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Chinese movies rule Asia’s top film festival

A photo taken on October 8, 2016 shows people posing before the entrance of the main venue of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), in Busan, South Korea. — AFP
A photo taken on October 8, 2016 shows people posing before the entrance of the main venue of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), in Busan, South Korea. — AFP

Chinese movies have taken the two main prizes at Asia’s premier film festival, with judges lauding their portrayal of two very different versions of modern reality in their country. Wang Xuebo’s “The Knife in the Clear Water” and “The Donor”, from Zang Qiwu, were Saturday morning announced as winners of the New Currents award at the 21st Busan International Film Festival.

The directors are set to collect the two prizes of US$30,000 that come with the award when the festival officially closes on Saturday night. “These films were incredible,” said veteran African director Souleymane Cisse, New Currents jury head. “They were very ambitious and out of the ordinary.”

Wang’s first feature presents a lyrical look at the often-stark realities of life in a mountain village and judges praised the debut director for his “extremely photogenic” production that “serves as a backdrop to a poetic parable on grief and freedom”.

For what is also his first film as a director, Zang-who for a number of years worked alongside acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (“Curse of the Golden Flower”) — turned his attention to the controversial issue of organ transplants. “The filmmaker creates a portrait of humanity and sacrifice that is restraint yet boiling with underlying emotion,” said Cisse. “The excellently scripted film plays as much on the images as on the immaculate timing and superb acting. The conclusion is heartbreaking: when you fight destiny you will lose.”

The decision to hand the awards to two Chinese films comes as relations between Beijing and Seoul appear strained following moves in South Korea to set up a missile defense shield with the aid of the United States.

Korean television shows-wildly popular in China-have since August vanished from broadcast in China while a series of planned K-pop events have been cancelled.

‘Feel the passion’
There were 11 films from seven nations and territories in the running this year for the New Currents award and Cisse said judges had been impressed by them all. “We could really feel the passion of the directors,” he said.

The strength of the main competition this year proved the perfect tonic both for the festival and the thousands of film fans who make the annual trek to South Korea’s second city.

BIFF had arrived looking to rebuild its reputation after two years marred by accusations of political interference, and with former festival head Lee Yong-kwan facing sentencing for his charges of embezzlement on October 26.

There were shows of support throughout the 10-day event for the beleaguered Lee.

A photo wall in the main festival building displayed messages to him from around the world and many guests wore badges decrying what some in the film industry have labeled persecution following his decision to screen a controversial documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014.

Despite those troubles-and a slashed budget-the BIFF program managed to reflect the growth of an Asian film industry that seems, on this evidence, to be in rude health.

Hollywood stars Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) and Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) were in town with the Ben Younger-directed boxing biopic “Bleed For This”-and sent the fans wild-but much of the focus was split between engaging art house fare and commercial Asian films that look set to travel the globe.

Na Hong-jin’s thriller “The Wailing”, all murder and mystery, was a case of the latter, flying the flag for Korea’s ever-growing industry, while a preview screening of this year’s closing film-Iraqi’s director Hussein Hassan’s family drama “The Dark Wind”-was an example of the former, and left critics buzzing. “We have had some hard times but we have remained focused on identifying Asian talent,” said BIFF executive director Kang Soo-youn.-AFP

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