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

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Chinese cinema has something of a rocky relationship with the Cannes Film Festival. On the one hand, the key film event has been fairly consistent in its support of movies from the country since A Touch of Zen became the first Chinese work to be officially screened there in 1975. On the other hand, it has provided a platform for works that the Chinese authorities have been less-than-pleased about; an interesting heir of sorts to that first entry, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, screened at Cannes in 2013 but could not secure a release in China. And even Farewell My Concubine experienced difficulties with the censors despite becoming China’s first Palme d’Or winner in 1993.

Such issues prompted Variety to question recently whether the Chinese films announced for 2019’s event will necessarily make it to France: “[The films] appear to have received the necessary official approvals from Chinese authorities to premiere overseas. But their journey to the Cote d’Azur is by no means a certainty.”

Related:

Wang Xiaoshuai’s “So Long, My Son” Scoops Two Berlin Film Festival Awards

Before we get to the films from mainland China headed to the southern French coast, a quick mention of what might just be the most interesting Mandarin-language project at Cannes this year: Midi Z’s Nina Wu. This Taiwanese flick from the Myanmar-born director is a “psychological thriller” based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal which sparked the #MeToo movement. Here’s hoping the nod from Cannes’ programmers, plus the language used, will see it get some traction in China (though we won’t be holding our breath for a cinematic release here).

Here are the Chinese films appearing at Cannes 2019:

The Wild Goose Lake – Diao Yinan

In the running for the Palme d’Or, this movie is director Diao Yinan’s follow up to the Berlin Golden Bear-winning, noirish Black Coal, Thin Ice.

According to Variety the new film, “centers on the leader of a dangerous biker gang on the run who meets a woman willing to give everything to get her freedom back. Both in a dead end, they decide to play one last time and gamble their destiny at a train station in South China.”

And in case that doesn’t sound dark and moody enough, here’s the poster to really hammer those themes home:

The Wild Goose Lake Cannes Diao Yinan

Summer of Changsha – Zu Feng

Appearing at the main Cannes event as part of the “Un Certain Regard” official selection, Summer of Changsha is also a crime thriller. The Chinese name for the film refers to the “desire realm” in Buddhist cosmology, and the movie aims to explore lust and the dark side of humanity via the tale of a criminal investigation and a deep betrayal.

zu feng summer of changsha

Zu Feng (pictured right, above) is best known in China for his acting roles, having appeared in Party-pleasing period drama film The Founding of a Party and also starred in TV series Lurk and The Mask, and he takes on a lead role in Summer of Changsha in addition to occupying the director’s chair.

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains – Gu Xiaogang

Selected to close the Cannes Critics’ Week, which runs in parallel to the main events, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains is director Gu Xiaogang’s debut feature, and takes its name from a famous landscape painting by Huang Gongwang (1269-1354), one of the “Four Yuan Masters” of Chinese art.

dwelling in the fuchun mountains

Artistic Director Charles Tesson gave this refreshingly blunt take to Screen Daily regarding the film: “Gu Xiaogang finished film school three years ago. He’s 30-years-old. We didn’t know much about him until an old contact sent us the film and now we do.”

Tesson did at least elaborate that, “It’s the first film in a triptych revolving around three generations of a family. It’s striking for the way in which it blends contemporary China with resonances of bygone China, as captured in its art and poetry.”

Drawing on the aforementioned painting, the movie is partly set against the backdrop of the redevelopment taking place in the Fuchun area of Hangzhou in the run up to the city hosting the 2022 Asian Games.

She Runs – Qiu Yang

“In an ordinary Chinese winter, a small city junior high student, Yu, tries to quit her school aerobic dancing team” — so runs the description for Qiu Yang’s She Runs, which will also feature during the Cannes Critics’ Week, as part of the Short Films Competition.

The trailer for the short isn’t giving much away either:

 

This won’t be Qiu’s first film to show in Cannes — the Changzhou-born director previously picked up the Short Film Palme d’Or in 2017 for his work A Gentle Night.

To Live to Sing – Johnny Ma

China-born Canadian director Johnny Ma’s debut feature Old Stone premiered at the 2016 Berlinale and he’s secured another prestigious slot for his latest effort, with To Live to Sing showing as part of the Directors Fortnight series at Cannes.

According to the IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund which supported the project, To Live to Sing focuses on “Zhao Li, the owner of a small traditional Chinese opera company in the suburbs of Chendgu, who is facing the imminent destruction of her theatre and neighbourhood and has to fight against bureaucracy.”

For a taste of Ma’s work, check out this short set on China’s Grand Canal:

Cover photo: The Wild Goose Lake

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.

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