|Wang Quan'an's White Deer Plain.|
The Berlin International Film Festival winds up today, and the festival awards have now been posted on the festival’s website. There was just one feature from mainland China in this year’s competition – Wang Quan’an’s White Deer Plain (Bai lu yuan), described by the festival as an “epic that takes place towards the end of imperial China in a period of dramatic political and social upheaval.” White Deer Plain managed to pick up one gong – the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement, awarded to cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier for his lensing on the film.
Wang Quan’an is no stranger to Berlin – his earlier film Tuya’s Marriage (Tuya de hun shi) won the Golden Bear in 2006. His 2010 feature Apart, Together (Tuan yuan) also appeared at the festival and was widely acclaimed around the world.
White Deer Plain is based on a novel by Chen Zhongshi, which ran into censorship problems due to its explicit sex scenes. According to Beijing’s expat mag City Weekend the film took seven months to finally gain the approval necessary from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) for its forthcoming mainland released. The Los Angeles Times quoted Wang Quan'an this week at Berlin:
"There was some intervention on the part of censorship, or let's call it 'corrections,' that were made. It is sometimes painful and sad — I can't really say it's the film I fully intended."
The article adds that Wang "went on to say that the final cut of the film constituted about 40% of what he wanted to show audiences."
Zhang Yimou’s latest effort The Flowers of War, which I reviewed here, screened at Berlin out of competition.
Also appearing at Berlin was an intriguing-sounding project from Taiwan entitled 10 + 10. According to the Berlin festival website, “twenty outstanding Taiwanese directors were each asked to create one five-minute short film inspired by the same topic: the uniqueness of their country.” By their "country" I presume they mean Taiwan rather than China, which is going to put a few noses out of joint on the mainland. Taiwanese master Hou Hsio-Hsien apparently opens a closes the compilation film.
|A scene from the Taiwanese production 10 + 10, unveiled at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.|
The Lady Opens in Hong Kong
In more mainstream news, Hong Kong star Michelle Yeoh stars as Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson’s The Lady, which opened in Hong Kong last week. I’m not a big fan of Besson’s work, and judging by a quick perusal of reviews the film garnered following its release in the UK at the very end of December (see here and here for example) The Lady is not a great film. You can read an interview with Yeoh about her work on the film here.
|Michelle Yeoh as Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson's The Lady.|
Mainland Foreign Box Office and Censorship
In more general mainstream news, China’s overseas box office performance dropped dramatically last year, according to statistics published this week. Takings for Chinese films in foreign markets fell from RMB 3.517 billion (US$558 million) in 2010 to RMB 2.046 billion (US$324 million) in 2011 – a drop of 40 per cent. The poor takings for Flowers of War will have done little to improve the figures so far for 2012.
In China itself, China Media Monitor Intelligence noted last week that the State Council is currently seeking public feedback on its proposed China Film Industry Promotion Law. Most notable of the various clauses in the proposed law is the declaration that “films without a Film Public Screening Permit will be banned from broadcast via Internet, Telecom Networks, Broadcast and TV network, and/or film festivals.”
While it’s long been the case that films can’t screen in cinemas or on television without a permit (ie, without passing through the censorship apparatus), as far as I know the extension of this law to the internet is a new provision. This comes hot on the heels of Toudou promoting Sam Voutas’ uncensored Red Light Revolution online over the Chinese New Year period, and Youku and 20th Century Fox announcing a deal last month to stream 250 films online through a pay-per-view platform. It remains to be seen what impact the new law, if it’s introduced in its current form, will have on these recent initiatives.
Early this month the blog Twitch Film noted that “Chinese cinema exhibitor Beijing Bona Starlight Cineplex Management Co. Ltd. announced that it will start applying film classifications to films in the hope of providing better guidance to its patrons and improving box office performance.” The lack of a ratings system in China has long been criticised, as it means that all content passed for public screenings must be suitable for all age groups, including young children. In the interests of “protecting children”, of course, the lack of a ratings system also allows SARFT to maintain its heavy censorial practices. So it’s an interesting move by Bona, though as the Twitchfilm post notes, the exhibitor only operates four cinemas in the whole of China, so it’s unlikely to have much impact. And the ratings will simply be recommendations – they will of course carry no legal weight.
Interview with the Director of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Finally, in my last Newsbites post I mentioned the unveiling of Alison Klayman’s new documentary on Ai Weiwei, entitled Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, at Sundance recently. dGenerate Films last week ran an interview with Klayman, which you can read here.