Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Cannes Check #7 - The Asians

Asian directors also have significant presence among the 19 films in the main competition as three films come from that side of the world. Already talked about Jia Zhangke and now is time to review Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Kore-eda Hirokazu.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien

A leading figure of Taiwan's New Wave cinema movement that abandoned the melodrama and kung-fu action films for the realism in urban or rural Taiwan, promoting the narrative structure that progresses at the pace as it would in real life. His work engages themes of political, cultural, and personal transition, frequently through oblique narratives grounded upon generational conflicts. For these and many more reasons he is my favorite Taiwanese director of all times.

He was born in April 8, 1947 in Meixian, Guangdong province, China but in 1948 his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan where he was educated at the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts. After graduation in 1972, he worked briefly as a salesman. Later he began his film career as a scriptwriter and assistant director. His first cinema-related work dates back to 1973 when he was the script supervisor for Xin you qian qian jie. Took him almost a decade to finally do his first feature film, 1980 Jiushi liuliu de ta (Cute Girl) and almost two more decades for me to discover him.

My Hou Hsiao-Hsien experience is limited to the films he has done since 1998 Hai Shang hua (Flowers of Shanghai), starring the greatest actor in the world (according to me), Tony Leung; film opened In Competition at 1998 Cannes but by then he had visit Cannes four times before in 1988 with Nilouhe Nuer (Daughter of the NIle) at Directors' Fortnight, 1993 with Hsimeng jensheng (The Puppetmaster) In Competition and won the Jury Prize, 1995 with Haonan Haonu (Good Men, Good Women) In Competition, and in 1996 with Nanguo zaijan, nanguo (Goodbye South, Goodbye) In Competition.

I have been marveled by the evolution the director has shown since Flowers of Shanghai as believe he has been moving forward into a style that is so particular to him that becomes unique in world cinema; somehow I'm able to see a film scene and guess almost always right that film belongs to Hou Hsiao-Hsien. His so experimental 2001 Millenium Mambo opens In Competition in Cannes, his first experience filming out of Taiwan and in a foreign-to-him language (Japanese) 2003 Kôhî jikô (Café Lumière) -photo- opens In Competition for a Venice Golden Lion, the time-trilogy 2005 Zui hao de shi guang (Three Times) opens In Competition at Cannes, and his second film outside Taiwan, 2007 Flight of the Red Balloon, starring none other than Juliette Binoche, opened in Cannes Un Certain Regard but also in the same year he had a short film included in fantastic Cannes collective film, To Each His Own Cinema.

There are too many writings about Hou Hsiao-Hsien in the net but if you wish to read more about him I suggest to read City People: Youth and the Urban Experience in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Later Films by June Yip that you can find here.

With all the info shared above, imagine the surprise I got when found that his next feature film, 2015 The Assassin, belongs to the martial arts genre! I don't really know what is happening but maybe you recall that recently Wong Kar wai ALSO explored the genre; so perhaps Hou was tempted to experiment with the genre (?!). Still, it will be interesting to see what Hou does with the martial arts genre and with all the troubles he had to confront while filming (believe it or not, filming started in 2010! and a first for Hou, film got money from mainland China).

What do I imagine about film?  Has to be more realistic and hopefully, less special effects oriented with more emphasis in the drama. But sounds generic, just like what Zhang Yimou did in Hero or Won Kar Wai did in The Grandmaster. Still, important is to consider that no matter how film will be, in pre-Cannes odds circles tends to be among the top front-runners to win the Palme d'Or.

Basic info about 聶隱娘 Nie yin niang (The Assassin)
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Scriptwriters: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Chu Tien-Wen
Language: Mandarin
Runtime: 120 mins
Production countries: China and Taiwan
Production Companies: SPOT Films (Wen-Ying Huang)
DistributionWild Bunch for International Sales

Cast: Shu Qi, Chen Chang, Satoshi Tsumabuki

Plot Summary
9th century China. 10-year old general’s daughter Nie Yinniang is abducted by a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors. One day, having failed in a task, she is sent back by her mistress to the land of her birth, with orders to kill the man to whom she was promised – a cousin who now leads the largest military region in North China. After 13 years of exile, the young woman must confront her parents, her memories and her long-repressed feelings. A slave to the orders of her mistress, Nie Yinniang must choose: sacrifice the man she loves or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins.

Film Still

Kore-eda Hirokazu

Not really familiar with whom has been called one of Japan's foremost cinema auteurs as he excels at capturing the lyrical and poetic in everyday Japan's life. Still have to consider that he has been in Cannes several times and his latest film represents the 4th time he is in the main competition.

Born in June 6, 1962 in Tokyo, Japan. Originally intended to be a novelist but after graduating from Waseda University in 1987 went on to become an assistant director on documentaries at TV Man Union. He did several documentaries before doing in 1995 his first feature film, Mabrosi no hikari that opens in competition for Venice's Golden Lion and won the Golden Osella for Best Cinematography; his second feature film After Life opens in competition for San Sebastian's Golden Seashell; then his third feature film, Distance opens In Competition for 2001 Cannes Palme d'Or.

His fourth film, 2004 Nobody Knows also opens in competition at Cannes; his fifth film, 2006 Hana goes back to be in competition at San Sebastian fest; and his sixth film, Aruitemo aruitemo (Still Walking) is where I first learned about this director as won Best Director at the 2009 Asian Film Awards. He goes back to Cannes with his 7th film, Air Doll that was screened in Un Certain Regard and in 2011 back to San Sebastian's main competition with I Wish and to win the Best Screenplay award.

But perhaps his international better-known film is his 8th feature film, Soshite chichi ni naru (Like Father, Like Son) that opens in competition at 2013 Cannes and won the Jury Prize. Hist 9th feature film, 2015 Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister) opens again In Competition at Cannes. Definitively he is a festival regular and yes, we can say that he is a Cannes regular.

Based on teasers and trailers, I got the impression that Our Little Sister will be extremely beautiful to watch with awesome visual images and suggesting slowish pace that allows to see details in visuals, characters and narrative. Exactly the kind of cinema elements that blow my mind; so yes, this film is must be seen to me no matter how film does in Cannes or with critics. There is some pre-Cannes buzz about the film actresses as top contenders for the Best Actress award, so there are possibilities that film could get an acting award; also, there is buzz for top award. So maybe film will not leave Cannes empty handed.

Basic info about 海街diary Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)
Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Scriptwriter: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Language: Japanese
Runtime: 128 mins
Production country: Japan
Production: Fuji Television Network Inc., Shogakukan Inc, Toho Company, GAGA Corporation
Distribution: Le Pacte (France), Wild Bunch for International Sales

Cast: Ayase Haruka, Nagasawa Masami, Kaho, Hirose Suzu

Plot Summary
Three sisters - Sachi, Yoshino and Chika - live together in a large house in the city of Kamakura. When their father - absent from the family home for the last 15 years - dies, they travel to the countryside for his funeral, and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. Suzu eagerly agrees, and a new life of joyful discovery begins for the four siblings...

Based on the original graphic novel "Umimachi Diary" by Akimi Yoshida published by Shogakukan Inc., the film chronicles four seasons of the sisters in a beautiful sea town Kamakura near Tokyo. By portraying the ripples of life with all the rituals and traditions of the family, the director lets the audience witness the quiet yet turbulent emotional turmoil of these sisters who learn to embrace the world and themselves.

Official Trailer (check all videos available at movie official site here)

Trailer with English subtitles

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