By Indiewire | Indiewire April 28, 1999 at 2:0AM
by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE, with a report from Augusta Palmer
>> Chinese director Wu Tianming Talks About Being Back After 8 Years,
with "The King of Masks"
The opening today of "The King of Masks," a gender-bending melodrama set
in 1930's Sichuan about a traveling magician and his adopted sidekick,
marks a return to filmmaking for Chinese director Wu Tianming after an
eight year hiatus. This film may also mark the beginning of a surge of
Asian films onto the U.S. and European markets, if the Cannes line-up is
any indication of upcoming trends - the 13 films from all over Asia
being shown there were enough to encourage the festival press office to
announce a "very marked Asian presence" at this year's festival.
Wu's earlier award-winning film "The Old Well" (1986) starred current
Cannes rabble-rouser Zhang Yimou, who "withdrew" two films from Cannes,
claiming a tendency of international festivals and viewers to evaluate
Chinese films based only on their political content. According to Reuters,
however, the festival had not actually accepted Zhang's films, and the
director "was engaging in some major face-saving."
Western audiences and critics frequently judge Chinese films and directors
on their political dissident status and Western audiences have generally
preferred period settings with the hothouse Chinoiserie effect of antique
objects and elaborate costumes to contemporary urban Chinese films like
Zhang's own "Keep Cool" (1997), which remains unreleased in the U.S.
These conditions of international appreciation seem grossly inappropriate
now because the conditions of filmmaking in the People's Republic of
China have changed radically over the last ten years. Though to do so is
technically illegal, a rising number of Sixth generation filmmakers have
been making apolitical art films independently (outside of the studio
system). In addition, as Chinese studio films compete with more Hollywood
blockbusters and Hong Kong co-productions, entertainment value has become
far more important than politics.
Wu Tianming's eight year hiatus from filmmaking and five year sojourn in
the United States (during which he ran a Los Angeles video store and
claims to have watched over 900 Hollywood films) make him particularly
well situated to observe the changes in the Chinese film industry. In an
interview with indieWIRE, Wu revealed that China's economic reform and
open door policy have changed the Chinese film industry as much as
they've changed the rest of Chinese life.
Government owned film studios which formerly had fixed crews are now
increasingly allowing the directors and technical personnel associated
with them to freelance wherever they can find work, an increasing
necessity as government salaries shrink and more money can be made on the
open market. Chinese studios are also more conscious of the bottom line
than ever. Though "King" is a Hong Kong co-production (with a resurgence
of the legendary Shaw Brothers Company), Wu made "Stand By You" with
Beijing Film Studios directly afterward and said of the difference
between the two: "For both films I was both the director and the
producer, meaning that I was not only responsible for the film's artistic
quality but also for production management and the film's financial
success. So, there's not much difference for me between working on a Hong
Kong co-production and working within the Chinese studio system."
The Chinese title of "King" translates literally as "to change faces" and
refers directly to the traditional art practiced by the film's magician
character, but Wu also makes clear that it has "a deeper meaning," which
could also be seen as a metaphor for the changing face of the Chinese
film industry: "What I want to express is that everyone has his favorable
and unfavorable turns in life, in order to survive he has to adapt both
his interior and exterior appearance to the objective reality at
different times." [Augusta Palmer]
(Thanks to Wu Tianming's daughter Janet for translating both questions
[Augusta Palmer is a freelance film writer currently teaching at New
York's School of Visual Arts and pursuing her doctorate in Cinema Studies
>> Greek and Balkan Films Showcased at Thessaloniki USA Festival
Created to introduce Americans to the latest films from Greece and the
Balkans, the Thessaloniki USA Film Festival in New York City will screen 18
films during the week-long event at the Anthology Film Archives (April 30 -
May 6th). The festival is an extension of the popular international film
festival held each fall in the Northern Greek port city.
On opening night, the festival will screen Efthimios Hatzis' "Shores of
Twilight," Lucian Pintile's "Last Stop Paradise," and Pantelis Voulgaris'
"It's a Long Road," while on closing night, the event will offer Goran
Paskaljevic's Yugoslavian film, "The Powder Keg," a fiction film set in
Belgrade 1995 on the eve of the Dayton Peace Accords.
Among the other movies set to screen are Nikos Grammatikos' "Night Flowers,"
which was an award winner at last month's inaugural doc film festival in
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