Redemption for Chinese Film?

June 25, 2012

At the coffee table next to the Shanghai Film Art Center, the official site of the just ended 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, many rumors and off-the-mark jokes circulated, which made the festival fun and somewhat bearable. There were talks about the perceived rivalry between SIFF and BIFF (Beijing International Film Festival), and the latter was amusingly dubbed by some as “JCF” (the James Cameron Festival). There were also rumors about some top Chinese industry guys under investigation, allegedly involving illegal deals between Hollywood studios and their Chinese importer.

Director JIA Zhangke chaired the SIFF “Industry Summit III: Road of Redemption for Chinese-Language Film,” June 18, 2012, Shanghai Exhibition Center.

One rumor before the actual event took place was especially stimulating: the core members of the now fully established 6th generation of Chinese filmmakers would make a collective statement at the festival’s “Industry Summit III,” one that could potentially overshadow its not so well publicized statement “The Post-Yellow Earth Phenomenon in Chinese Cinema.”  This “industry summit” had an eye-catching title: “Road of Redemption for Chinese-Language Film,” as if Chinese cinema was in dire need of some kind of religious salvation. What made this panel interesting, of course, was the formation of its speakers. It featured LOU Ye, probably for the first time since his “disappearance” in the public after Summer Palace (2006), the most stylish of the 6th generation filmmakers, along with some of his important BFA (Beijing Film Academy) classmates, including WANG Xiaoshuai, ZHANG Yuan, GUAN Hu, and JIA Zhangke and LU Chuan, the latter two a few years younger. It is no wonder that such a “collective” re-appearance of the 6th generation of Chinese filmmakers would create a stir and generate buzz before the June 18 event.

SIFForum 2012 featured LOU Ye (right), probably for the first time since his “disappearance” in the public after Summer Palace (2006), along with some of his important BFA (Beijing Film Academy) classmates, including ZHANG Yuan (left).

The result, however, was not so eventful and historical. It was a rainy day, and the “summit” started almost 40-minute behind the schedule. The aforementioned filmmakers did sit together on the stage, but they appeared less interested in making a collective statement than voicing their carefully phrased complaint over the censorship system in China, a topic that has almost turned into a fatigued routine at almost every single film-circle gathering. JIA Zhangke, the panel moderator, raised a few regular questions for each filmmaker, and they were answered in an orderly manner. LOU Ye seemed to be especially careful in choosing his words, as he mentioned nothing about his last several films (Summer Palace, Spring Fever, etc.) and how he felt about the 5-year filmmaking ban imposed on him. One smart comment made by WANG Xiaoshuai briefly excited an otherwise silent crowd when the issue of Hollywood/commercial filmmaking was raised: “I think the seating is carefully arranged. On my left side [referring to directors LU Chuan, GUAN Hu, and Wu Er Shan] are the ones for commercial cinema/Hollywood; on my right side [referring to directors LOU Ye, ZHANG Yuan, and JIA Zhangke] are the ones against commercial cinema, and I am in the middle, supposedly playing a balancing role.”

Although it was a little uneventful, the rare formation of the panelists itself is quite eventful, making this one of the few “bright” spots of the film festival. SIFF organizers and programmers deserve a round of applause for this brave act.