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Shanghai Film Festival 2024 Competition Lineup Is a Mix of Old and New

Shanghai Film Festival 2024 Competition Lineup Is a Mix of Old and New

Shanghai Film Festival 2024 Competition Lineup Is a Mix of Old and New

The promise from organizers of the 26th Shanghai International Film Festival is for a mix of the “old and the new” and to that end this year’s program offers a look at emerging contemporary filmmakers as well as movies that chart a course from the local industry’s development in the early 1900s through to today.

The bustling Chinese metropolis has been transformed by its annual celebration of cinema, with 47 theaters spread out across the city’s 16 districts hosting an estimated 1,600 screenings of 461 films across the June 14-23 event. There’s heavy promotion everywhere you look — hanging from lampposts, dominating the billboards that inform this city of more than 26 million people.

Domestic productions are taking pride of place throughout the program and — most noticeably this year — across the festival’s four central Golden Goblet competitions for feature films, which boast no less than 12 mainland Chinese films.

“As the only international A-category film festival in China, SIFF brings a plethora of outstanding international films to China and Chinese film fans through competitions and screenings, including the latest and the most classic works by renowned directors,” said Chen Guo, SIFF managing director and general manager. “On the other hand, we also take the opportunity to trace the trajectory of Chinese films and promote the latest Chinese films.”

The buzz has been building all week and reached fever pitch Friday when the jury for the main Golden Goblet award met the press and local star Zhou Xun (Painted Skin) took to the stage. As soon as it was the turn for Zhou to talk, she was greeted by a sea of raised smartphones as the star helped unofficially open the event.

“This is an important film festival because Chinese audiences get a chance to watch international movies and international guests get to watch Chinese movies and get to know about China,” Zhou said. “I think I am looking to be surprised and to be taken away by these movies.”

No Hollywood (or South Korean) productions in the main competitions means also an absence of international A-listers this year, but Chinese stars are out in full force, with Xun almost having the moment stolen from her by the veteran Hong Kong star and fellow Golden Goblet jury member Tony Leung Ka-fai. Leung made a brazen open pitch of his talents to jury head and last year’s Cannes best director winner Tran Anh Hung (The Taste of Things), suggesting the Vietnamese director sign him for his next film, and graciously adding that Xun might be a good signing, too. “We’re not the best Chinese stars – but we’re nearly the best,” joked Leung.

Other Chinese stars in town for SIFF include box office darlings Yao Chen, Da Peng and Ni Ni.

There are four Chinese production among the 14 vying for the main Golden Globe, with 12 of these films making their world premieres and two taking their international bows.

Generating the most heat is the new film from recent Cannes Un Certain Regard winner Guan Hu (Black Dog). A Man and a Woman is set in Hong Kong during the pandemic and tells the story of two wayward souls drawn together by circumstance (aka hotel quarantine). Box office draws Ni Ni and Huang Bo star. Then there’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy, which chronicles the dynamic between a cancer-stricken mom and her intellectually challenged son, and comes from another Chinese filmmaker with Cannes form in Wei Shujun, who’s had three films screen on the Croisette.

Jury head Tran returns to Shanghai after taking a spot on the same jury back in 2011. The France-based Vietnamese filmmaker said he was keen to talk over the films he would watch with fellow jury members — and with the audiences. “Cinema is a language we all share,” said Tran

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There are 11 films selected for the Asian New Talent section of the Golden Goblets as it celebrates its 20th edition. This year’s selection appears, on paper at least, to be especially strong, with six local productions — including the intriguing The Absent, a story of a trouble homecoming set among China’s Tatar ethnic group from director Lu Dan — matched up against a diverse bunch that includes Birds of a Different Feather, a coming-of-age drama centred around a girl with albinism from 22-year-old Indian director Manohara H.

There are, as Chen suggested, welcome nods throughout the program to Shanghai’s role in establishing the Chinese film industry. It was here that the country’s first studios emerged back in the early 1900s and so it’s fitting that SIFF was chosen for the world premiere of the 4k restored version of the classic Princess Iron Fan, Asia’s first animated feature and put together by the Wan brothers — Laiming and Guchan — who were mainstays of the pioneering Great Wall Film Company. Fans will also get a look at 4k versions of the likes of Zhang Yimou’s Oscar nominated Raise the Red Lantern(1991), as the festival takes a look at how Chinese cinema has developed through the years.

In terms of international releases, SIFF has combined recent critics’ favorites — Perfect Days, Evil Does Not Exist — with some classics (Tess, The Sacrifice). The business of cinema will be the focus of the concurrent SIFF Market, which is heralding a guest list of around 3,000 and will include pitching sessions and co-production promotions as the Chinese film industry continues its gradual post-pandemic recovery.

Even before the fest started, SIFF was headed in a positive direction. Organizers say 200 screenings sold out within 10 minutes and 350,000 tickets were taken within the first hour of online sales opening back on June 7.

“We generated a lot of the positive response from film fans on social media that they are looking forward to watching these movies at SIFF,” said Chen. “The positive feedback from film fans is the most encouraging to us.”

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