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MARCH 15, 2016


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TODAY
HK
WEATHER
AND HIGH 63 F
TEMPS
17 C

H O NG K O NG

TOMORROW

66 F
18 C

Chinas Wanda
to Consolidate
Film Units

Dealmakers Worried About Trump

he rise of leading U.S.


presidential nominee
Donald Trump has been
watched with a mixture of bewilderment and irritation in Asia,
particularly in China and Japan,
two countries hes vehemently
criticized over trade issues. The
specter of Trump as U.S. president has raised fears among
some Filmart attendees that his
rhetoric would negatively impact
cross-border business, while his
opposition to international trade
deals could prevent the extension of copyright protection on

By Patrick Brzeski

hinese conglomerate
Dalian Wanda
Group is planning a
major restructuring of its film
assets, according to a filing
document issued by the company last week.
According to the filing,
Wanda plans to inject its
movie production subsidiary Wanda Pictures into its
publicly traded movie theater
unit, Wanda Cinema Line
Co., which is listed on the
Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
Wanda Pictures comprises
Wandas domestic Chinese
movie-production business.
Legendary Entertainment,
which the Chinese conglomerate agreed to buy for $3.5
billion in January, is expected
to become part of Wanda

Filmart insiders say the U.S. presidential candidates harsh words for China and Japan could lead
to less cooperation with Hollywood and negatively impact longterm trade deals By Gavin J. Blair

content.
I hope he wont become
president because it will affect
relationships with countries in
Asia, says Sunny Sun, from the
international sales department at
a major Chinese entertainment
corporation. I think hes good as
president of a company, but not
of a country. I think he doesnt
like Asians. He should be more
positive, Asia is a huge market.
His opinions are unbalanced.
Politics does influence business:
Im in charge of Vietnam and
when there were tensions with

Crosscurrent

A journey up Chinas Yangtze River becomes mystical poetry


in Yang Chaos sophomore feature by deborah young

C O N T I N U ED O N PA G E 2

Desen Planning
Prada Remake

review

By Karen Chu

hinas Desen
International Media is
to remake the 2006 Fox
hit The Devil Wears Prada.
The fashion focused comedy
that starred Anne Hathaway
and Meryl Streep, will relocate
from New York to Shanghai in
the Chinese-language version.
Fox is currently not involved
in the remake. A studio insider
told THR that the company
is not considering Prada in its
slate of new Chinese-language
remakes through the link-up
between Fox International
Productions and Fox Networks
Group Asia. The Devil Wears
Prada is not among the list

Jiang is a boat hand who


spends most of his time
drinking. See page 6 for
a Q&A with Crosscurrent
director Yang.

China in 2014 I couldnt sell anything to them.


Trumps opposition to the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
deal, which he has described as
insanity, is also worrying to
rights holders in countries which
would see the copyright period
on content extended under the
agreement.
The TPP was signed in
February by the representatives
of 12 countries, including the
U.S., Japan, Australia, Vietnam,
Malaysia and Singapore, though
C O N T I N U E D O N PA G E 2

H E W I N T ER

journey of a small cargo


boat up the Yangtze
River, from Shanghai to its
source in the high mountains,
becomes the excuse for a
mystical mind trip of inner discovery in writer-director Yang
Chaos Crosscurrent. Much
like his previous film Passages,
which won a Camera dOr at
Cannes in 2004, its all about
metaphor and mood, while the
storytelling is so lightweight
it might not exist. Without it,
this drunken boat sailing on
poetry cant hold interest for
its entire two-hour running
time. Audiences willing to
forego narrative for the sake of
basking in its gorgeous cinematography, haunting poetry
and some splendid views of
inland China are likely to congregate at film festivals.
A project 10 years in the
making after Yang brought
the screenplay to a Cannes
workshop, Crosscurrent seems
to address a youthful audience
C O N T I N U E D O N PA G E 1 6

C O N T I N U ED O N PA G E 2

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_news1+2+REVIEW.FINAL.indd 1

3/14/16 5:02 AM

theREPORT

Pegasus Readies
Lees Hunter
By Karen Chu

egasus Motion Pictures


has unveiled the cast of
its $16 million Bounty
Hunter, that in addition to
South Korean superstar Lee
Min-Ho, Wallace Chung,
Louis Fan, and Karena
Ng are joining the cast.
Produced by Pegasus,
Shanghai
Xinyi Media,
Lee
and Union Investment
Partners, the film is scheduled
for a 2016 summer release.
The company is also
announcing Blossom Afresh,
a $1.3 million family black
comedy produced by Ng
Kin-hung and directed by
former The Way We Dance
screenwriter Chan Tai-Li. The
film is co-produced with Hong
Kongs Golden Scene and
Local Productions Ltd.
know your dealmaker

CORA YIM

SENIOR VICE-PRESIDENT OF
FOX INTERNATIONAL CHANNELS, HEAD
OF CHINESE ENTERTAINMENT

Integral to the deal made between Fox


Networks Group Asia and Fox
International Productions to produce
Chinese-language content for
theatrical and television distribution,
Yim will also be the producer of a
mini-series in the new slate. The first
production will begin in 2017.

MEANWHILE, IN THE REAL WORLD


Stock markets across Asia rose
Monday, led by Chinas Shenzhen
leaping 3.6 percent and Japans
Nikkei adding 1.7 percent.
Danny De Vito appeared at a
rally for U.S. presidential hopeful
Bernie Sanders in St. Louis on
Sunday and compared the senator
to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
India successfully test-fired a
domestically-built nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of
435 miles (700 kilometers) off the
coast of Odisha on Monday.

TRUMP

Trump is opposed to the


recently signed Trans
Pacific Partnership,
which extends copyright
periods in major
markets like Japan.

C O N T I N U ED F R O M PA G E 1

not China. The agreement effectively imposes U.S. copyright laws


to the other signatories, meaning
that it will be 95 years before
movies and TV programs become
public domain after their release.
In Japan, for example, the current term is 50 years.
If Trump becomes president
therell be no TPP and copyright
wont be extended, says Akhiro
Takeda from the international
business department at Japans
Toho. A number of our classic
titles would soon become public
domain.
Takeda is also concerned about
the effect a Trump presidency
would have on access to the China
market.
China-U.S. business is growing
and thats helping to open the
market for us, too. If Trump was
president then China might close
up again and there would be a side
effect for Japan, adds Takeda.
The representative of a U.S.
content distributor at Filmart,
attending the event to tap into
the Chinese market, was more
optimistic.

Whoever represents the U.S.


as president, it wont affect the
appeal of American content,
says Darrin Holender of L.A.-based
Multicom Entertainment. And
China wont want to restrict
access to U.S. content because it
will lead to more piracy.
However, China already maintains a quota on the number of
imported films given theatrical
releases and last year placed
restrictions on foreign content
on Internet platforms. Trumps

WANDA

PRADA

C O N T I N U ED F R O M PA G E 1

C O N T I N U ED F R O M PA G E 1

Pictures as soon as the deal closes.


Wang
The document also stipulates that
Qingdao Wanda Pictures the Wanda
unit currently constructing a state-of-the-art
movie production facility in Qingdao will be
merged into Wanda Cinema Line, as well.
Wanda Cinema Line halted from trading in
Shenzhen on Feb. 24 pending the announcement of
an acquisition. The targets of that acquisition are
now clear. The filing document says that Wanda
will reveal further details of the merger on April 8.
Wanda had expressed interest in pursuing
an IPO for its movie production unit for over a
year. In February, leaked documents revealed
that Wanda was seeking $1.5 billion of outside
investment in Wanda Pictures ahead of an IPO,
backdoor stock listing or asset injection into
another publicly listed company under the conglomerates control. The terms of the offer
indicated that Wanda Pictures would be valued
at $5.37 billion upon flotation. Wanda Groups
billionaire founder Wang Jianlin personally owns a
20 percent stake in Wanda Pictures. Wanda
Culture, which includes Wanda theaters, AMC
theaters and other entertainment assets, owns
55 percent, and the remaining 25 percent is owned
by Wanda Group.

of potential remakes were planning for the new


collaboration, the source said.
Beijing-based Desen confirmed the project and
that they are not working with Fox for the remake.
The company said it cannot reveal whether it has
the movie rights to the original Lauren Weisberger
novel. The project has been approved from production by SAPPRFT, the Chinese censorship bureau.
Founded by Chinese film producer Ann An in
2006, Desen previously co-produced the Donnie
Yen starrers Ip Man 2 and 14 Blades.
Prada was released in China in February
2007, eight months after its bow in the U.S. The
film created a sensation in the major cities in
China with corporations holding screenings of the
movie for March 8 Womens Day parties.
The Chinese version of the original novel also
became a bestseller.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_news1+2+REVIEW.FINAL.indd 2

China criticism has already


provoked indignation and the
government is keen to promote
the development of the domestic
entertainment industry.
Clearly Trump is out of touch.
Before, we used to learn English,
and now people are learning
Mandarin, says the representative of a Hong Kong-Chinese
distributor at Filmart. Its
undeniable that China is a strong
country now, and Trump opposes
China to his own detriment.

Were going
to China??

3/14/16 5:03 AM

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Agnes b. CINEMA! Hong Kong Arts Centre

WELCOME TO NORWAY
by Rune Denstad Langlo

SAND STORM
by Elite Zexer

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3/8/16 12:45 PM

Malaysias Animasia Teams With


Chinas Zero One for Chicken

By Karen Chu

alaysias Animasia Studio has inked a deal


with Chinas Zero One Animation to produce the CGI animated feature film Chuck
Chicken The Movie. The $8 million film is adapted
from the successful television series Chuck Chicken
a.k.a. Kungfu Chicken. Production will take place in
China, but animators from both countries will work
on the project. The film will premiere first in China,
as the original television series was particularly
popular there, where it gained 300 million views
within six months of its launch on the
countrys VOD platform iQIYI.
Malaysias Film Kingdom Group is
also collaborating with Hong Kongs
Pegasus Motion Pictures and Eunice
and Tonia Entertainment for Miss
Chuck
Sunshine, a romantic comedy directed Chicken
by veteran director Ko Chi-Sum that will
be shot entirely in Malaysia, specifically in Penang. The story chronicles
a group of single women in their late
thirties in search of love.

ABLAZE
LAUNCHES
WANDAS
VILLAGE

By Gavin J. Blair

aiwans Ablaze Pictures is


launching international
sales for Yu-Hsun Chens
The Village That Forgets and
Cheng-Chui Kuos debut feature
Fort Debussy at Filmart.
The Village That Forgets is a $9
million martial arts comedy set
in a rural village at the end of the
Qing dynasty and stars Eric Tsang,
Shu Qi and Joseph Chang.
The films seven investors
include Chinas Wanda Pictures
and Warner Bros. Taiwan, which
will be distributing in their
respective territories. The film
is scheduled for a release during
Chinese New Year in 2017.
Fort Debussy is the tale of a
mother (Yi-Ching Lu) and (Lun-Mei
Gwei) daughter who try to escape
the trauma of their life in the
city by hiding away in a forest.
Billed as a contemplation upon
civilization and isolation, it is
produced by Filmagic Pictures
and You Love Agent & PR
Executive Ltd. The film is due for
a release in autumn this year.

The deals marks the efforts of Malaysias


National Film Development Corporation (FINAS),
which has recently set up a $5 million co-production
grant to promote international co-productions. Now
on the agenda for FINAS is to promote collaborations between Asian film companies to produce
live-action feature films, said Azmir Mutalib, Senior
Director of FINAS.
The Malaysian film industry has seen a boom
in recent years, with the 2015 Polis Evo and 2014
The Journey grossing $4.2 million and
$4.1 million respectively. There were
81 films produced through FINAS in
2015, said Mutalib. And there were
some more co-productions that didnt
go through the FINAS system.
Matalib attributes the success
of those films to the script. The
Malaysian production houses are
starting to make the stories relevant
commercially. The script and story is
key, he said.

Huayi Brothers to Open New Animation Unit


By Patrick Brzeski

eading Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers announced on


Monday that it will launch a new animation division headed
by veteran Hollywood producer Joe Aguilar, formerly of
DreamWorks Animation and Twentieth Century Fox.
The establishment of an animation company signifies that the
company will enter the animated movie industry with world class
production skills, Huayi said in a statement to the Shenzhen stock
exchange.
The Chinese studio has been expanding its ties with Hollywood.
The company signed a landmark 18-film co-financing and distribution agreement with Bob Simonds STX Entertainment last April.

By Patrick Brzeski

ingaporean production company mm2


Entertainment unveiled
three forthcoming film projects on the first day of Hong
Kong Filmart Monday. The
projects include Take 2, a
heart-warming drama about
four ex-cons trying to make
good. Executive produced
by Jack Neo and directed by
Ivan Ho (co-writer of Ah Boys
To Men 3: Frogmen) the film
will be jointly produced with
J Team Productions from a
budget of $1 million. Director
M. Rihan Halim (Banting),
meanwhile, will direct horror feature Ibu, the story of
an eight year-old girl who
befriends a Pontianak, a
vampiric ghost in Malay and
Indonesian mythology.
The film will be shot and
released in two completely
separate language versions for
the ethnically diverse Malay
and Singaporean audience.
Ghost Net, finally, will be a
Hong Kong horror feature
centering on three scary
stories related to the Internet.
It is directed by Wong Kwok Fai,
Wong Kwok Keung and Patrick
Yau. The film has a budget of
$1.3 million.

Exclusive
First Look

Sisterhood

Hong Kong actress-singer Gigi Leung stars in the drama Sisterhood, in which her character is forced to revisit her past working
in a massage parlor when one of her old friends passes away. One Cool Film is handling international sales at Filmart.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_news3C.indd 4

Singapores
mm2 Unveils
Three Titles

3/14/16 5:10 AM

theREPORT

n
Hidde
GEM

Love, Saudi Arabian Style

Mahmoud Sabbaghs rom-com Barakah Meets Barakah playfully examines dating


in a world with strict rules about how men and women interact By Alex Ritman
Fageeh stars as a
civilservant who falls
for a woman with a
popular online show.

oy meets girl. Boy loses


girl. Boy gets girl. So
goes the standard structure of most rom-coms. Things
get a little more complicated,
however, when you set the story
in Saudi Arabia, a country with
a few additional stumbling
blocks when it comes to unmarried boys and girls hooking up
with one another.
So lies the basic outline for
Barakah Meets Barakah (Barakah
Yoqabil Barakah), an unlikely
love story from first-timer
Mahmoud Sabbagh screening
in the HKIFFs Young Cinema
Competition.
I wanted to make a film
about the disenfranchised youth,
the millennials, who are more
voiceless and have less political
representation, less economic
opportunities, says Sabbagh,
who, like many emerging Saudi

creatives, cut his teeth making


YouTube videos. Its also about
censorship, the layers of censorship and authority.
The story sees twentysomething civil servant Barakah run
into Bibi, an online star with a
hugely popular vlog. But where
other rom-coms might follow
the hilarious consequences of
the would-be-couples various
interactions, the ever-watchful eye of Saudis rather strict
authorities coupled with any
unchaperoned public meeting
being strictly prohibited makes
even getting to the first date a
near-impossible endeavor.
Its a love story against the
odds, says Sabbagh, who points
out that, hindered by such
restrictions, youngsters have
turned to smartphones and social
media in a rather big way, with
many blossoming relationships

hong kong according to ...

THE SALE S EX EC

VIRGINIA LEUNG
Director of Distribution
Workshop, a Hong Kongbased film sales agent
and production company,
representing many of Chinas
top titles in the international
marketplace.

BARAKAH: COURTESY OF BERLINALE.

played out in cyberspace.


And in casting his romantic
male lead, he turned to one of
countrys rising social media
stars. Hisham Fageeh became an
Internet sensation in 2013 with
his song No Woman, No Drive,
which used Bob Marleys No
Woman, No Cry to mock the
notorious female driving ban.
The YouTube video racked up
some 13 million views and helped
show the world that, despite what
many might think about their
countrys seemingly harsh exterior, Saudi Arabians arent averse
to laughing at themselves.
But aside from the comedic
elements at play, Sabbagh says
he hopes to use his film as a
standard-bearer during what has
become an interesting period in
the Kingdoms history.
There is this notion of change
in Saudi Arabia now; we have a
younger leadership, and it seems
this change has been coming at
a faster pace than ever, he says,
adding that hes hoping Barakah
Meets Barakah has a domestic
screening despite the lack of
theaters (although theres no
official ban, there arent any cinemas in the country). We profit
from this new political climate.
The kids over there are doing
a great job, and wed like our
film to be a symbol of change
and growing opportunities for
the youth.

Whats your most memorable only in Hong Kong


moment?
The gorgeous sunset view
from the 3,000-foot high
Sunset Peak. This is only for
those who are ready to hike.
Its worth it.

Whats a Hong Kong faux


pas to be avoided?
Some Hong Kong supermarkets sell everything, often in
Chinese, so be careful that
you know what things are
intended for. An expat friend
of mine bought some fancy
papers to write notes on
and found out later he was
writing on the traditional
paper money we burn to
worshipping our ancestors.
One thing that every
visitor should try?
Go to a local noodle or

congee restaurant and try


beef brisket rice noodles in
beef brisket soup. You can
get good dim-sum in other
countries, but its really
difficult to find an authentic
Cantonese bowl of noodles
elsewhere. Only with this
kind of simple local food do I
feel at home.
Any tips for how to
blend in with locals in
Hong Kong?
Learn a few Cantonese
phrases to break the ice.
People really appreciate it.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_news4+hiddengem.FINAL.indd 5

Golden
Network Finds
New Job
By Patrick Brzeski

olden Network has


picked up international sales rights
to Golden Job, a car-chase
action-comedy to be directed
by Chin Ka-lok, the action
maestro behind Cold War,
Motorway and Firestorm.
Produced by Eric Tsang, the
film follows a pair of con
artists who take one last job
only to find themselves pitting
their wits against both the
police and criminals in a series
of exhilarating to-the-death
races across Asia. The film is
expected to shoot in Macau,
Tokyo and Thailand, among
other locations in the region.
Golden Job is the first feature
from newly established Hong
Kong production banner
The Entertainer Production
Company. Casting announcements are expected soon. Car
chase fare is red hot in the
car-crazy mainland Chinese
market, where Furious 7
grossed a record $391 million
last July.

THR IN HONG KONG


NEWS
Kevin Cassidy
kevin.cassidy@thr.com
+1 213 840 1896
Patrick Brzeski
patrick.brzeski@gmail.com
+81 80 5900 0233
Karen Chu
kchuwork@gmail.com
+852 6171 3530
Gavin J. Blair
gavin_blair@yahoo.com
+81 90 6479 4745
REVIEWERS
Elizabeth Kerr
delizabethkerr@yahoo.ca
Clarence Tsui
c_extra@hotmail.com
Piera Chen
scaredturtles@gmail.com
ART & PRODUCTION
Peter B. Cury
peter.cury@thr.com
SALES
Ivy Lam
ivy.lam@thr.com
+852 6176 9272

3/13/16 9:53 PM

Q&A DIRECTOR

Its very important to me


that Crosscurrent is seen in
China, says Chao.

The helmer discusses why his second


feature, Crosscurrent, is a love letter to
the Yangtze River and how the film shoot
made him want to learn to swim

By Patrick Brzeski
IR ECTOR YA NG CH AOS SECON D

feature, Crosscurrent, was the sole


Chinese work to compete at last months
Berlin International Film Festival,
where it beguiled, bedeviled and divided critics. The picture is getting another showing at
the Hong Kong International Film Festival
this week.
Yang describes the film as a love letter to
Chinas mighty Yangtze River, a waterway
that has captivated Chinese poets and artists
across the ages, and thus, serves as a potent
marker of change in the countrys complicated evolution. This theme undergirds
the films meager, enigmatic plot. The film
follows young riverboat captain Gao Chun,
played by Qin Hao, as he pilots a decaying
industrial freighter some 3,900 miles up the
Yangtze, from its mouth in Shanghai to its
source in the highlands of Tibet. Aboard the
boat, Chun discovers a mysterious book of
poetry written by a former captain sometime
in the 1990s. The book contains angst-ridden
philosophical musings about the course of
contemporary China, along with a map detailing the locations of villages along the river.
At each port on the map, Chun encounters a
beautiful young woman, An Lu (Xin Zhi Lei),
whose identity and intentions shift with each

The poetry and philosophical reflections in


the film seem to present the Yangtze as a marker
of change in China.
The poems in the book, which are read in
voiceover in each chapter, were written by a
[real] captain when he was a younger man,
in the 1990s. He was an intellectual poet and
not a successful one. Those poems were the
loyal record of his feelings towards China in
the 1990s his anger, his complains and his
dissatisfaction back then. Thats a highlight
in the film, which is the reflection of an image
of China that was not prevented, a China of
adversity and injustice, which comes through
the poems. In the film, the poet is more like
a prophet, so his poems back then were a
reflection of the China that is not presented
image-wise.

What was it like making this film?


It was a very unconventional
shoot. Unlike other crews that
Are there any hints you can offer to the audience
structure the shoot in a strateon how to interpret the enigmatic love story at the
gic way, stopping and starting
heart of the film?
at different points, and only bringing in the
This isnt an ordinary love story. Its magical
cast when youre ready for them, our entire
love. Its not sweet. Its a story of heartbreak
cast and crew lived together on one boat and
and loss. The male protagonist and the female
another ship carried all of the props and
protagonist are two souls that have been
equipment. We sailed together from Shanghai tortured by the afterlife. Their love only exists
to Yibin, which is a few thousand [miles]. We
in the magic of the river, and when the magic
made the film together during this journey.
is gone, their love vanishes. Its a very unconOne of the biggest challenges was getting
ventional emotion or feeling that Im trying to
permission. Because the Yangtze is such a
convey. That being said, the possibility of real
long river, it traverses many different jurisdiclove is not possible from the very beginning.
tions and provinces, so we had to
The love is closely related to the
do a lot of work to convince the
river. The love only exists when
BY THE NUMBERS
public transportation bureaus
the two meet at different ports.
into letting us shoot on different
When the magic of the river
stretches of the river.
is gone, the male protagonist
Feature films directed
gives up his search for lost love
Had you spent time on boats before?
through time.
As a child, I grew up beside a
International award
small river, but I couldnt swim.
Its quite difficult to get an
(a Camera dOr for
Passages in 2004)
Ive always had a craving for
arthouse-style film of this kind
swimming and Ive always been
released in China. Are you
jealous of people who can swim.
optimistic that ordinary people in
Miles traveled while
shooting Crosscurrent on
So I think I have this obsesChina will get to see it?
the Yangtze River
sion with water. I had never
Of course, this film was prispent anytime on boats before, but I did a
marily made for the Chinese audience.
lot of prep work and felt very prepared by
It has historical and cultural dimensions
the time we began shooting. The experience
and sentiments that I think you need to be
onboard was either like being part of a big
Chinese need to have lived through these
family, where everyone lives and eats together
past two decades of change in China to
intimately, or it was like being stuck on in a
fully appreciate. Im actually quite optimistic.
floating prison. [Laughs.] The bell rang and
Were holding discussions for an April or May
everyone came out with their meal box for
release. The rising commercial box office in
lunch and dinner breaks, and then the bell
China has changed the outlook of the entire
rang again and everyone had to get back to
industry. It may take more time, but I am
work. The highlight in terms of relaxation,
optimistic that there will be a space for artwas that the frater itself wasnt a small one.
house films in China. Aesthetically, this film is
On the fourth floor there was a bar area
a powerful example, which I believe will strike
equipped by the producer with snacks and
a cord with the Chinese audience.

2
1

3,900

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_Chao.FINAL.indd 6

drinks. We would gather up there at night and


have long discussions about the project, or
just about life, as we floated along the river.

AP PHOTO/AXEL SCHMIDT

Yang Chao

meeting.
A work ten years in the
making, Crosscurrent emerged
from a 2005 talent campus
at the Cannes Film Festival,
where Yangs debut feature Passages won a Camera
dOr in 2004. In Berlin, the
film was honored with a
Silver Bear for Outstanding
Artistic Contribution for the
spellbinding camerawork of
cinematographer Mark Lee
Ping-Bing (The Assassin). Chao
sat down with THR to discuss
what it was like to live and work
on Chinas largest river, the
prospects for indie cinema in
his country and how to parse
the pictures peculiar love story.

3/13/16 10:48 PM

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Market Summary
Date : Oct.20-22.2015
Number of Exhibitors: 347
Number of Buyers : 1,433

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50countries&regions

28%UP

3/3/16 11:03 AM

China and Japan: Friends at Last?

After years of tense relations, Asias two biggest film sectors are warming up to one another, and the first Japanese live action
release in over five years in the Chinese market could lead to a new era of collaboration By Gavin J. Blair Illustrations by Lars Leetaru

EL AT IONS BET W EEN CH I NA A N D

Japan, Asias two biggest economies and


entertainment markets, have fluctuated
in the decades since they signed a formal
Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978.
Tensions have risen and fallen over historical
issues and territorial disputes. Yet for most of
that period, business ties continued to grow;
despite a nearly 12 percent drop last year,
bilateral trade still amounted to more than
$300 billion. And after years of tight restriction on Japanese content, opportunities in the
huge and rapidly expanding Chinese entertainment sector are once again emerging.
The latest Sino-Japanese chill descended
over the issue of a group of uninhabited rocks
in the seas between the two countries, known
as Diayou in China and the Senkaku Islands
in Japan, and claimed by both countries,
as well as by Taiwan. The left-of-center
Democratic Party of Japan government
bought the islands in 2012. Despite claims it
was an attempt to keep them out of the hands
of then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, an
outspoken nationalist and serial China-baiter,
Beijings reaction was anger.
There were anti-Japanese protests in
China, some Japanese companies premises
were damaged, bilateral trade plummeted
and entertainment industry deals were off the
cards.

Over the subsequent years the diplomatic


situation slowly improved. China and Japans
leaders started meeting again, and deals for
Japanese TV series and VOD movie releases
began to be signed again.
A breakthrough came in May last year,
when Stand By Me Doraemon, a CGI version
of the hugely successful manga, anime and
big screen franchise, got a theatrical release
in China. The blue cat-type robot had long
been a favorite across Asia, is hugely popular
in Hong Kong and well known in China. The
film finished with $87 million in China, beating its total of $79 million in Japan, where it
was the third-biggest hit of 2014. The stellar
performance in China helped boost total
Japanese film export earnings by 50 percent
last year.
Since then a few anime have been released,
including Tohos Boruto: Naruto the Movie
and Toei Animations Saint Seiya: Legend of
Sanctuary this year. While their box office
grosses havent matched Doraemons, let alone
a Hollywood blockbuster, they represent
good business for Japanese films, which have
registered limited commercial export success
over the years.
According to Japanese industry insiders,
it has been easier to get anime, at least the
mainstream, family-friendly variety, released
in China due to the absence of controversial
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D2_HK_Japan.FINAL.indd 8

themes that could attract censors attention.


A lack of real-live Japanese faces on screen
has also almost certainly been a plus. That
too is about to change.
This spring, Flying Colors is set to be the
first Japanese live action film released in
Chinese theaters in more than five years. It
is currently scheduled for release on 2,000
to 3,000 screens. To put that in perspective,
Japan has a few more than 3,400 screens and
anything more than a 500-screen release is
reserved for blockbusters.
Based on a true story which was made
into a million-selling novel, Flying Colors
was released in Japan in May 2015 and took
around $25 million at the domestic box office.
The film tells the tale of a high-school slacker
with the academic level of a fourth grade elementary school student who decides to apply
to one of Tokyos elite universities.
The film was made by an 11-company film
production committee, common practice in
Japan, led by Tokyo Broadcasting System
Television (TBS) and including cable and
regional TV networks, an advertising agency,
a telecoms group and a major newspaper.
Production committees spread risk and give
the participants an opportunity, and incentive, to promote the films through their own
media platforms, but often result in slow decision making. In the case of releases in China,

3/14/16 5:22 AM

CREDITS HERE AND HERE

where censors can call for unpredictable cuts,


any changes have to be approved by all the
committees members.
According to the buyer, the reason that this
film was chosen, among many good Japanese
productions, is that the themes and story
resonate with Chinese society. Particularly
young people, who make up the movie-going
segment, explains Yuhka Matoi, from TBS,
which also handled international sales.
They said that China has an even more
competitive education system than Japan.
And so using the medium of a movie, with
a plot based on a true story, the theme of
not giving up even when the situation looks
hopeless, is one that is encouraging to a lot of
people, adds Matoi.
The release wont though open the floodgates for Japanese productions into China,
as they still have to compete for slots with
releases from Hollywood and elsewhere
under Chinas quota system, which restricts
the number of foreign films shown. Other
Japanese companies have signed deals with
Chinese buyers, but one said they are, 99.9
percent sure the films wont end up getting a
theatrical release.
Japanese entertainment properties, like
those from other nations, still face hurdles in
accessing the giant Chinese market. Japanese
companies still usually need to work through
intermediaries which have operations in
China and understand the complexities of
doing business there.
Then there is the issue of the ever-moving
and opaque censorship goalposts.
Censorship is strict, especially around
political themes and the kind of language
used. The criteria changes all the time so it
is difficult; the distributors are keen but they
struggle with censorship. Even if we make a
deal, thats a risk, says a source who deals
with the Chinese market for a Japanese company but asked not to be identified. Its the
wild, wild east.

The Adventure
of Denchu-Kozo

ANARCHY IN NIPPON: REVISITING JAPANS PUNK AUTEURS

The Hong Kong International Film Fests Hachimiri Madness sidebar shines a spotlight
on the indie rebels whose do-it-yourself ethos transformed Japanese cinema

showcase of early
8mm works from
some of Japans most
highly-regarded auteurs freshly
digitalized to 2K and with new
English subtitles, is being
screened in Hong Kong under
the banner Hachimiri Madness
Japanese Indies from the
Punk Years. Shot between 1977
and 1990, consisting of both fulllength features and shorts, the
11 films portray the punk ethos
that influenced the young directors and is still evident in many
of their later productions. The
raw feel of much the filmmaking
is matched by the format
hachimiri is Japanese for 8mm
as these punk directors were
discovering their creative voices.
The oldest film in the series
is the Isolation of 1/880000
(also known as Solitude of One
Divided by 880,000) made
in 1977 by Sogo Ishii, often
hailed as the godfather of
Japanese punk filmmaking.
Made by Ishii while a second
year film student at Tokyos
Nihon University College of Art,
the alma mater of numerous
Japanese directors, it portrays
a frustrated young man ostensibly studying for university
entrance exams.
It was shot mostly in the
room where I lived in Tokyo.
I had no money and used all
different kinds of film to shoot,
it was a Frankenstein. The film
I could afford didnt record
sound, so it had no soundtrack,
the director, who now goes by
the name Gakuryu Ishii, tells
The Hollywood Reporter.
Hiring out venues to screen

the film himself, Ishii would


use different music depending on the occasion, ranging
from John Coltranes A Love
Supreme to British punk band
The Pop Group.
I felt I had something to say
to the world, though I never
imagined it would be screened
around the world, added Ishii,
who hasnt yet seen the digitalized version.
In an unprecedented move in

Sono

Japans conservative mainstream film industry, Ishiis


graduation film Crazy Thunder
Road was picked up for theatrical distribution by major studio
Toei. Among those in envious
awe of the instant success of
the young director was Shinya
Tsukamoto, a first year art student at the same university.
Tsukamoto would go on to
become a director himself,
and his cyberpunk cult favorite
The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo
(1988) will be screened alongside Ishiis film. The film was
based on a stage production
Tsukamoto had created with
fellow students and would be
the last film he shot on 8mm.
Looking back at it now, its
kind of cute, and in terms of
the filmmaking techniques too.
It had a lot of energy and love
in it, though said Tsukamoto,

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D2_HK_Japan.FINAL.indd 9

whose Fires on the Plain competed at Venice in 2014.


The DIY ethos developed
during the 8mm days carried on through his career,
according to Tsukamoto, who
says his approach to making
his own films his own way
hasnt changed. For the Tetsuo
(The Iron Man) trilogy, which
cemented his worldwide cult
following, Tsukamoto wrote,
produced, directed, edited and
appeared in the productions.
8mm was like a child of
35mm, but Im so fond of that
format, added Tsukamoto.
The only director to have
two films in the program is Sion
Sono, with I am Sion Sono!!
(1980) and A Mans Flower
Road (1986).
Festival circuit favorite Sono
rarely watches his old films
and says hes embarrassed at
the thought of others watching
them now.
Im happy theyve been
chosen for the program, but Im
also in both of them, and was
very young, so thats embarrassing too, Sono says.
The iconoclastic helmer
recalls his use of handheld
cameras was considered
crazy by his fellow film
students, due to shaky footage
they produced.
At that time, nobody was
using handhelds, he recalls.
Now its the norm. There have
been films with a documentary
touch, like The Blair Witch
Project, and everyone is using
them in Hollywood. But at the
time, they thought I was mad.
G. B.

3/14/16 5:21 AM

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3/2/16 11:21 AM

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3/2/16 11:26 AM

1 The State Theatre in North


Point in 1968. Architectural
historian Haider Kikabhoy
calls it the last vestige of
Hong Kong entertainment
history from the
midcentury.
2 Innovative parabolic
trusses on the theaters
roof allowed the structures
ceiling to be supported
from above.
3 The theater as it appears
today: transformed into a
mixed space that includes a
shopping center,
apartments and a pool hall.

The Fight to Save


Hong Kongs Last
Movie Palace

S T H E SUCCE SS OF T H E
film premieres and stage shows
by international performers,
Hong Kong International
including the late British tenor
Film Festival attests, Hong
Peter Pears, Katherine Dunham
Kong has one of Asias richCompany, and the late Taiwanese
est histories of moviegoing.
pop superstar Teresa Teng.
But even though the Hong
Since its projectors went dark
Kong film industrys production
in 1997, the cinema has fallen into
prowess lives on local director
With the iconic State Theatre facing possible
semi-disrepair. The complex now
Stephen Chows latest comedy
demolition,
local activists are battling to preserve a piece
contains a shabby shopping mall, a
The Mermaid recently grossed a
of local film history: If its demolished, it will be very sad
snooker club and nearly 200 small
record-smashing $500 million in
By Patrick Brzeski
residential flats. Over the past year,
mainland China most of the
local developer New World Development has begun buying up the
citys monuments to its cinematic heritage have been erased.
apartments, leading local conservationists to suspect that the company
A lot of the great old cinemas of Hong Kong have been relegated to
plans to take over and demolish the building to make way for one of the
the dustbin of history, says Haider Kikabhoy, an architectural history
residential skyscrapers it is known for erecting throughout the city.
researcher at Hong Kong City University
According to records from the Antiquities Advisory Board, the
Just one postwar movie theater still stands, the State Theatre in the
government body that assesses and grades historic buildings for
neighborhood of North Point and this once majestic movie palace is
preservation status, the State Theatre has been on the boards list of
now under urgent threat by private developers.
buildings in need of review since September. Kikabhoy and his colThis is a place that evokes a lot of fond memories for people of
Hong Kong, says Kikabhoy. If its demolished, it will be very sad in leagues are urging the board to take immediate action.
Theres an official acknowledgement that the building may be
a way, its the last vestige of Hong Kong entertainment history from
valuable, but there is no indication of when they will make a decision,
the midcentury.
he says. That means the building has no status. If someone acquires it
In 1950s Hong Kong, cinema was king. Television had yet to colonize
now, they can tear it down without issue.
living-rooms, and nearly every neighborhood in the city had its own
Through an architectural tour group company he founded in 2013
standalone movie theater. Hong Kong was emerging from the privations
called Walk in Hong Kong, Kikabhoy and his allies commissioned an
of the World War II era, and the the city was starting to boom again.
independent analysis of the theaters architectural, social and cultural
Competition in the narrow entertainment market was particularly
value. Architecturally, the building is believed to be valuable because
fierce, leading local impresarios to build ever grander theaters to attract
of the striking, concrete parabolic trusses on its roof, which were a
ticket buyers it speaks to the optimism of the era, says Kikabhoy.
midcentury architectural innovation used to suspend the ceiling from
Into this milieu appeared Harry Odell, a legendary Hong Kong charabove, allowing for an expansive, pillar-less auditorium space.
acter who was born to Russian Jewish parents in Shanghai and spent
There is no other building in Hong Kong that has adopted reina colorful youth as a professional tap dancer in Nagasaki, Japan, later
fighting for the U.S. in the first World War in France, before ultimately forced concrete external parabolic trusses, says Dr Lee Ho-yin, director
of the University of Hong Kongs architectural conservation program,
settling in Hong Kong, where he married a wealthy socialite and
one of six experts consulted for the report. As far as I know, it is very
launched a local film distribution business. In a 1952 business expanlikely to be one of a kind in Asia.
sion effort, Odell unveiled the Empire Theatre in North Point.
The local activists ultimate vision for the State Theatre is
Local coverage and advertisements at the time describe the thepreservation, followed by a revival. The conservationists envision a
ater as gigantic, with a 56-foot cinema screen, a ceiling cut in the
mixed-use venue showing a program of new independent film and local
shape of a diamond, gold velvet curtains and walls that are floodlit
genre movie classics, along with making the space available for stage
in blue, red and green. Surveying the completed project on the eve of
and musical performances, as it once was.
its opening which featured the gala premiere of Paramounts latest
One of Hong Kongs leading distributors has expressed interest to
musical, Just for You, starring Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman Odell told
the South China Morning Post, I emphasize that this is not just another me privately in running the theater again if it can be revived, says
Kikabhoy. If the theater can get Grade 1 conservation status, reviving
theater.
it would make a lot of sense. It could be a spectacularly cool landmark,
The theaters name was later changed to The State Theatre
catering to the cultural interests and needs of our community.
in 1959, and it continued to operate up until 1997, hosting local

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D2_HK_Theatre.FINAL.indd 12

12

3/13/16 10:01 PM

SCREENING

WED 16th 16:00CEC Meeting Room


N102-N103

Meet us at

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contact_en@geki-cine.jp

3/7/16 12:04 PM

EXECUTIVE SUITE

PRODUCER

Bill Borden

The Hollywood vet on how pollution


inspired the blockbuster Mermaids and
the future of the Chinese film sector

By Patrick Brzeski
I L L BOR DEN H A S H A D A F RON T ROW

view of Chinas historic film boom. After


two-decades in Hollywood producing
projects such as Robert Rodriguezs
Desperado (1995), Spike Lees Get on the Bus
(1996) and Arnold Schwarzeneggers End of
Days (1999) the veteran producer was dispatched to Hong Kong by Columbia Pictures
in 2002 to co-executive produce the Jackie
Chan action picture The Medallion. During his
time in Hong Kong, Borden became friends
with Chan and many of the local industrys
leading film figures, including Stephen
Chow, with whom he went on to develop the
action-comedy Kung Fu Hustle for Sony and
Columbia. Written and directed by Chow
and produced by Borden, Kung Fu Hustle
grossed $17 million in North America, $20.2
million in mainland China and $101 million
worldwide a fantastic total at the time of its
release in 2005. Fast-forward a decade, and
Stephen Chows latest fantasy comedy, The
Mermaid, which Borden again co-produced,
has grossed an astonishing $500 million from
the mainland Chinese market alone. In 2014,
Borden became the head of Mili Pictures
Worldwide, a Shanghai-based animation
studio that is developing a slate of animated
features around IP from Shanda Games, one
of Chinas largest and most successful mobile
gaming companies. Borden, who divides time
between Los Angeles and Shanghai, spoke
with THR about The Mermaids unprecedented success, the changes hes witnessed in
the Chinese film sector and what the industry
needs to do to reach a global audience.
How did you get involved in The Mermaid?
In October 2009, when Stephen was doing
Green Hornet at Sony Studios, he didnt like
the script and it wasnt working out. We were
meeting occasionally in Los Angeles for
dinner, so I said, well, theres another movie
I think we should make in China. He said
what is it. I said I want to do this story about
a group of mermaids, or mer-people, who live
in a beautiful grotto in China, and the grotto
is being taken over by an industrialist whos
going to ruin the environment and kill off the
last beautiful area where the merpeople are
living, and so they decide to send a beautiful
young mermaid up to meet the industrialist
and kill him.
Thats the films whole story concept. So do you

The studios might be surprised to


learn that theyre going to have to
accommodate Chinese culture a little
more than they think, says Borden,
photographed by Scott Witter on
March 4 at his office in Santa Monica.

have a story credit, too?


No, I dont have story credit. Thats a bone of
contention, but its okay. I have a consulting
producer credit.
From the time that you worked on Kung Fu Hustle
to the current Mermaid moment, whats changed
in the Chinese industry?
A lot. ... Their system was one directed by
the government, which basically paid for
the movies. There were five major studios
and the government gave them a budget for
making features and TV every year, and those
studios were required to produce so many
hours of film features and television. They
had directors they trusted and they just came
in and did it. So the concept of developing
screenplays and having someone analyze the
marketing potential of a picture, was simply
not the system. It was government and director-driven, without much market pressure. It
didnt even really matter how successful the
films were, because they were mostly paid for
by the government.
What needs to happen for Chinese movies to take
the next step to go global like Hollywood?
This is something Im preaching all the time
with the companies that I work with. With
some light development where you understand both the western market and eastern
market, and add a few simple things like
connectivity between themes and some
character development, which is not in their
tradition we can make a big Chinese picture much more acceptable and palatable to
the West.
What other subject matter can you tackle to make
them internationally appealing?
Thats one of the things about these hit
Chinese movies: most of them are very
parochial. They just dont translate. But if
its a subject thats more international like
say, Raman Huis Monster Hunt if you made
an English version, I think it could work. We
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D2_HK_Borden.FINAL.indd 14

dont like to read subtitles in the U.S., but


there are stories that can be made in both
languages that will work. Animation is easier
because you dont have actors. On Dragon
Nest: Warriors Dawn at Mili (2014), we had
two sets of voice actors and we redid the lip
synch for each language. I know Kung Fu
Panda 3 claimed it was the first movie made in
Chinese and English, but thats not true. We
did the same thing.
Do you think thats possible for live-action, too?
If you have a cast that speaks both languages,
a piece like Mermaid could be made in two
versions pretty easily. A lot of those actors are
from Hong Kong and speak English. With a
little bit of extra production, you could run
English takes. That has not been done yet,
but Ive been preaching it, believe me.
Many studios are setting up Chinese joint
ventures to produce big budget, Chinese-language
films. Is this the way forward?
It is. Every studio is going to be in China.
Theres no reason not to be, with the box office
potential that big. Its going to be the trend.
The studios are going to try to dominate by
making movies with local partners. Kung Fu
Panda 3 is a very good example. Also, you
have to remember that an A-list animator
in Shanghai makes $100 per day, whereas in
California they can make $1,000 per day. So
there are lots of reasons for DreamWorks
Animation to do animation in China
Do you foresee any friction points?
Well, even if a studio does a $500 million deal
to create a joint venture, theyre going to find
out very quickly that its a different culture.
The studios might be surprised to learn that
theyre going to have to accommodate the
culture a little more than they think. A lot of
people like to make way for Hollywood, but
Im not sure the Chinese are going to be quite
as accommodating. The Chinese are very
culturally confident.

14

3/13/16 9:43 PM

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3/9/16 3:50 PM

R E V I E WS
market
title

Rupture

Rapace is
abducted and
subjected to
strange tests.

Secretary director Steven Shainberg steps behind


the camera for the first time in a decade with this genre
thriller starring Noomi Rapacee by elizabeth kerr

H E CON T I N U I NG EVOLU T ION OF H U M A N I T Y A N D OU R

post-human future are big science fiction ideas that have been
tackled in various forms from Iain Banks and Octavia Butler
on the literary side to Star Trek and Doctor Who in film and television.
Unable to resist the siren call of speculating on what well look like
generations from now, writer-director Steven Shainberg dips into one
of the genres mainstay themes with the aggressively odd Rupture, a
sci-fi mystery that strings its premise along to nearly unsustainable
lengths. Veering wildly from the S&M as therapy dynamic he explored
in 2002s compelling but uneven Secretary and the unconventional
Diane Arbus biopic Fur, Shainberg mixes tropes and beats from horror
and mystery as well, calling to mind Martyrs, The Signal and a lot in
between in his flawed but strangely engrossing thriller. Rupture will
be a good fit for genre festivals worldwide and should be able to find
its built-in, and considerable, audience for oddball sci-fi on download

CROSSCURRENT
C O N T I N U E D F R O M PA G E 1

searching for its path in life.


Drifting through seas of moody
romantic doubts and yearning,
the scenically beat-up cargo boat
commanded by young captain
Gao Chun (Qin Hao, the lead in Ye
Lous Blind Massage) chugs its way
upriver. Chuns father, the boat
owner, has recently died, and he
keeps a black fish in an incense
bowl, waiting for it to die so Dads
spirit can be released. This is the
first intimation of the mystical/
traditional/Buddhist themes
that underpin the film and which
will turn viewers either on or off,
depending on their persuasion.
The films unique characteristic
is that it follows the rhythm of
poems. These have been written
by some long-gone deckhand who

voiced his melancholy and feelings of despair in a secret diary.


When Chun stumbles across the
hand-written book, he is captivated by its depth and longing.
From that point on, he charts his
course by the river ports in the
poems, and in each place he finds
the same woman waiting for him.
While his crew of two, which
includes kindly, old alcoholic
Uncle Xiang (Jiang Hualin) and
needlessly resentful young
deckhand, Wu Sheng (Wu
Lipeng), is still moored in the fog
of Shanghai harbor, Chun first
catches sight of the beautiful An
Lu (Xin Zhilei) who stares back
at him from a boat even more
decrepit than his own. When he
approaches her, she shares her
bed without further preliminaries. It takes Chuns voiceover to
explain that although this is their

platforms. General theatrical release could be a tough sell, but isnt


entirely out of the question in the hands of a creative distributor.
On her way to kick-starting her life anew by skydiving, divorced
single mother Renee (Noomi Rapace, very often channeling her
Prometheus survivor) is abducted from a Kansas City highway by a
group of mysterious men led by The Shields Michael Chiklis and
taken to a anonymous, filthy laboratory. After the medical exam from
hell, the head doctor, Nyman (Lesley Manville) and a wicked drug
trip, Renee is, like the rest of the captives she can hear beyond her
cell walls, subjected to a series of physio-psychological tests meant to
determine if shell rupture. Suffice it to say, said rupture is a massive
DNA reorganization on a genetic level that will usher in the next wave
of humanity. And thats just one reason Renee is there.
With help from a garish, red-washed production design by Jeremy
Reed and often subjective cinematography by Karim Hussain, Rupture
manages a suitably claustrophobic and disorienting vibe for viewers
that matches Renees perfectly at any given moment. This is the grimy,
unregulated, down-low brand of lab experimentation flickering
lights, peeling paint, squeaky gurney wheels so common in the
genre and which taps into a collective fear of the out-of-control scientist convinced theyre right. The real leader of the group of so-called
researchers is Terrence, played by Peter Stormare in full mad scientist
glory, looming in the corners and disturbing in his stillness.
Rupture takes a little while to get going, flirting with Syfy Saturday
movie awkwardness at the outset, but once it relocates to the nightmare lab it settles into an effective rhythm that carries it almost to
the conclusion. Shainberg fails to quit while hes ahead, however, and
misses a great opportunity for an ambiguous ending that would have
been more affecting. Shainberg doesnt contribute anything substantial to the evolutionary debate, but Rupture, a tight diverting thriller,
isnt trying to crowd in on Isaac Asimovs territory anyway.
Sales Ambi Distribution
Cast Noomi Rapace, Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis
Director Steven Shainberg // 101 minutes

first encounter, it is far from


being just casual sex.
An Lu, as gradually becomes
apparent when she magically
turns up in distant places along
the river, is a river spirit herself.
In one of her incarnations, she
is a devout Buddhist living in
a remote temple, although she
doesnt shave her head like the
other nuns. She belongs to no
man and refuses no one who
comes to her. So much for Chuns
longing to have a woman of my
own.
As the ultimate romantic
Chinese travelogue, the film
delivers aesthetic pleasures
far beyond the ken of National
Geographic. The Yangtze
becomes increasingly the protagonist as they pass ports with
names like Yunyang, Pengze
and Fuling, all the way to the

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D2_HK_news1+2+REVIEWG.indd 16

Qin is a boat captain


who falls in love with a
mysterious woman.

Yichang mountains. Many of the


scenic towns have been gutted by
flooding and many old buildings
have been relegated to a watery
grave with the construction of
the controversial Three Gorges
Dam, whose sluice gates provide
a breathtaking scene of passage
for the little boat.
HKIFF Section Awards Gala
Cast Qin Hao, Xin Zhilei,
Wu Linpeng,
Director Yang Chao // 116 minutes

16

3/14/16 4:41 AM

market
title

Kalo Pothi, the Black Hen


Min Bahadur Bhams debut feature revolves around two boys
mission to relocate a missing hen as war rages around them

Demons mix with rock music in


Kudos imagined Buddhist hell.

Too Young to Die!

Kankuro Kudos wacky musical crowd pleaser about life


after death strikes just the right chord by piera chen

N T H IS DEMON ICA L LY DI V I N E M USICA L COM EDY,

Motherf---er! almost becomes Japans national moralebooster Ganbatte! (Do your best!) so often is it hollered
like a war-cry yet judging by the guffaws it solicits, the films
outlandish, self-reflexive irreverence has struck the right chord.
Helmer and writer Kankuro Kudo (Yaji and Kita: The Midnight
Pilgrims) has managed to turn a simplistic tale of love and life
choices into a thoroughly entertaining two-hour extravaganza
through wacky allusions to rock music, absurd interpretations of
Buddhist beliefs and spots of well-placed humour.
Too Young to Die should draw attention in Asia, given the
sweeping popularity of Kudos TV drama series Amachan which
was shown in many regions in Asia. It may also appeal to niche
markets as there are international fans of Kudos works, like
PingPong and Go.
The story is about a high-school student Daisuke (Ryunosuke
Kamiki, Bakuman, voice talent for Spirited Away) who has a
crush on his classmate Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa). The bus theyre
on crashes and Daisuke wakes up to find himself face-to-face with
the swashbuckling demon Killer K (Tomoya Nagase, Yaji and Kita:
The Midnight Pilgrims) in hell Buddhist hell. Daisuke, with Ks
help, embarks on a quest to leave Inferno, but expectedly, he gets
sidetracked by Ks backstory and hellish bureaucracy.
In Too Young to Die, as in his directorial debut, Kudo shows
himself to be a chameleon who weaves in and out of references
to Japanese medieval traditions and pop culture with alacrity
and slings seemingly incongruous elements together. The pacing
here, however, is better. The opening scenes have some shrewdly
edited moments back-and-forth among flashback, narration
and musical numbers, accompanied by appropriate contrasts
in cinematography. That said, the voltage drops a little after the
narrative ground is laid and some parts feel repetitive. But the
film always manages to pick itself up again. The culture-specific
allusions are also easier to understand than in the previous film.
Music is the best thing about the film. Ranging from metal to
blues, and always given a feel-good rendition, the pieces come
with brilliant commentary about the industry, like what happens
if you play the guitar with arms borrowed from Jimmy Hendrix,
Gary Moore and Randy Rhoads? (They start fighting).
Kudos experience in theatre is evident in the actors stylized
movements and the minimalist sets. And its this inventive presentation, as well as snide comments about hells badassism, that
saves the boring-paradise versus tantalizing-hell dichotomy from
feeling like a big clich.
Sales Toho / Asmik Ace Entertainment
Cast Tomoya Nagase, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Kenta Kiritani,
Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Machiko Ono, Rie Miyazawa
Director Kankuro Kudo // 123 minutes

by clarence tsui
ET AT A T I M E W H EN H IS

home country was still


ravaged by deadly battles
between government forces and
Maoist guerillas, young Nepalese
filmmaker Min Bahadur Bhams
feature-film debut offers poised
storytelling, heartrending
performances and more than
a smattering of startling cinematic moments. Revolving
around two rural boys search
for a chicken on which their
futures hinge, Kalo Pothi, the
Black Hen has cut a surprisingly
low-profile presence ever since
its bow at Venice Critics Week
sidebar last year, with only a few
festival appearances (Warsaw,
Singapore) to its name. But this
Nepalese-German-Swiss-French
co-production deserves more recognition for its deft combination
of art and social commentary.
The film unfolds in 2001, at a
time when a decades-long Maoist
insurgency seems to be winding
down as the government and the
guerillas call a truce to engage
in peace talks. But the tension
remains high, as both parties
continue playing brinksmanship
in the countrys rural hinterlands: menacing soldiers in full
military attire still patrol the
heavily militarized countryside,
while guerillas stage sermons and
shows in villages in an attempt to
rally support from the impoverished and mostly illiterate rural
population.
All this saber-rattling and ideological warfare seems to play out
as background noise, however, as
the films two young protagonists

Sales Wide Management


Cast Khadka Raj Nepali,
Sukra Raj Rokaya
Director Min Bahadur Bham
90 minutes

market
title
Kiran and
Prakash face
numerous
obstacles in their
search for a
missing hen.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_news1+2+REVIEWG.indd 17

begin the film engaging with


more practical things in life.
While hailing from different
castes one is the village headmans grandson, the other the son
of a servant Kiran (Sukra Raj
Rokaya) and Prakash (Khadka
Raj Nepali) are united by their
friendship and also a common
desire to keep a hen, whose eggs
would bring in the money the
latter needs to get out of the cycle
of poverty his lowly family have
been condemned to.
When Prakashs father sells the
fowl, the boys are plunged into a
tortuous struggle to raise some
cash to get it back. Just as the pair
runs into endless obstacles in their
task, circumstances around them
also unravel: Prakashs angst-ridden sister Bijuli (Hansha Khadka)
joins the guerillas, while the
marriage of Kirans schoolteacher
sibling Uzhyale (Benisha Hamal)
goes awry as the army and the
insurgents resume hostilities.
Bolstered by stirring performances from his cast, Bham
and his crew have produced an
evocative piece about harsh lives
in a war-torn, rustic land. Mixing
moments of humor and tragedy,
and also realism and the ethereal
the latter embodied in fantastic
dream sequences about Prakashs
feeling of grief and loss Black
Hen is an effective showcase of a
promising filmmaker.

17

3/14/16 4:41 AM

Gang, pays
the price for doing
the right thing.

REVIEWS

Old Stone

Canadian-Chinese director Johnny Mas


debut depicts a small-town cabbies
descent into madness in the aftermath
of a traffic accident by clarence tsui

EF Y I NG I TS SOM EW H AT GEN ER IC sounding title, Johnny Mas gripping


criminal thriller Old Stone deploys
powerful performances and eerie imagery to
convey the moral breakdown of an upstanding taxi driver and the society from which
he emerges one in which people could
actually buy insurance to cover themselves
from being sued by people they help on the
street. Drawing on multiple genres from
Dardennes-style drama to jet-black noir
the pic is, at least in terms of Chinese
independent cinema, a refreshing and solid
debut from the Shanghai-born, Torontoraised and New York-educated finance
consultant-turned-filmmaker.
Old Stone begins and ends with a red screen,
a sign of the folly, fury and eventual bloodshed which drives the story, one inspired no
doubt by the ceaseless reports in China about
drivers killing pedestrians they have hit so

as to avoid paying for the victims long-term


rehabilitation fees. And one such report is
actually heard blaring from the radio at the
films opening sequence, as Lao Shi (Chen
Gang) drives along crammed streets of a
small Chinese city to shadow a motorcyclist.
The pic then cuts to three months earlier,
when Shi finds himself cut adrift after a traffic
accident; rather than taking flight, he stays,
calls for help, goes to the hospital and pays
the bills for the victim, somewhat believing he
would be reimbursed by insurance.
Shis wheels gradually come off, however,
as he discovers old-fashioned goodness
doesnt pay in a society where procedures
and cynicism reign supreme. Rather than
getting a pat on the back for ferrying the
dying victim to the hospital, Shi is cautioned
by the police for leaving the scene, and then
told by insurance executives how he might
have undermined his own claims for actually
helping the victim.
Learning of his victims financial predicaments through phone conversations with the
mans wife, Shi somehow continues footing
those bills and he soon discovers how hes
a lone moralist plunged into a theater of
cruelty, as his nursery-operator wife (Nai An),

Aoyagi, left, has a


hidden crush on Ren.

Their Distance

market
title

Japanese director Rikiya Imaizumi leads three-fifths of Korean


boy band NuEst on a romantic journey in his latest feature

by elizabeth kerr
IK I YA I M A I Z U M I

revisits the ensemble


romance of Sad Tea, which
revolved around a more glamorous
filmmaker and a pop idol, for the
emotional trials and tribulations
of a decidedly unglamorous yet
genetically blessed group of
twentysomethings navigating a

love heptangle in Their Distance.


Well constructed if only fleetingly insightful, when Their
Distance does manage to make a
salient point about contemporary
relationships it really lands, no
matter which generational box
a viewer may tick. Slight to the
point of vanishing and probably

HKIFF Section Young Cinema Competition


Cast Chen Gang, Nai An, Wang Hongwei
Director-screenwriter Johnny Ma
80 minutes

better suited to the intimacy of


television. Imaizumis modern eye
and deft feel for youthful romantic
rhythms should earn the film a
secure place on the festival circuit.
Success in South Korea should be
at least moderate given the presence of NuEst boy band members
Ren, Minhyun and JR, which
should translate regionally given
the continued Asian obsession
with all things K-Pop. Overseas
distribution will rely on niche
urban markets.
The dots in Their Distance
begin to connect with Leon
(NuEster Ren), the supermodel/
shoe repair worker with a past
he cant forgive himself for. His
life is defined by drudgery and
the same lunch on the same park
bench every day. Leon works
with Kokaze (Fumiko Aoyagi),
who has a not-so-subtle crush
on him, though after finding the
hung-over Suna (Villains Hanae
Kan) on his bench, Leon sparks
to life. A bit. Sunas Japanese
language student buddy Sangsoo
(Minhyun, also in Nuest) develops a thing for Kokaze, while
her boyfriend Jiwoo (JR, the last
boy bander) falls for his teacher
Kanako (Haruka Kinami, in the
films strongest performance).

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_Rev_spread2.FINAL.indd 18

his boss (Wang Hongwei) and nearly everyone


else turn their backs on what they believe
to be some kind of monstrous selflessness.
Barely being able to hold himself together
after losing his cab, his job and his family, Shi
gradually succumbs to the cynicism around
him. His descent into violence and crime
becoming complete when he discovers how
even victims can no longer be trusted in this
day and age.
Starting out steeped in social-realist drama,
Old Stone gradually morphs into a full-blown
psychological thriller, complete with a devastating denouement unfolding in a muddy field
and on dark country lanes.

The biggest ailment afflicting


Their Distance is writer, director
and editor Imaizumis inability to
commit to a single mood. When
Leon begins his comic pursuit
of Suna (some would call it
stalking) which Kokaze doubles
down on (ditto the stalking) the
film takes on a screwy, light tone
thats dropped quickly in favor
of more genuine dramatic elements, highbrow arty observation
and irony.
Nonetheless, Imaizumi does
manage several moments of real
empathy and astute perceptions,
those coming courtesy most often
of Kinami and Serizawa. Their
protracted, supremely uncomfortable and honest discussion about
their flailing relationship and their
future together feels grown-up in
a way Kan and JRs does not in the
same situation. Kinami in particular brings a gravity to Kanako that
elevates the younger performers
work by association; shes subtle
and reactive, telegraphing feelings
that arent in the script.
Sales Nikkatsu
Cast Ren, Fumiko Aoyagi,
Hanae Kan
Director Rikiya Imaizumi
107 minutes

18

3/14/16 3:35 AM

Stranger

Rich dramatic potential gets lost in translation in this


western-like tale of a proud outlaw who reverts to nomadic
tradition during the dark days of Soviet occupation

by stephen dalton
ST IR R I NG PER SONA L

story set against the


grand sweep of early 20th
century history, Kazakhstans
Stranger is part western, part
religious allegory and part
philosophical fable about the
clash between tradition and
modernity, individual freedom
and mass conformity. It takes
place in a gorgeous landscape of
snow-capped mountains and sundrenched valleys, which is one of
its key selling points. But it also is
sluggish, incoherent and skimpy
on explanatory background,
which will severely limit its prospects with non-local audiences.
Stranger is a pastoral parable
with echoes of Akira Kurosawas
Dersu Uzala and Sydney Pollacks
Jeremiah Johnson, plus just a
teasing hint of Rambo: First Blood.
Drawing on Kazakh folklore as
well as real characters from his
home village, writer-director
Yermek Tursunov plots the life
story of a proud outsider who
stands against a repressive society,
with inevitably harsh consequences. Orphaned by the brutal
Soviet purges of the 1930s, Ilyas
(Yerzhan Nurymbet) withdraws
from his village to live as a semi-feral hermit in a mountain cave,
communing with animals and
mostly shunning human contact.
Initially hailed as a spiritually
pure outlaw, he later becomes a
target of scorn and suspicion, and
is vilified as a traitor for refusing to
fight in World War II.
Parts of Stranger are confusing,

largely because Tursunov


under-explains the dramatic
context. Historically inhabited
by nomadic tribes, Kazakhstan
was co-opted into the Russian
empire in the 19th century, falling
under the Soviet jackboot in the
1920s. Stalinist repression, mass
emigration and starvation caused
by forced collectivization of
farms left millions dead, reducing
the native population by almost
40 percent. Moscow also used
the republic as a giant prison for
dissidents deported from other
parts of the Soviet Union, which
helps explain some of the baffling
minor characters here, notably
the mute, alcoholic Caucasian
woman (award-winning Russian
stage veteran Roza Khairullina)
whom Ilyas takes under his protective wing.
But there are deeper flaws in
Stranger than mere lack of detail.
Ilyas remains a childlike cipher
throughout the film, with no
apparent social or sexual curiosity, his psychological motivation a
blank page. The other characters
are thinly rendered heroes and
villains, a crude schemata that
makes any kind of empathy difficult. Thus the final-act showdown
aims for operatic tragedy, but
simply falls flat.
HKIFF Section Global Vision
Cast Yerzhan Nurymbet,
Alexander Karpov, Kuandyk
Kystykbayev,
Director-screenwriter
Yermek Tursunov // 105 minutes
Yerzhan chooses
life in the
wilderness
instead of war.

Shiori becomes
the object of two
mens obsession.

While the
Women are Sleeping

Wayne Wangs stylish psycho noir never


resolves its enigmas by deborah young

N OV ER LY CU R IOUS NOV EL IST DELV E S TOO DEEPLY

into the affairs of an older man and his barely legal companion in While the Women Are Sleeping. In his first time
filming in the land of the rising sun, versatile Chinese-American
director Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan, The Joy Luck Club)
deftly transfers Javier Mariass enigmatic, semi-erotic short story
from Spain to Japanese climes. The result has the calculated fascination of a Patricia Highsmith thriller, though minus her moral
ironies and plus some very Wang-ian tongue-in-cheek satire. Shot
with a light touch, pleasingly stylish and hard to second-guess,
the film is a warm tease up to its deliberately ambiguous ending,
which will leave audiences scratching their heads and limit business to card-carrying art house members.
The spotlight is on the performance of a zen-like Beat Takeshi
(a.k.a. director Takeshi Kitano) in the role of a mystery man
besotted with his young girlfriend, who he tapes every day while
shes sleeping. In his first major role outside of his own films in a
decade, he grounds the story with an electrifying presence that is
at once lovable and menacing, and turns what might be seen as a
harmless perversion into a much more unsettling means of control.
But hes not the only voyeur in the story. Kenji (Hidetoshi
Nishijima, the unforgettable beaten-up cinephile from Cut), a novelist with writers block, has an obsession with the strange couple
and soon turns into a peeping Tom. And then there is the audience.
Floating through the refined, slightly surreal atmosphere, the viewer
is made to feel like a voyeur watching the men watching women.
Kenji and his wife Aya, an editor (Sayuri Oyamada), are sharing a weeks vacation at a fancy beach resort. After an acclaimed
first novel, Kenji has fallen into a writing slump, and despite Ayas
coaxing is unable to start a new book. Inspiration is waiting on
the other side of the pool, where they first notice the odd couple
Sahara (the 68-year-old Kitano, looking very much like a retired
yakuza) and his stunning 19-year-old girlfriend, Miki (Shiori
Kutsuna). Its obsession at first sight for Kenji, who begins to stalk
them. The mystery surrounding them only deepens when Sahara
lets him into his confidence and shows him the tapes he has made
of Miki while shes asleep. He says that he has filmed her every day
for the last ten years, erasing each days previous tape, so he will
have a record of her last day. Because one day he knows she will
betray him. And then he will have to kill her.
Its a nice set-up and handled with flair. Even though nothing
terrible happens on screen nothing worse than a pair of bright
red socks slowly sinking to the bottom of the pool Wang charges
the atmosphere and every act is filled with danger.
HKIFF Section World Cinema Gala
Cast Beat Takashi, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Shioli Kutsuna, Sayuri
Oyamada, Lily Franky, Hirofumi Arai, Makiko Watanabe
Director Wayne Wang // 103 minutes

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_Rev_spread2.FINAL.indd 19

19

3/14/16 3:35 AM

8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter


The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history

Fat would follow up


Tomorrow with two more
Iconic John Woo
actioners: 1989s The Killer
and Hard Boiled in 1992.

P U N T I L T H E 1980S

Hong Kong action


films were almost
always variants of
wuxia (period martial arts films
featuring swordplay) or the
more globally ubiquitous kung fu
films that made stars of Bruce
Lee and Jackie Chan. That all
changed though when John Woos
A Better Tomorrow stormed theaters in 1986.
Woo sought to break with the
clownish kung fu films that were
being churned out at the time by
Shaw Studios and create stories
that were realistic and mired in the
seedy world of the Triads, Hong
Kongs notorious organized crime

lords. With Tomorrow, and later


the action classics The Killer and
Hard Boiled, Woo ushered in the
age of gun fu marrying balletic
movement with furious gunplay
using techniques that are now
considered action cliches such as
slow-mo, tracking shots and the
actors using two guns.
Tomorrow, which celebrates its
30th anniversary this year with
special screenings at the Hong
Kong International Film Festival,
stunned audiences upon release
and soon its fame would spread to
the West where it heavily influenced filmmakers such as Robert
Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
and the Wachowski Sisters.

Many of the key players


behind Tomorrow would go on to
find regional and international
success. The breakout star was
undoubtedly was Chow Yun-fat.
Though a supporting actor in
Tomorrow, Chow is now very much
a global name having featured in
Hollywood hits Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon and Bulletproof
Monk. Woo of course, parlayed
his cult following in the West to
work in Hollywood and enjoyed
a purple patch in the 90s with
action films like Broken Arrow,
Face Off and Mission Impossible 2.
The films producer Tsui Hark has
found continued success as a producer, actor and director, with his

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

D2_HK_endpg.FINAL.indd 20

20

military epic The Taking of Tiger


Mountain taking over $150 million
at the Chinese box office in 2015.
Leslie Cheung was another who
sprung to prominence. Already
a hugely popular Canto pop idol
when Tomorrow was released,
Cheung would go on to forge a
critically acclaimed acting career
with memorable roles in Wong
Kar-wais Happy Together and
Chen Kaiges Temptress Moon.
Tragically, Cheung would commit
suicide in 2003 at the age of 46
after suffering from depression.
His death was a huge shock to the
people of Hong Kong and tens of
thousands attended his memorial
service. ABID RAHMAN

COURTESY OF HKIFF

A Better Tomorrow Introduces Gun Fu in 1986

3/13/16 10:07 PM

IN POSTPRODUCTION

MISCHA
BARTON

CURRENTLY IN POSTPRODUCTION (2016)


CAST: Mischa Barton
US DISTRIBUTOR: Alchemy
GENRE: Paranormal horror. "Sometimes Evil Has A Pretty Face"

IN PRODUCTION

PAZ DE LA
HUERTA

CURRENTLY IN PRODUCTION (2016)


CAST: Paz de la Huerta
US DISTRIBUTOR: Alchemy
GENRE: Thriller. "Shes Not Alone"

PREPRODUCTION

TARA REID

ANA COTO

CURRENTLY IN PRE-PRODUCTION (2016)


CAST: Tara Reid
DIRECTOR: Robert reed Altman
US DISTRIBUTOR: Alchemy
GENRE: Horror (Ghosts) "Hunger Is Not Solely For The Living"
CURRENTLY IN PRE-PRODUCTION (2016)
CAST: Ana Coto
US DISTRIBUTOR: Alchemy
GENRE: Thriller. "Down There, No One Can Hear You Scream"
CURRENTLY IN PREPRODUCTION (2017)
CAST: Mischa Barton
GENRE: Paranormal horror. "Sometimes Evil Has A Pretty Face"

MISCHA
BARTON

NATASHA
HENSTRIDGE

CURRENTLY IN PRE-PRODUCTION (2017)


CAST: Rachel Leigh Cook , Natasha Henstridge
GENRE: Sci-Fi Erotic Drama
There Are No Limits To What We Can Experience

RACHEL LEIGH
COOK

REBEL MOVIES FIlmart 1E-F31 Hall 1, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
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