A damper on fes­ti­val opener

Health fears and cen­sor­ship is­sues kept the stars away from the Shang­hai Film Fes­ti­val.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Julile Maki­nen julie.maki­nen@la­times.com

SHANG­HAI — Jackie Chan, Mike Tyson, Jef­frey Katzen­berg and Chi­nese actress Fan Bing­bing walked the red car­pet as a some­what sub­dued Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val got un­der­way this past week­end in this bustling com­mer­cial cap­i­tal.

Con­cerns about an out- break of Mid­dle East re­s­pi­ra­tory syn­drome, or MERS, in South Korea and the re­moval of a Ja­panese movie at the be­hest of Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cen­sors put a damper on the 18th an­nual event, which for years was the only sub­stan­tial film fes­ti­val in China un­til Bei­jing launched its own in 2011.

Both fes­ti­vals are un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol, but the cities are in­tense ri­vals. “The Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val is not in com­pe­ti­tion with Bei­jing … or any other film fes­ti­val world­wide,” said Fu Wenxia, the fes­ti­val’s gen­eral manager. But other at­ten­dees said se­nior Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties were pour­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­sources into rais­ing the pro­file of the Bei­jing af­fair, held in April.

Un­like last year, when “Trans­form­ers: Age of Ex­tinc­tion” closed out the Shang­hai fes­ti­val, no ma­jor new Hol­ly­wood block­buster is in­cluded in the pro­gram here, which fea­tures more than 300 films. Natalie Port­man, Hugh Grant and Ni­cole Kid­man were among the West­ern celebri­ties in at­ten­dance last year, but few U.S., Euro­pean or Aus­tralian stars are ex­pected at this edi­tion.

And un­like re­cent years, when panel dis­cus­sions were stacked with L.A. stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives and Hol­ly­wood vet­er­ans ea­ger to talk about cross-bor­der co­op­er­a­tion, the fo­cus this year has been on the en­try of Chi­nese In­ter­net play­ers into the en­ter­tain­ment space, the ex­pand­ing slates of movies from Chi­nese stu­dios and pro­duc­ers, and how trends like “big data” are in­flu­enc­ing the Chi­nese in­dus­try.

Still, the Mo­tion Pic­ture Assn. of Amer­ica threw its an­nual Amer­i­can Film Night party, where U.S. Am­bas­sador to China Max Bau­cus hob­nobbed with for­mer Se­nate col­league and now MPAA chief Christo­pher Dodd along the eastern bank of the Huangpu River. Guests were in­vited to watch “Juras­sic World” af­ter the speeches and drinks Sun­day evening.

A con­tin­gent from USC’s School of Cin­e­matic Arts was in town, an­nounc­ing a sum­mer screen­writ­ing pro­gram for 20 stu­dents in con­junc­tion with Shang­hai Tech Uni­ver­sity.

Yin Jie, vice pres­i­dent and provost of Shang­hai Tech, said that China’s box of­fice could reach as high as $8 bil­lion this year — about 70% of the com­bined U.S. and Canadian mar­ket — but that “coarse con­tent and weak sto­ry­telling ” con­tin­ued to be big prob­lems. “Screen­writ­ing is one of the weak­est links,” he said, ex­plain­ing why the school had part­nered with USC to launch the pro­gram, which will cost stu­dents $5,000.

Fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers said they in­ten­tion­ally sought to em­pha­size Asia this year, but both Ja­pan and South Korea found their par­tic­i­pa­tion di­min­ished on the eve of the event.

The Ja­panese film “At- tack on Ti­tan” was pulled and re­placed with an­other Ja­panese movie af­ter it was among 38 for­eign an­i­mated works deemed ex­ces­sively vi­o­lent or porno­graphic by China’s Min­istry of Cul­ture.

Mean­while, fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers fear­ing MERS sent emails to some ex­pected par­tic­i­pants from South Korea, sug­gest­ing that they stay home; at the reg­is­tra­tion desk, South Korean at­ten­dees were asked to fill out a health his­tory form that ques­tioned whether they had been to the Mid­dle East re­cently or had had con­tact with camels.

The open­ing film on Satur­day night was “I Am Some­body,” di­rected by Derek Tung-Sing Yee, a sac­cha­rine drama about Chi­nese movie ex­tras try­ing to make a go of it on the stu­dio lots in Heng­dian, a ma­jor film cen­ter not far from Shang­hai.

The closing film on Sun­day will be the China-Rus­sia co-pro­duc­tion “Ballet in the Flames of War,” di­rected by China’s Yachun Dong and Rus­sia’s Nikita Mikhalkov. Or­ga­niz­ers said the movie “high­lights the friend­ship be­tween China and Rus­sia through a love story un­fold­ing in the midst of World War II.”

This year marks the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, known in China as the War to Re­sist Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion, and the fes­ti­val has pro­grammed a spe­cial sec­tion of films de­voted to this, in­clud­ing “Casablanca,” Ger­man direc­tor Volker Schlon­dorff ’s “The Tin Drum” and An­dre Singer’s Holo­caust doc­u­men­tary “Night Will Fall.”

Rus­sian direc­tor An­drey Zvyag­int­sev, whose “Leviathan” was nom­i­nated for the for­eign-lan­guage Os­car this year, is head­ing up the jury for the fes­ti­val’s Golden Goblet award.

Among the films in con­tention for the award are An­toine Fuqua’s long-in-the­works boxing drama “South­paw,” star­ring Jake Gyl­len­haal. The film, which is to open in the U.S. in July, cen­ters on a left-handed ju­nior-mid­dleweight champ (Gyl­len­haal) whose life is sent into a spi­ral by a tragic ac­ci­dent. With the help of a washed-up for­mer boxer (For­est Whi­taker), he starts to fight his way back to per­sonal and pro­fes­sional re­demp­tion.

The fes­ti­val of­fers cin­ema­go­ers the chance to see Amer­i­can films that never have been im­ported to the­aters in China, which re­stricts the num­ber of for­eign pic­tures that can en­ter the mar­ket each year. Among the U.S. films screen­ing are “Whiplash” and “Bird­man.”

This year, the Shang­hai fest will of­fer fans the chance to see all six films in the “Star Wars” se­ries, a first for the main­land.

For­mer boxer Tyson is at­tend­ing the fes­ti­val be­cause he has a guest part in the com­ing Chi­nese movie “Ip Man 3.”

Jo­hannes Eisele AFP/Getty Images

MIKE TYSON is the cen­ter of at­ten­tion open­ing night at the Shang­hai film fes­ti­val. With him on the red car­pet Satur­day is Hong Kong ac­tor Don­nie Yen, right.

Kevin Lee Getty Images

AT­TEND­ING the fes­ti­val’s open­ing night are Wu Chen, left, Leon Lai and Fan Bing­bing.

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