During the Third Nanjing Forum on Film Art, held at the Nanjing University of the Arts between June 6 and 8, 2016, I delivered a keynote speech on the subject of “re-writing Chinese film history”. Titled “Cinema 1927: An Experimental Narration on History,” I called on film historians to draw inspirations from literature and history, and to approach film history not as a linear account of what happened cinematically in a nation-state, but as a globally interconnected phenomenon, in which horizontal interconnection is more important than vertical development. One way to highlight this is to focus on the year 1927, a time when cinema was under tremendous transformation and every major film country, including China, produced landmark films, which made this kind of history writing possible and legitimate.
China’s domestic box office once again hit all-time high in 2015. Chinese theatres raked in more than 44 billion yuan (close to 7 billion U.S. dollars) in box-office revenue in 2015, a jump of about 48.7% compared to the 2014 figure. China may be able to take over the United States to become the largest film market in the world in a few years. In addition, domestic films made more money at the box office in 2015, reaching 61.58%.
A total of 686 Chinese films were produced in 2015, and 8,035 new screens were added in 2015, mostly in the so-called second-tier or third-tier cities. Mainland China now has 31,627 professional screens in total.
The following is the list of the Top 10 Box Office Films of 2015 in China (in Chinese yuan/RMB; exchange rate: 1 US$=6.5 RMB):
1. Fast and Furious 7 (d. James Wan); box office: 2.43 billion yuan;
2. Monster Hunt (捉妖記；d. Raman Hui); box office: 2.38 billion yuan;
3. Lost in Hong Kong (港囧；d. Zheng XU); box office: 1.61 billion yuan;
4. Mojin: The Lost Legend (尋龍訣；d. Ershan WU); box office: 1.57 billion yuan;
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (d. Joss Whedon); box office: 1.47 billion yuan;
6. Goodbye Mr. Loser (夏洛特煩惱；d. Fei YAN, Da-Mo PENG); box office: 1.44 billion yuan;
7. Jurassic World (d. Colin Trevorrow, Steven Spielberg); box office: 1.42 billion yuan;
8. Jian Bing Man (煎餅俠；d. Da Peng); box office: 1.16 billion yuan;
9. From Vegas to Macau II (澳門風雲 II；d. WONG Jing, Aman CHANG); box office: 974 million yuan;
10. Monkey King: Hero is Back (西遊記之大聖歸來；d. TIAN Xiao Peng); box office: 954 million yuan.
I must first confess that I haven’t watched ALL the nominated films this year, particularly the ones in the “Foreign Language category.” This is partly due to the fact that I was not in the states after the nomination list was announced. Despite this, I managed to watch all the major ones on DVD, and felt comfortable to make the following predictions:
The eight nominees are decent and deserve our long-lasting attention. But somehow I felt this year’s candidates are relatively weak and not a single one captures my immediate attention and compels me to vote for it (if I was qualified to vote). The one that stands out is once again Mexican American filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. To me, this film goes beyond survival and revenge, but captures the poetic and mysterious (sometimes religious) nature of the grand American West. The only odds against it is that the film is oftentimes bloody and violent, the elements that might turn some Oscar voters (particularly the old ones) off.
It’s time to write a book about this cinematic genius called Alejandro González Iñárritu, or more generally about the “Mexican Invasion of Hollywood” (represented by the three “Amigos” active in Hollywood: del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu), a cultural phenomenon that rivals the “German Invasion of Hollywood” in the 1920s. I vote for Alejandro González Iñárritu, because he is not only a filmmaker, but an artist, a poet, and a philosopher as well. I hope the following won’t affect Oscar voters’ decision: if he wins, this is the second consecutive year Alejandro G. Iñárritu receives the best director and best film trophies.
Best Actor in a leading role:
Finally this year belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio. The inside joke “Dear Academy, why do you hate me?” should eventually evaporate at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. Leo deserves to have this golden statue and the Academy owes him a great deal for his continuous contribution to the film community. In this category, Leo’s only rival is Eddie Redmayne, who plays the first transgender person in 1920s’ Denmark in The Danish Girl. But Eddie’s disadvantage is actually to compete with himself, meaning that he has to top his depiction of Stephen William Hawking last year in order to win again, which he didn’t.
Best Actress in a leading role:
It seems none of the nominees in this category stands out as convincingly as its male counterparts. The various awards prior to the Academy Awards, including the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, the Critic’s Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and most notably the SAG Award, indicate that Brie Larson, the relatively unknown actress and singer in Hollywood, will win this trophy. I liked her performance in Room, in which she depicts a kidnapped mother in a strikingly realistic manner. But I also found Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Brooklyn convincing and captivating. For the sake of prediction, though, I go for Brie Larson.
Best Actor in a supporting role:
It should be unanimous and unequivocal: the Oscar goes to the British actor Mark Rylance, who portrays a Cold-War Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s new feature Bridge of Spies. I didn’t like the film, and thought Spielberg has exhausted his talent and passion in filmmaking after the WWII epic Saving Private Ryan, and there is always a little contrived American moral superiority when he deals with historical subject. Despite this, there is no denying that Mark Rylance’s performance uplifts this otherwise mediocre film. He is calm, restraint, canny, but at the same time smart, dignified, and understanding. It is strange that, just like last year, the “Best Supporting Actor” is usually the easiest to predict and pick (remember last year’s J.K. Simmons in Whiplash?).
Best Actress in a supporting role:
I am still debating on whom I should pick in this category: Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs or Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl? My intuition tells me that Kate Winslet will probably win this title, and it would be a historical moment if Leo presents the golden statue to Kate, a symbolic reunion of the two after their screen romance in Titanic. Just for this reason, I go for Kate Winslet, although Alicia Vikander’s performance is equally unforgettable as a woman painter in The Danish Girl.
Best Animated Feature:
I think Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out will win. It caused quite a splash among critics when this animated feature came out last summer. Although it is a little too childish, to be able to visualize a girl’s inside thought and emotion and present them on a big screen is itself a marvelous achievement. This is the primitive form of what I call the “brain screen,” meaning that the camera is no longer mainly interested in the depiction of what happens outside a character’s mind, but of what happens inside a person’s mind. Although it is oftentimes simplistic (only a few emotional elements are represented), this animated feature has at least made the initial attempt toward this direction.
Lastly, some general comments: the 88th Academy Awards mark the triumph of big studios, with the 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers receiving 24, 14, and 11 nominations for each. This year’s Oscars is once again not free from controversies, and chief among them is the lack of diversity in its nomination list, or more bluntly, the “White Oscars” phenomenon as many people dubbed it. My reservation, however, is more concerned with the quality of the nominated films. As I said in the beginning, this year’s candidates are relatively weak and far from artistically outstanding. Maybe my expectation is too high, and let’s just enjoy the show, which will be televised live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 28, 2016 beginning at 5:30pm PT or 8:30pm ET on ABC.
The 18th edition of the Far East Film Festival, which will be held in Udine, Italy from the 22nd to the 30th April 2016, will for the second time host a campus for young journalists that will combine education and on-site experience with cultural exchanges between writers from Asia and Europe.
Eight aspiring journalists under the age of 26 will be selected for the project. Successful candidates will have the opportunity to experience the festival first-hand while following a rich and varied training programme that will include seminars, interviews and workshops that focus on both the art of film and the art of writing. They will receive guidance from a host of experienced film industry and media professionals, led by film industry veteran Mathew Scott, while contributing to a festival newsletter and embracing all aspects of both the festival as well as the cultural and historic life of Udine and the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.
Four candidates will be selected from Europe and four from Asia. All young European and Asian journalists who have a passion for cinema and want to experience an important film festival first-hand are encouraged to apply for the selection, which will close 29th February 2016, by sending their CV to: firstname.lastname@example.org (please indicate FEFF CAMPUS 2016 as subject of the mail). For details, please download the official announcement HERE.
After several months’ preparation, the “Interconnecting East Asian Cities and Beyond: Reframing the Early History of Chinese Cinema” symposium is finally taking shape. Hosted by Shanghai Theatre Academy’s Center for Cinematic Arts and the “Imagining the Future” project, it will take place between December 18 and 20, 2015 at STA.
The symposium is open to the public and welcomes all interested people to attend. The small but highly selective gathering is meant for the like-minded people to share their thoughts and ideas. Invited panelists will speak and reflect on the following topics: Early Cinema as Theory and Method, Consumerism, Cosmopolitanism, and Early Cinema, The Eternal Liu Na’ou, On- & Off-Screen Translocal/Transnational Agents, Man’ei as a Transnational Institution, Li Xianglan (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) and the Music that Connects Asia Migration and “Accidental” Translocal/Transnational Practices, and Archaeology of the Cinema.
Here is the formal bilingual program (subject to change) in Chinese and English.
In addition to scholarly exchanges, the symposium will also screen My Nightingale (1943; Russian/Japanese with Chinese subtitles) on the 18th at night, thanks to the generous support of the Taiwan Film Institute.
Ever since its founding, NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) has been promoting Asian films through seminars, film programs, after-film discussions, publications, online film distribution, and the presentation of a juried NETPAC award given to the “best emerging Asian film director” during 44 international film festivals in 28 countries. Now it’s time to celebrate these achievements during NETPAC@25.
The event will be held during the 35th annual Hawaii International Film Festival, November 12th – 22nd. It is composed of a variety of activities, including a symposium titled “Chasing the Dream: Culture, Capitalism and Cinema” to be held on Nov. 21 (Saturday) and Nov. 22 (Sunday). For details of these activities, please visit the official page NETPAC/USA. For an incomplete list of panelists, please visit NETPAC@25 guest page. We hope to see you in beautiful Hawaii in November!