A damper on festival opener
Health fears and censorship issues kept the stars away from the Shanghai Film Festival.
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.”
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.
ATTENDING the festival’s opening night are Wu Chen, left, Leon Lai and Fan Bingbing.