’s global aspirations for its industry here.

The Guardian article notes: “China itself produced around 450 films in 2009, but few of these reached western audiences, which may be one of the motivating factors behind the creation of the new site. The director of the country's Bureau of Film Administration, Tong Gang, told the Independent that China was making ‘considerable progress’ in opening up its film industry. He said that success stories born of the new approach included Bodyguards and Assassins [see picture above], a mainland Chinese-Hong Kong co-production which is up for 18 prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards on April 18, and John Woo's Red Cliff, a China-US production which took $250m worldwide and was crowned Asia's box office champion at last week's Asian Film Awards.”

After the article was published Bodyguards and Assassins cleaned up at the Hong Kong Film Awards, winning the Best Film and Best Director trophies, as well as numerous other more minor honors. You can see the complete list of winners here.

As is the case with many industries, however, the size of China’s film sector does not necessarily equal success outside the PRC. As the Guardian piece tactfully points out, the local industry relies heavily on assistance from the state, not least through protectionist policies that severely limit the import of foreign films.

There’s also the small matter of China’s censorship regime, which arguably hamstrings the local industry, especially when it comes to selling its products abroad. Is it any coincidence that a lot of the country’s best commercial products still tend to come out of Hong Kong, or least draw heavily on HK talent? The relocation of actress Tang Wei to the former British colony after her blacklisting for Lust, Caution is good illustration of the obstacles faced by the mainland industry. Click here to read a translation of a long profile from Shanghai's Bund Pictorial of the talented star, whose first HK feature Crossing Hennessy is currently playing in Beijing.

In more evidence the local industry is looking to seriously compete with Hollywood, the Global Times recently reported, “The China Film Group Corporation, a major production house and distributor, has two animated 3D films in the pipeline, company spokesman Weng Li told Xinhua, although he declined to give details.”

Great move – there’s no way people will be over the 3D craze by the time they finish two animated features.

In slightly more bizarre news, the Killer Film website has reported that David Duchovny of X-Files fame is developing a biopic based on the life of CCTV 9’s mild-mannered New Zealand-born newsreader Edwin Maher. Looks like the local industry missed out on that story.

Closer to home, here’s a quick roundup of screenings around Beijing.

UCCA's Screenout season of China's more challenging recent cinema continues until next Wednesday. If you’re a fan of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami I recommend the Tibetan feature The Search, screening next Wednesday, April 28 at 7pm. Although director Pema Tseden says he wasn’t consciously paying homage to the Iranian master, The Search has Kiarostami’s style and philosophical outlook all over it, albeit with a Tibetan inflection. Tseden will be on hand after the UCCA screening for a Q&A. You can see the full schedule of Screenout films here.

This weekend sees the final sessions of the new Chinese feature Judge at BC MOMA, a film that touches on the controversial topic of organ harvesting from prisoners. There’s a screening on Friday (April 23) at 7.30pm, and another on Sunday (April 25) at 4.30pm. The director will at the Sunday session.

Back in February I interviewed Karin Chien of dGenerate Films, the US distribution company specializing in independent Chinese cinema, about a series of talks by local filmmakers dGenerate was staging at the Apple Store in the Village, Sanlitun.

There’s another talk in the series this Thursday, by Ying Liang, director of Taking Father Home (2005) and The Other Half (2006). Karin Chien tells us Ying will “show trailers of his work, and there will be a Q+A session to talk about his filmmaking process.” The event starts at 7pm and is free, but will only be conducted in Chinese.

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