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China at Festival de Cannes 2019: Winners, Withdrawals, and Zhang Ziyi

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The 2019 Cannes Film Festival wrapped up on Saturday, with Bong Joon-ho winning the Palme d’Or for Parasite and Quentin Tarantino winning most of the hype for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It was also a week in which Chinese films and stars made headlines for very differing reasons. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with China’s presence at international movie events these days, positives and prize-winners were overshadowed by the negative impact of last minute withdrawals due to censorship.

Here are some of the high- and low-lights:

Zhang Ziyi Dazzled

Numerous Chinese stars flocked to the south of France in the past week — some of them incurring the wrath of netizens back home for overstaying their welcome on the red carpet — but few shone as brightly as Beijing-born Zhang Ziyi.

The actor, who made her name internationally with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was afforded one of the Festival’s “Rendez-Vous” events during which she discussed her two decades-long film career and her work with Lee, as well as other seminal directors Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-wai. She also revealed that just because you’re an award-winning, internationally-renowned actor, it doesn’t mean your parents will go easy on you:

“My parents worked hard to bring us up and we did not have many activities. I don’t remember my parents encouraging me a lot or saying “I love you.” They have always been demanding with me even though I have won many awards in my career. This has taught me to be demanding of myself. Most of the roles I have interpreted have this perseverance as a a common theme.”

You can watch a video of the whole conversation and read some of the highlights on the Cannes website here.

She Runs Picked Up a Prize

Changzhou-born director Qiu Yang took home the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film after leading the short category at the Cannes Critics’ Week. The award came two years on from Qiu securing the Short Film Palme d’Or for his work A Gentle Night.

Watch the trailer for She Runs here:

Summer of Changsha Failed to Show (Officially)

Alas, it wouldn’t be an international film event if there wasn’t some last-minute controversy and self-inflicted reputation damage to the Chinese movie industry. Originally selected to appear as part of Cannes’ “Un Certain Regard” official selection, actor-director Zu Feng’s crime thriller Summer of Changsha was yanked from the schedule with little warning. “Technical issues” were cited as the cause of the withdrawal, a problem that seems to strike Chinese films at overseas festivals with alarming regularity.

Related:

Chinese Film “Summer of Changsha” Pulls Out of Cannes Festival Citing “Technical Reasons”

Interestingly, the film still showed on the Côte d’Azur, just in a very hush-hush way. On the afternoon of Wednesday 22 May (French time), Chinese movie site MTime posted to their official Weibo account that they had “just watched Summer of Changsha in Cannes. The film’s main talents did not participate in the screening and there was no ‘dragon mark’ [the mark of the Chinese government that precedes all official China movie releases]. There was clear evidence of cuts toward the end. No idea what the future of this film will be..”

The Wild Goose Lake Missed Out on the Palme D’Or But Still Won Praise

Black Coal, Thin Ice director Diao Yinan brought his new film to Cannes and though it didn’t scoop the Palme D’Or it was in the running for, it received generally positive reviews, albeit ones often studded with light criticism.

The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw called it, “a movie showcasing similar flourishes of brilliance, violent impacts and setpiece bravura – but also some of the same slightly stolid, opaque style that made me a little agnostic about that 2014 hit [Black Coal].”

Meanwhile in the AV Club‘s pick of who should win what, A.A. Dowd enthused:

Chinese director Diao Yinan’s manhunt thriller The Wild Goose Lake is a tour de force of directing, with just about every scene a demonstration of how you can elevate familiar, even dodgy material through the imagination and power of your staging.

Related:

A Quick Guide to the Chinese Films Going to the 2019 Cannes Festival

So all in all, something of a mixed bag for China at Cannes this year. We’ll be hoping — but not holding our breath — for less interference next year….

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.