Sino Six

in 52nd Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

by Viera Langerova

This year’s sampling of the world of Chinese-language cinema carried a theme of genre fusion. The FIPRESCI jury watched films made in a variety of styles and for different kinds of audiences. The majority of films were directed at young viewers, and made in the style of a teen melodrama or mystery thriller. Some had already enjoyed blockbuster success.

Our Times tells the story of high school friends who fight for the attention of a love interest who is attached to somebody else. As events progress, the drama becomes more serious and weepy. An unattractive student is in love with the so-called lord of her heart, but he is dating the prettiest girl in class. Common frustration unites her with several other students. Taiwanese director Frankie Chen seems to be trying to ignite the audience’s memories of a charming but difficult youth. This kind of melodramatic sentimental film is extremely popular, but I hope that audiences who watch this romantic kitsch will go on to develop a taste for more valuable stories.

Young Love Lost, directed by Xiang Guoqiang, a photography lecturer at the Beijing Film Academy, made a much better impression. Set in industrial China in the 90s, the story expresses a sufficient level of reality and humor to make up for its highly melodramatic elements. The protagonist is a technical school graduate who fools around with his friends and falls in love with a young doctor who moves to Shanghai, leaving him in deep sorrow – at least for a while.

The director of another teenage treat, The Left Ear, was teen idol and singer Alec Su. This is another film about love uncertainty, complicated by a deeper family drama in which a mother leaves her son with his stepfather in order to bring up her other son with her new husband. Both boys happen to be in the same class. Love and revenge cause a range of unexpected events to occur.

The nostalgic aspect of Asian films is a result of the region’s quick modernization and the current radical divisions between youth and maturity. The nostalgia of the films discussed serves a kind of therapeutic function. In post-communist European films, the past is generally treated as sharply grotesque and bizarre; however, Asia’s look back on the past appears to be more benevolent and amiable.

There was a real mixture of genres in The Laundryman by Taiwanese director Lee Chung. It is a gangster drama in which an annoying bunch of ghosts tracks down a handsome contract killer who has unresolved problems with a vicious witch who owns a laundry. Not surprisingly, this film has succeeded at the box office.

The half-animated, half-live action Monster Hunt, a co-production between Hong Kong and China, has been a huge hit and no wonder. Its balance of fantasy, humor and refined professionalism is admirable. Hong Kong director Raman Hui (who co-directed Shrek the Third in 2007) take us into a world shared by people and monsters. Here, monsters fear the predators of their kin just as people do. Both sides do their best to save a lovely new-born monster king.

The Chinese film Kaili Blues won the Golden Horse for best new director, having already won a prize at Locarno. Only 26 years old, the Chinese director Bi Gan demonstrates impressive visual style and contemplative depth in this story of a man who decides to look for the secret child of his brother. It is rare to see a debut with such forceful storytelling and cinematic style. It looks as if mainland Chinese film is going back to its vital visual tradition of spiritual composition and multi-layered simplicity, tested by new storytelling.

Edited by Lesley Chow