Now that Shanghai’s close, humid, offensively hot summer weather has entered its wettest of wet phases, it’s high time that the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival roll-up to offer cineastes nine days of excuses to shelter themselves in air-conditioned auditoriums.
Running since 1993, SIFF is a welcome opportunity for the people of Shanghai to enjoy theatrical screenings of cinema beyond the seasonal blockbusters of China and Hollywood. The extensive Panorama/Spectrum block of the festival collects many of the films that scored praise at festivals since last summer (sadly, not including high-lights from this year’s Cannes), as well as some films from Oscar season. Other, not so obvious, choices also appear in the Spectrum section, such as Burlesque and Little Fockers (surely any Shanghai residents willing to pay 50元 to see Little Fockers, already bought the DVD for 9元 from any one of the millions of pirate DVD sellers in the city). This, perhaps, can be taken as one indicator of the festival’s odd status on the international playing field.Though SIFF is one of only two A-class (competitive) festivals in East Asia, a glance at its two competition blocks reveals little in the way of international star power, yet it is one of the central calendar events in one of the world’s most rapidly expanding film markets. This lack of star power could be attributed to many factors; not least China’s censorship laws, which prohibit the inclusion of any films containing explicit sex, excessive violence and, above all else, messages contradictory to those of the Party (such as the unfavorable comparison between Francoist Spain and Maoist China, that earned one Spanish film its rejection). Though state censorship is doubtless the most insidious saboteur of SIFF’s aspirations, it is not necessarily the biggest. With many talented filmmakers and government funds still mired in the battle to beat Hollywood at its own game, China’s industry has little to offer in terms of the internationally recognized art-house material regularly produced by its Korean and Japanese counter-parts, so attractive to foreign critics and big-name filmmakers. With no big woop being made of the festival by the international press, its success surely rests in putting bums on seats (and Little Fockers is good for bums on seats, if nothing else). This year’s festival is already set for high attendance, with over 600,000元 taken in advanced ticket sales (not least thanks to the competition’s inclusion of popular manga adaptation, Tomorrow’s Joe, the latest opportunity for Asian teenagers to swoon over Tomohisa Yamashita’s glistening torso and dreamy stare).
Though the majority of full-houses will surely go to screenings of Chinese and American films, the festival can’t be faulted for a lack of variety. With focal blocks for Japan, Italy, Spain, Hungary, France, India, Germany, Canada and Thailand, the organizers have accommodated many international curios to tempt those underwhelmed by the competition line-up for the Golden Goblet Award and anyone averse to the de facto obscurity of the entries in the Asian New Talent Award.
From 11th to 19th June I’ll be reviewing a few offerings from both competition line-ups, catching-up with titles still circulating the festivals (unapologetic Indian crowd-pleaser, 7 Sins Forgiven, and kiwi man-hunts-man period piece, Tracker, are my most anticipated choices) and dipping my toe in the vast selection of Thai films at this year’s SIFF. I especially look forward to comparing the gritty Thai hit-man thriller, Friday Killer, with the gritty Thai hit-man thriller, Saturday Killer.
In keeping with the purpose of FOEC, I hope that my reviews can reveal some enticing contemporary gems (or possibly ward-off others tempted by the sexy allure of 115 minutes of aging Estonian rock stars shuffling through an ill-advised come-back tour). Where possible I’ll include trailers to the films reviewed in my posts. Please be forth-coming with your comments, especially if you’re at SIFF this year, and please do help FOEC through its infancy by passing-on the links to your favorite articles (or reviews of films you can imagine yourself falling for).