FEAR AND FAMINE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

Lim­ited re­lease

Na­tional re­lease

D(MA15+) ★★★

(MA15+) ★★

✩✩ UR­ING the first decade of the Asian Cen­tury, cin­ema at­ten­dances in China ex­panded mas­sively due to the con­struc­tion of thou­sands of cinemas across the coun­try. Although China im­poses a quota sys­tem on the im­port and ex­hi­bi­tion of for­eign films, co-pro­duc­tions, such as the re­cent Aus­tralia-Sin­ga­pore-China co-pro­duc­tion Bait, are ex­empt, and in con­se­quence that film was screened widely across the coun­try and its box­of­fice tak­ings were enor­mous. It will prob­a­bly end up earn­ing more money in China than it will from the rest of the world, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia.

Chi­nese pro­duc­tions that not so many years ago were clumsy and uned­i­fy­ing pieces of pro­pa­ganda blos­somed in the 1980s with the ar­rival on the scene of im­por­tant and in­no­va­tive new direc­tors such as Chen Kaige and Zhang Yi­mou, and to­day Chi­nese cin­ema is ri­valling In­dia and the US as the most im­por­tant na­tional in­dus­try in terms of quan­tity, if not al­ways qual­ity.

In­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals oc­ca­sion­ally screen the work of dis­si­dent film direc­tors whose films are banned in their own coun­try and are smug­gled out (easy to do th­ese days us­ing dig­i­tal pro­cesses) but main­stream Chi­nese films are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing avail­able to West­ern au­di­ences.

Feng Xiao­gang is one of the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent main­stream direc­tors. Born in Bei­jing in 1958, he made his first film, Gone For­ever My Love, in 1994 and achieved in­ter­na­tional promi­nence 10 years later with A World With­out Thieves, a lav­ish sus­pense film set mainly on a train speed­ing through the north of the coun­try. This was fol­lowed by the sump­tu­ous The Ban­quet (2006) and the award-win­ning Af­ter­shock (2010), a film about the ef­fect on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of a mas­sive earth­quake, which was filmed on a grand scale.

Feng’s lat­est, which has opened in a few cinemas in Aus­tralia con­cur­rent with its Chi­nese re­lease, is Back to 1942, which also de­picts the ef­fect of nat­u­ral dis­as­ter on or­di­nary peo­ple, though in this case the drought and famine that dev­as­tated China’s He­nan province in 1942-43 was ex­ac­er­bated by the Ja­panese in­va­sion and, the film pro­poses, the cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence of the rul­ing Kuom­intang, or Na­tion­al­ist Party, un­der Chi­ang Kai-shek, played im­pos­ingly in the film by Chen Daom­ing.

The ma­jor part of this al­most 21/ hour epic deals with two fam­i­lies who are forced to leave their homes and travel, on the brink of star­va­tion, across the bar­ren land­scape, of­ten

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