Monday, February 21, 2011

News Bites: Chinese Films in Europe & Speculation on the Loosening of Foreign Film Imports

Screening China's regular wrap up of Chinese film related news from around the web.

As noted in my last post, Zhao Liang’s latest documentary Together was programmed for the Berlin International Film Festival this year. According to a report in Chinese newspaper Global Times on Friday, February 18, the film won “a rapturous reception” at the festival, and “moved many in the audience to tears.”

Behind the scenes, the Hollywood Reporter noted from Berlin that Well Go USA has “picked up the North American rights to Jackie Chan's latest film, the historical epic 1911.”

The report claims the company is planning to simultaneously release Chan’s film – his 100th movie – in China and the US. Apparently, “1911 tells of the founding of the Republic of China when nationalist forces led by Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing Dynasty.”

Jackie Chan, set to celebrate his 100th movie by making another nationalistic historical epic.
Great, another nationalistic historical epic. I can’t wait.

Chan co-directed the film with Zhang Li – I’m not sure if this is the same Zhang Li who was the cinematographer on John Woo’s Red Cliff films.

Hollywood Reporter also noted Wong Kai-wai was in the German capital, hawking his yet-to-be completed biopic of Ip Man, the martial arts legend who taught Bruce Lee his moves. This is a tad strange, since the film Ip Man did exactly the same thing in 2008.

Wong Kar-wai's film is entitled Grandmasters, and stars Wong regular Tony Leung, as well as Zhang Ziyi (working with Wong a second time after her leading role in 2046) and Chang Chen.

The glamorous Zhang Ziyi in Wong Kar-wai's 2046 (2004).

While we’re on the subject of European film festivals, dgenerate Films carried a report last week from the recent Rotterdam Film Festival (which ran January 26-Feburary 6) by critic and curator Shelley Kraicer. Several Chinese works screened at the festival, including Li Hongqi’s Winter Vacation, Zhao Dayong’s The High Life, Li Ruijun’s Old Donkey, Zhang Meng’s The Piano in a Factory, Li Ning’s Tape, and Zhang Miaoyan’s Black Blood (which premiered at the festival).

Shelley described Black Blood as “a brooding blood-transfusion AIDs drama whose gloomy predictability was vitiated by its strikingly monumentalist-minimalist photography.” I’m curious to see it, if only to find out what monumentalist-minimalist photography looks like.

Also at Rotterdam was Xu Tong’s documentary Fortune Teller. Xu was on hand along with one of the subjects of his film, sex worker Tang Xiaoyan. According to Shelley, Xu Tong’s yet-to-be-seen new film Shattered “will take up her story and introduce us to her father, Old Tang.” Shattered will reportedly premiere at next month’s Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Xu Tong, Shelley Kraicer and Tang Xiao Yang at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Image by Xu Tong from

Incidentally, the program for the Hong Kong festival will be announced this Thursday, February 24 and tickets will go on sale on Saturday, February 26. Keep an eye on their site for details.

Back in mainland China, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported last week that “a female official with China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television [SARFT] faces prosecution for allegedly taking bribes worth 40,000 yuan (6,068 U.S. dollars).” The report states “Yang allegedly favored two TV stations in issuing permits for TV programs to be viewed online in 2007.”

SARFT is the body charged with regulating China’s film, television and radio industries, a duty which includes ensuring no “inappropriate” content is broadcast or released on the nation’s cinema screens.

SARFT was also in the news last week for issuing a circular instructing film and TV producers to cut down on smoking scenes in local dramas. If only they could similarly influence smoking in reality.

State-owned newspaper China Daily speculated last week that the number of foreign films allowed to be released in Chinese cinemas may rise from the 20 titles currently permitted, in response to the World Trade Organization ruling last year that China’s restrictions on audio-visual imports violated WTO regulations.

The article was purely speculative however, and Beijing based IP lawyer Stan Abrams, writing on his blog China Hearsay, expressed doubt about the report. He writes:

“As I’ve written about several times before, the WTO case said that China must open up A/V imports and distribution to foreign enterprises as it promised in the WTO Accession Protocol over a decade ago. That’s it. Nothing about censorship, nothing about quotas.”

The Shanghaiist argued that the rash of foreign releases in the first months of this year indicates that the quota may be lifted, or else there will be a drought of foreign movies later in the year.

A more likely explanation, however, is that the authorities are deliberately burning through a series of Hollywood blockbuster titles in order to make way later in the year for Founding of the Party, another love letter from the Communist Party to itself in the vein of 2009’s Founding of a Republic. It’s standard practice for screens to be cleared of serious competition when these state-backed blockbusters are released.

The new epic from China’s state-owned studios is being made commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in the middle of this year.

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