The 2011 Shanghai Film Festival Calls for Entries

November 22, 2010

Submissions for the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival or SIFF (to be held from June 11 – 19, 2011) are now open and run until March 31, 2011.

As usual, SIFF focuses on fiction features for the main Competition for Golden Goblet Award and Asian director’s first or second features for Asian New Talent Award competition. Films submitted to competition should be released after June 1, 2010. World or international premiere will be considered in priority.

The Panorama section accepts fiction, documentary and animation films released after January 1, 2010, except those for tributes and retrospective.

SIFF requires films to be sent on DVD for preview, and won’t charge a submission fee.

Visit SIFF official site for further information and detailed submission criteria.


Chinese/Hong Kong films to be released in North America

November 14, 2010

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010), d. Tsui Hark

According to Film Business Asia and other sources, Indomina Releasing, a newish US distribution company with a taste for Asian films, has acquired North American rights to Detective Dee: The Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝國).

The deal was struck with co-producer and sales agent Huayi Brothers Pictures (華誼兄弟影業投資有限公司), which fielded several bids. Eventually the deal was done with Indomina, the highest bidder, for a sum close to US$500,000.

Directed by Tsui Hark (徐克) and starring Andy Lau (劉德華), Li Bingbing (李冰冰) and Carina Lau (劉嘉玲), the film was the runaway winner at the Chinese box office over the lucrative October National Day holiday period.

Official figures show it scoring RMB290 million ($43 million) to 31 Oct, 2010, though other sources suggest that problematic reporting by some exhibition circuits could put the figure significantly higher in the final tally.

Indomina has recently acquired rights to Vietnamese thriller Clash (Bẫy rồng), Chinese titles Bodyguards And Assassins (十月圍城), Fire of Conscience (火龍), True Legend (蘇乞兒) and Australian films Griff The Invisible and Wasted on the Young.

The deal on True Legend was negotiated by Indomina Releasing’s Vice President of Acquisitions, Rob Williams, with producer, Bill Kong of Edko Films LTD. on behalf of the filmmakers.

“We are pleased to be forging a new partnership with Indomina Releasing, a team that is truly passionate about film,” Bill Kong stated. “TRUE LEGEND not only features breathtaking action by the master Yuen Woo Ping but also tells a moving love story and we are excited that Indomina will be sharing this unique film with audiences.”

Launched in 2008 by award-winning artist/executive Jasbinder Singh Mann and Vicini (a leading asset manager based in the Dominican Republic with investments in energy, finance, tourism and real estate within the Caribbean and Central American region), The Indomina Group is an integrated media company that collaborates with content creators to bring innovative entertainment properties to market. Indomina’s global operations include production and distribution of; motion pictures, television, music, interactive games and ownership of world-class studio facilities and production services. The Indomina Group is based in Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic.

Review of Spring in a Small Town (小城之春; China, 1948)

November 2, 2010

Review of Spring in a Small Town (小城之春;China, 1948), A Shanghai Wenhua Film Studio production. Released in the United States by Cinema Epoch (DVD).

Director: FEI Mu
Screenwriter: LI Tianji
Cinematographer: LI Shengwei
Editor: WEI Cunbao
Cast: SHI Yu (as DAI Liyan), WEI Wei (as ZHOU Yuwen), LI Wei (as ZHANG Zhichen), ZHANG Hongmei (as Meimei), CUI Chaoming (as Lao Huang)
Running time: 85 MIN.

Reviewed by UCI Student Kenya Wilkinson

Spring in a Small Town (1948), d. Fei Mu

Once censured by the Chinese Communist government for allegedly lacking sufficient political foundation, after resurfacing, Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town is now considered by many to be the best Chinese film of all time. Focusing on a woman who becomes emotionally distraught after being forced to suppress re-ignited feelings of attraction for her husband’s longtime friend and her secret, first and only true love, this film exquisitely tells the emotional story of yearning and restraint, ardor and regret. Mu’s clever, subtle use of props and set as a way of enriching the film with symbolism and metaphor, along with lead actress Wei Wei’s powerful performance of mastering and conveying the inner turmoil and frustration of her character through intense, almost haunting, facial expression and gesture, effectively allows this film to read as a psychological drama that explores the internalized, complex emotions of its characters, mainly those of the female protagonist, Yuwen.

Director Fei Mu skillfully manages to communicate subliminal messages to his audience regarding the characters’ emotions and the complexity of their relationships through the wise use of the set. One standout instance of the set being used as a metaphor for deeper meaning is the city wall along which Yuwen walks. Crumbling and slowly decaying, the city wall is Mu’s artistic way of subtly portraying Yuwen’s broken psychology (and figuratively depicting the damaging effects the Second World War has had on China). She is frequently seen visiting the wall and pausing to contemplate her broken, downtrodden life (at one point she even stops to consider leaping to her death). As the movie progresses and her character grows more emotionally distraught, viewers clearly see what she feels inside and what the wall looks like on the outside—devastatingly damaged—and that the wall is a poignant reflection of her inner psychology.

Like the catastrophe-stricken city wall, the equally destructed walls of the home around which the film centers are another aspect of the set that Mu uses to symbolically relate the underlying emotional and mental constitution of the characters. Representative of the broken relationship between Liyan, the morose, tuberculosis-ridden male protagonist, and his cheerless, withdrawn wife, the walls which cannot seem to be mended or brought back to standing form are rich with meaning. Furthermore, the walls also serve as a representation of Liyan’s fallen state of health. Like his relationship, his wellbeing and state of mind are slowly perishing. Despite Liyan’s efforts, no amount of work seems to be able to fix the collapsed reality surrounding him.

In addition to using the brokenness of the home’s structure to represent Liyan’s and Yuwen’s collapsed intimate connection, Mu ingeniously uses the set to introduce Zhichen, Liyan’s friend and Yuwen’s secret former love. Unable to make his entrance through one of the home’s doors, Zhichen finds his way inside through one of the holes in the wall. Mu is metaphorically saying that Zhichen moves his way inside the family dynamic through a fracture in Liyan’s and Yuwen’s relationship—that if not quickly repaired, breaches allow for unwanted problems to enter. In this case, the fallen state of the couple’s romantic relationship permits Zhichen to make his way back into Yuwen’s heart. Through the skillful use of the set, Mu artistically conveys an eye-opening underlying message.

Along with his clever use of the set, Mu powerfully uses props to symbolically communicate deep, intimate details regarding Yuwen’s character. Rich with meaning, the embroidery which Yuwen spends her time working on is an extremely valuable prop that allows viewers to understand her inner turmoil even further. The embroidery itself stands for the complexity of her feelings—they are abundantly intricate and detailed. She does not simply suffer from sadness—she is overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness, entrapment, deep-rooted pain, guilt, and insanity-causing monotonousness. The needle with which she pierces the delicate fabric is also equally symbolic. Yuwen’s past feelings of attraction and affection toward the handsome doctor as well as her present-day sense of confinement, lifelessness, and responsibility toward Liyan are the needles which pierce her at her core. Her heart, like the fabric, is penetrated by feelings of regret and shame after her passions are aroused through Zhichen’s visit. At one point when she is speaking to Zhichen regarding her love for him, she goes as far as voicing that the only way she will ever be able to follow her heart and be with him, her true love, is if Liyan dies. Moments like this substantiate the claim that, at her core, she is overwhelmed by feelings of remorse and deals with incredibly complex emotions. The embroidery boldly communicates these ideas metaphorically.

The basket which Yuwen carries with her as she walks along the city wall is equally loaded with symbolism. Mu uses this prop to figuratively say that Yuwen’s responsibility is to hold everything together. Regardless of her impulse to commit suicide so that she can escape her mundane life or her desires to give in to her erotic sentiments toward Zhichen, she must hold her emotions together and maintain a composed demeanor. The basket is important, because when she visits the city wall—a place of escape, dreaming, longing, and realization—instead of being able to let her feelings flow freely, she maintains a tight grip of the basket, symbolic for suppressing her sentiments. Through the subtle, shrewd use of props, Mu is able to powerfully convey a strong sense of symbolism and add another layer of complexity and cinematic artistry to the film.

While Mu’s clever use of set and props adds depth and meaning to the already complex picture, what truly sends chills down viewers’ backs and makes it clear that this film is an inner exploration of human psychology and emotion is lead actress Wei Wei’s powerful performance. Yuwen’s deep-rooted, intricate sentiments are conveyed through concentrated, captivating facial expression and gesture. Despite the fact that she never fully voices her true feelings of sexual attraction for Zhichen, the deep gazes and seductive smiles that she sends him throughout the movie are bold indications that her erotic sentiments toward him have undoubtedly been re-aroused. The sexual tension between these two characters is absolutely exhilarating. Her eyes beautifully tell the story of how, because of her morally strict Chinese culture, she is forced to contain her passionate desires and remain true to her wifely duties—regardless of her unhappiness—and her seductively tinted lips serve to accentuate her suppressed sensual side. Adding to Wei Wei’s moving performance are her subtle, yet stimulating gestures. Her internalized turmoil and longing to voice her heart’s desires is seen through the constant wringing of her hands. Yuwen is continually seen tightly gripping her hands in extreme tension. The energy that she pours into making every gaze and every gesture noticed is enthralling—it grabs viewers’ emotions and creates a sense of heightened anxiety. It is as if her hands are like magnets, holding together her emotions and her innermost yearnings. Her gestures are so strongly symbolic and charged, that it seems that if she were to let go of her tightly held hands, she would simply implode and lose all composure. Her haunting facial expressions and intense gestures brilliantly display the psychology of her character and keep viewers on the edges of their seat.

Ultimately, Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town elegantly manages to flow like poetry on film. With a beautiful, lyrical feel and underlying gripping symbolism, it is no wonder why it is considered to be the best Chinese film ever made. Ingeniously using the set and cleverly incorporating powerful props, Mu manages to deliver a bold metaphorical message and bringing excitement and tension to the screen. Wei Wei’s performance demands the viewers’ attention and undoubtedly helps make this film a cinematic success.