The 25th Shanghai International Film Festival has given the world a fresh insight into the trends and the talents that are emerging in the Chinese film industry as it gets fully back to business after three years of pandemic-enforced restrictions on access.
Organizers have reported mostly sold-out screenings as China’s movie lovers return en masse to cinemas, and visiting filmmakers have found them fully engaged in post-screening Q&As and the assorted masterclasses the festival has hosted.
The curtain officially comes down on Sunday — after SIFF will have screened around 450 films — and The Hollywood Reporter has selected three Chinese films from three Chinese filmmakers that we expect you’ll be hearing more about in the future.
All Ears, directed by Liu Jiayin
Writer-director Liu Jiayin established herself as one of the most exciting and unique talents to emerge from China in the 2000s — and then duly disappeared into academia. She’s been nurturing generations of screenwriters at the Beijing Film Academy for a number of years. Her first two films – Oxhide and Oxhide II – played at Berlin, and then Cannes and Rotterdam, respectively, and were marked by her ability to mix documentary and narrative styles, with long, languid takes. All Ears is both a return and a return to form. The film stars Hu Ge, an actor with more than 70 million followers on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, as a scriptwriter who trades reel life for real life as he starts to earn a living writing eulogies. Audiences in Shanghai were touched by its simplicity and its style. “The story is loosely based on some of my own experiences,” Liu explained to the gathered media. “Just like me, the protagonist used to be confused about his career and life but he finally finds where his true position is.”
May, directed by Luo Dong
The international judging panel for SIFF’s Asian New Talent award was united in their praise for both how “mature” and “innovative” this year’s selections, and included among them were this second feature from Luo Dong (New York, New York), a multi-hyphenate whose past includes stints in cinematography, music, architecture and fashion. There was a noticeable number of films at SIFF that looked at the issues of aging, and how characters cope with facing mortality – put it down to the past few years of collective global trauma – but Dong’s film focuses more on providing inspiration, in the form of a charismatic 70-year-old (Chen Yumei) who’s looking for love, and who doesn’t care what people think about the lengths she’s prepared to go to find it. Again, the film plays with the notions of what’s a documentary and what’s a drama, and the audience was left questioning what is real and what is imagined.
Day Dreaming, directed by Wang Zichuan
The debut effort from Shanghai Theatre Academy graduate Wang Zichuan takes the daily trials and tribulations of an eccentric third-grader Zhu Tong (Yue Hao) and blends them with flights of fantasy that turn contemporary life in China into a wonderland that includes aliens and talking flowers. The director said during a Q&A session that he came across the concept when thought about what it was that actually goes through a child’s mind when they are facing what they see as the problems of life. Then he decided to turn the most mundane things into fantasy – and audiences in Shanghai were left completely charmed by the Yue, in his first role. “I just wish that my childhood experiences had been as colorful as Zhu’s,” said the director. Also featured in the Asian New Talent award.
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