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60th Berlinale places huge focus on Asian cinema

February 11, 2010

The Berlinale, Germany’s annual film festival, opens on Thursday for the 60th time. But for the first time ever, the festival will open with an Asian film – the world premiere of “Apart Together” from China – and also close with an Asian film – “About her Brother” from Japan. Several Asian veteran film makers are returning to the festival this year, including Zhang Yimou and there is a wealth of offerings from the younger generation.

Still from "Tuan Yuan" by Wang Quan'an that will open the 2010 Berlin film festival on Thursday
Still from "Tuan Yuan" by Wang Quan'an that will open the 2010 Berlin film festival on ThursdayImage: Berlinale

Berlin is set to welcome actors, directors and movie fans from all over the world on Thursday night. The first film on the menu is “Tuan Yuan”, whose English title is “Apart Together”, a period piece by the Chinese director Wang Quan’an.

Wang Quan’an belongs to the country’s so-called sixth generation of film makers and already nabbed the Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin festival for his love story set in the grasslands of Mongolia, “Tuya’s Marriage”.

His latest film is a Taiwanese-Chinese drama about a soldier who fights for the Kuomintang against Mao and is forced to retreat to Taiwan in 1949. When he goes back to Shanghai several decades later to find the love of his life and their son, she is married to an officer of the People’s Liberation Army.

The movie is running in the official competition alongside new productions by Martin Scorsese, Michael Winterbottom and Roman Polanski.

Four Asian films have won the Golden Bear in past 20 years

In the past two decades, four Asian directors have won the Berlin film festival’s highest prize.

Not in competition but eagerly awaited is Japanese veteran filmmaker Yoji Yamada’s “Ototo” (“About her Brother”) about the rocky relationship between two grown siblings in Tokyo, and a romance between a divorcee and a carpenter. The film that portrays society’s harsh reality with a sense of humor has had domestic audiences laughing and crying since its release at the end of January in Japan. It will close the Berlinale on 21. Feb.

Another Berlinale veteran returning to the German capital this year is Zhang Yimou. His latest film “San qiang pai an jing qi” has been given the English title “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” and is about exactly that. The storyline is classic – the woman gives her lover a gun to kill her husband.

Zhang Yimou won the Golden Bear in 1988 for “Red Sorghum” and went on to become one of China’s best-known directors abroad and at home.

But it is the following generation of Chinese film makers that includes Wang Quan’an that has done most to highlight censorship in the movie industry in their country.

“My Name is Khan” star triggers controversy

But East Asian film is not the only prominent guest at this year’s Berlinale. Once again, Bollywood is in attendance with Indian superstar Shahrukh Khan is coming to Berlin with “My Name is Khan”, a post-9/11 love story directed by Karan Johar, a popular producer and third-time director.

The film’s release has been marred by controversy in Mumbai where Hindu nationalists have protested outside movie theaters to express their anger at Khan’s recent comments about his preference for Pakistani players in the IPL cricket tournament.

Another superstar on the guest list is Jackie Chan, whose new film "Da bing xiao jiang" ("Little Big Soldier") will have its European premiere in Berlin.

Asian directors hope eventually to leave the festival circuit behind and gain recognition from mainstream. This is not only true of the more-established players in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and India but also of newcomers in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines where there is a flourishing movie business.

The Berlinale and other international film festivals are a good springboard into the mainstream because that’s where the production companies try to sell their films to distributors.

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein