News

Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Jackie Chan Among Stars Set to Shine at Shanghai Festival

Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Jackie Chan Among Stars Set to Shine at Shanghai Festival
Hong Kong – The Shanghai International Film Festival (14-22 June) looks set to be a starry affair.

Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Hayden Christensen, and Korean superstar Rain (“Speed Racer”) will be on the festival’s red carpet on opening night.

The festival also promises some 400 Chinese stars at the opening ceremony. They will be led off by John Woo, Jiang Wen, Jackie Chan, Chen Kun, Nicholas Tse, Li Bingbing, Gao Yuanyuan and Liu Shishi.

Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst will attend the closing event.

Joining top Chinese actress Gong Li on the main competition jury are the UK’s Sally Potter, Korean director Im Sangsoo (“The Housemaid”), Japanese director Shunji Iwai (“All About Lily Chou-Chou”), Chinese director Liu Jie (“Courthouse on Horseback,” “Deep In the Clouds”), Iran’s Payman Maadi (“About Elly” as actor, “Snow on the Pines” as director), and Denmark’s Lone Scherfig (“An Education,” “Italian For Beginners”.)

Kidman will
See full article at Variety - Film News »

Shanghai fest unveils competition line-up

  • ScreenDaily
Shanghai fest unveils competition line-up
Mostofa S. Farooki’s Ant Story and John Carney’s Begin Again are among the films that will compete for the Golden Goblet Award at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival (Siff).

Begin Again was recently acquired for Chinese distribution by Ivanhoe Pictures and Beijing Galloping Horse, while Ant Story premiered at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival.

Organisers said the full Golden Goblet line-up has yet to be announced but will also include Volker Schlöndorff’s Diplomatie; Thai filmmaker Tom Waller’s The Last Executioner; Greek filmmaker Pantelis VoulgarisMikra Anglia; Maiko wa Lady, from Japan’s Masayuki Suo; Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig’s Predestination (Australia); Jeanne Herry’s She Adores Him (France); Mehdi Rahmani’s Snow (Iran); Zhang Meng’s The Uncle Victory (China); and Marko Nabersnik’s The Woods Are Still Green (Germany).

As previously announced, Gong Li will serve as president of the Golden Goblet jury, which also includes
See full article at ScreenDaily »

Zhang Yimou and Gong Li Reunited in ‘Return’

Zhang Yimou and Gong Li Reunited in ‘Return’
Hong Kong – Top Chinese director Zhang Yimou and his former muse, star actress Gong Li have begun production on the aptly named drama “Return.”

Although the two were romantically linked for many years and worked together on more than half a dozen film films including “Red Sorghum,” “The Story of Qiu Ju” and “Raise The Red Lantern,” they have not been professionally connected since 2006’s “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

Return” is Zhang’s first movie for Le Vision Pictures, the production offshoot of Chinese online video group Le TV, since he joined the company earlier this year as artistic director.

The film, which deals with issues including the controversial Cultural Revolution period of Chinese history as well as dementia and self-image, is an adaptation of “The Criminal Lu Yanshi,” a novel by Yan Geling, author of the book that Zhang previously directed as “The Flowers of War” with Christian Bale in a starring role.
See full article at Variety - Film News »

Yip in GM role at Emperor Motion Pictures

Yip in GM role at Emperor Motion Pictures
HONG KONG -- Emperor Motion Pictures appointed May Yip as general manager of distribution Wednesday.

It marks a homecoming for Yip, who left the then-Emperor Multimedia Group in 2003 to head the distribution department of Fortune Star Entertainment. She now reports to EMP CEO Albert Lee.

EMP will release no fewer than six films in 2008. "Mei Lanfang", directed by Chen Kaige and starring Leon Lai and Ziyi Zhang, headlines EMP's slate of films this year. "Kung Fu Dunk", Stephen Chiao's basketball follow-up to the record-breaking "Shaolin Soccer", will star popular Taiwan singer-actor Jay Chou, and is scheduled for the Chinese New Year period in Hong Kong and China, one of the most lucrative of the year.

The slate also includes Derek Yee's "Shinjuku Incident", the non-action drama featuring kung fu star Jackie Chan, Daniel Wu and Naoto Takenaka; David Lee's "Yes, I Can See Dead People"; Sylvia Chang's "Run Papa Run"; and Jeff Lau's "The Fantastic Water Babes".

EMP, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Emperor Group, is the feature film and TV production and distribution entity behind such films as the Chan vehicle "The Medallion" and Jiang Wen's "The Sun Also Rises".

Pretty Pictures taking 'Sun' to France

HONG KONG -- French rights to Jiang Wen's "The Sun Also Rises" have been acquired by Pretty Pictures from Hong Kong's Emperor Motion Pictures.

The deal was brokered between Alan Ng of Emperor Motion Pictures and James Velaise of Pretty Pictures. The film is set for release in France in April with 50 prints.

"Sun" screened at this year's Venice Film Festival, but lost the Golden Lion to Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution". It also screened at this year's Toronto International Film Festival and Pusan International Film Festival.

The film stars Joan Chen, Anthony Wong, Jaycee Chan and Jiang Wen, best known for his role opposite Gong Li in "Red Sorghum", for which he was nominated in China for best actor at the Golden Rooster Awards in 1988.

Hong Kong financing forum accepting films

HONG KONG -- Film submissions for the sixth Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival and co-organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the MPA, are now being accepted, the HKIFF announced Thursday.

The call for HAF submissions comes hot on the heels of the Hong Kong Film Development Council's announcement Tuesday that they are inviting applications for the HK$300 million ($38.4 million) Film Development Fund they are in charge of administering to small- to medium-budget productions.

HAF is one of the core events of Hong Kong's Entertainment Expo and is designed to connect Asian filmmakers with film financiers, producers, bankers, distributors, buyers and funders for co-production ventures.

HAF promotes new talent as well as helping established directors. Past participants in the program have included China's Jiang Wen, Hong Kong's Stanley Kwan, Ann Hui, Pang Ho Cheung, Taiwan's Tsai Ming-Liang, Japan's Miike Takashi, Korea's IM Sang-Soo as well as Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

Hong Kong accepting film funding submissions

HONG KONG -- Film submissions for the sixth Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) are now being accepted, the Hong Kong International Film Festival said Thursday.

The call for submissions comes hot on the heels of the Hong Kong Film Development Council's announcement Tuesday that they are inviting applications for the HK$300 million ($38.4 million) Film Development Fund they are in charge of administering to small- to medium-budgeted productions.

The forum is one of the core events of Hong Kong's Entertainment Expo and is designed to connect Asian filmmakers with film financiers, producers, bankers, distributors, buyers and funders for co-production ventures.

It is organized by HKIFF and co-organized by the development council and the MPA.

HAF promotes new talent as well as helping established directors. Past participants in the program include China's Jiang Wen, Hong Kong's Stanley Kwan, Ann Hui, Pang Ho Cheung, Taiwan's Tsai Ming-Liang, Japan's Miike Takashi, Korea's Im Sang-Soo and Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

Jiang, Ge are 'Nobles' for Feng

BUSAN, South Korea -- Jiang Wen and Ge You, two of China's biggest actors, will star in director Feng Xiaogang' next movie, The Nobles, a comedy poking fun at the growing ranks of China's overnight millionaires.

"Jiang will play the nouveau riche guy and Ge You the con artist who scams him for his money," Feng told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, on the eve of the premiere of his anti-war film Assembly which opens the 12th Pusan International Film Festival.

Feng said he had delivered them a treatment of the script he wrote himself and hopes to start and finish it in time for release in 2008 around Christmas, a period that in years past has boosted Feng to become China's most bankable director at the boxoffice.

Feng hopes to shoot The Nobles in Beijing for about $5 million with Huayi Brother Pictures producing, but he said it might be inconvenient to do so because of the madness that will arrive in the Chinese capital with the Summer Olympics.

The Sun Also Rise (Taiyang zhaocheng shengqi)

Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- Fluid motion and glorious colors provide a visual treat in Jiang Wen's sumptuous romantic fantasy The Sun Also Rises, which screened in competition at the Venice International Film Festival.

Flowers in bloom, intricately embroidered slippers, billowing curtains and a belly as soft as velvet are among the sensuous elements in a quartet of interrelated stories about characters who are variously addled, lecherous, vengeful and yearning in the four quadrants of China in the mid-1970s.

Lavishly produced and imaginatively shot, the film will delight audiences who enjoy extravagantly gorgeous imagery without the violence that usually accompanies it. Boxoffice potential looks good in art houses worldwide.

The first sequence is all about madness and mischief as a single mother (Zhuo Yun) drives her devoted son (Jaycee Chan) to distraction with her daredevil antics in pursuit of tranquility. The agile mom climbs tall trees and stands perilously astride a small earthen raft on the river. She treasures a beautiful pair of slippers that she is forever losing, and the son fears that, one day, the footwear will remain while his mother disappears.

Then, on a college campus, two old friends find their friendship tested by rivalry over a woman. Doctor Lin (Joan Chen) is the mistress of Old Tang (director Jiang), but she finds herself drawn to teacher Liang (Anthony Wong), who is catnip to beautiful women. When Liang is accused of groping women at a campus gathering, Lin offers her rear end behind a curtain to determine whose was the guilty hand.

Old Tang, who is a hunter, has a young wife (Kong Wei) who begins a relationship with the madwoman's son. One day, Tang overhears their noises of passion and his wife whispering that her husband says her belly is like velvet. He determines to shoot the young man but is given pause when the boy asks him, "What is velvet?"

The final episode involves all the characters in a dreamlike sequence that brings their lives full circle. Three cinematographers -- Zhao Fei, Mark Ping-bin Lee and Yang Tao -- worked on the project, and they make the most of some gorgeous scenery, the lush production design of Cao Jiuping and Zhang Jianqun and Xu Jianshu's lovely costumes.

Besides being wonderful to look at, The Sun Also Rises is great fun, with sure-handed performances and an especially spry one by Zhuo as the addled mother. Joe Hisaishi's variegated score adds to the entertainment.

THE SUN ALSO RISES

Beijing Buyilehu Films

Credits:

Director: Jiang Wen

Screenwriters: Shu Ping, Jiang Wen, Guo Shixing

Based on the novel Velvet di by: Ye Mi

Producers: Albert Lee, Jiang Wen

Executive producers: Albert Yeung, Wang Wei, Jiang Wen

Directors of photography: Zhao Fei, Mark Ping-bin Lee, Yang Tao

Production designers: Cao Jiuping, Zhang Jianqun

Music: Joe Hisaishi

Costume designer: Xu Jianshu

Editors: Zhang Yifan, Jiang Wen

Cast:

Old Tang: Jiang Wen

Doctor Lin: Joan Chen

Mad Mother: Zhuo Yun

The Son: Jaycee Chan

Teacher Liang: Anthony Wong

Tang's Wife: Kong Wei

Running time -- 116 minutes

No MPAA rating

China b.o. headed for $400 mil mark

China b.o. headed for $400 mil mark
BEIJING -- China's boxoffice is expected to rise to 3 billion yuan ($400 million) in 2007 as the number of cinemas and Chinese-language movies competing with imported titles grows, state-run media reported Thursday.

Chinese movie theaters reaped 1.2 billion yuan ($158 million) in boxoffice revenue in the first half of 2007, the Xinhua news agency said, putting it on pace to overtake the 2 billion yuan reported for all of 2005 and 2006's 2.6 billion yuan.

Growth in 2007 is partly because of the rise in cinemagoing at the 100 new cinemas and 700-plus screens opened in China so far this year, the Beijing News reported.

Boxoffice in China's state-restricted theatrical marketplace could swell in the fourth quarter with the anticipated December releases of Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" and Beijing director Jiang Wen's "The Sun Also Rises".

Meanwhile, Hollywood blockbusters have given local movies a run for their money as such titles as "Spider-Man 3", "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Transformers" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" have each earned more than 100 million yuan ($13 million).

Toronto fills calendar with global diversity

Toronto fills calendar with global diversity
TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival gave world cinema the stage Wednesday as it announced slots for the latest films from Ang Lee, Manoel de Oliveira and Francois Ozon.

Toronto, which considers itself a barometer for international cinema, also announced a high-profile slot at Roy Thomson Hall for Alexi Tan's Chinese-language period drama Blood Brothers, scheduled to debut at the Venice Film Festival.

The 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 6-15.

Fortissimo Films' Brothers was produced by John Woo and Terence Chang and portrays three friends in 1930s China who move from the countryside to a life of crime in Shanghai.

Toronto also booked a Roy Thomson Hall sendoff for Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear, which stars Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan in her first leading English-language role.

Other Toronto titles unveiled Wednesday that will head here after Venice include Lee's Lust, Caution from Focus Features, Ken Loach's It's a Free World and The Sun Also Rises, Jiang Wen's China-Hong Kong co-production.

"Not only does this international presence speak to the diversity of the city of Toronto, but seeing ourselves reflected in films from other countries, we see how the art of filmmaking unites us all," festival co-director Noah Cowan said in making the announcement.

Jiang targets local auds with 'Rises' site

BEIJING -- Chinese actor Jiang Wen celebrated the Venice Film Festival's selection of his "The Sun Also Rises" on Thursday by launching a Sohu.com Web site to promote the film at home.

Nasdaq-listed Sohu is one of China's leading Web portals and Jiang -- best known in the West for his role opposite Gong Li in Zhang Yimou's 1987 classic "Red Sorghum" -- told reporters that, while Venice was the right international platform for "Sun", Sohu will help the film reach its domestic boxoffice target of 100 million yuan ($13.2 million).

"While we all know that Cannes and Venice are important," Jiang said, "I make films not for the festivals but for the audience."

The "Sun" Web site unveiled with Sohu CEO Charles Zhang will promote the film -- which stars martial arts legend Jackie Chan's son, Jaycee Chan -- to the Web portal's audience of more than 100 million registered users.

Having a Web site is typical for Chinese films, but Sohu's Zhang said that "Sun" is the first to enjoy connection to the portal's just-launched video-sharing service, which he likened to Google-owned YouTube.

Emperor Group unveils film slate aimed at China

More Hong Kong Filmart news

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong-based Emperor Group Pictures has unveiled a new slate of a dozen films, with budgets of $1 million-$10 million, geared toward penetrating the emerging Chinese market.

"There are basically two corporations working with film production in Hong Kong. There's us and Media Asia," Emperor Motion Pictures chief operating officer Philip Chan said Tuesday at Filmart. "I can see the China audience maturing. The market is out there, and I don't think there is any better time."

The new slate at EMP, formerly best known for its in-house productions, combines a mixture of distribution, investment and equity deals and is toplined by the $10 million drama "The Sun Also Rises", directed by Jiang Wen and starring Joan Chen, Jaycee Chan and Anthony Wong.

"Sun", a series of interconnected stories set across numerous time zones, is a co-production between EMP, Beijing Taihe Film Investment and Beijing's Buyilehu Films (HR 12/7). It's set to premiere in the summer across Southeast Asia.

'Sun' rises for HK's Emperor

BEIJING -- Hong Kong-based Emperor Motion Pictures took "a significant equity position" and will handle worldwide sales for mainland Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen's $10 million picture The Sun Also Rises, executives said Thursday.

Jiang's production company, Beijing Buyilehu Film Co., finished shooting last week in Beijing on his first film as a director since the controversial Cannes Grand Prix winner Devils On the Doorstep (2000), Emperor Motion Pictures said.

"Sun" stars Jiang, Anthony Wong, Jaycee Chan, Joan Chen, Zhou Yun and Kong Yishan. It is Jiang's third film as a director. Jiang co-wrote "Sun" with Guo Shixing and longtime collaborator Wang Shuping.

"We are absolutely delighted at finally concluding our negotiations," EMP chief executive Albert Lee said in a statement. "Jiang Wen is unquestionably one of the most brilliant Chinese filmmakers of his generation and, hopefully, 'The Sun Also Rises' will mark the first of many collaborations between us."

Jiang, 43, is perhaps best known outside China for his starring role opposite Gong Li in director Zhang Yimou's 1987 film Red Sorghum.

Jiang made his directing debut with In the Heat of the Sun, which won the Volpi Cup for its lead actor, Xia Yu, at the Venice International Film Festival in 1994.

Illicit 'Devil' DVD appears in China

Illicit 'Devil' DVD appears in China
BEIJING -- Banned in China since winning the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2000, Devils at the Doorstep, about the excesses of the Sino-Japanese war, was released on DVD here this week, heavily edited and apparently without the permission of the copyright holder or the director. The DVD was released Wednesday, by Qiaojiaren Audio Visual Co. of Guangzhou. But on Friday, Dong Ping, general manager of the film's copyright holder Poly Buona, said he was not even aware of the release. "We have never signed any contract with any company to distribute a DVD of 'Guizi Lai Le, ' " Dong said, calling the film by its Mandarin name. " 'Devils' has never screened in China," Dong said, because it did not pass muster with the censors at the state Film Bureau. An assistant to the film's director and star, Jiang Wen (best known in the West as the lead in Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum), said Jiang also was unaware of the release.

Warriors of Heaven

Opened Oct. 1 (China); Oct. 16 (Hong Kong)

HONG KONG -- "Warriors of Heaven & Earth" is fascinating as a new genre hybrid -- a Chinese Western. A creation of director He Ping, this big-sky epic, set in the wild, wild east of the Gobi Desert, derives as much of its visual and narrative power from John Ford and Don Siegel as it does from wuxia dramas and silk road classics. Financed by Columbia Pictures Asia, the film brings back the mythic spirit of pioneers and adventurers, reclaiming themes of heroic individual struggle against evil and injustice.

Because it arrives in the shadow of such other epics as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and Zhang Yimou's "Hero", "Warriors" has not received the attention it deserves. In Hong Kong, the film captured the imagination of neither audiences nor critics.

Part of the lukewarm reception might have to do with a not particularly satisfying ending that involves silly CG effects. On the other hand, the acting is uniformly compelling, the fight sequences are energetic, and, as character drama, the material is especially enthralling. Columbia may have better luck marketing it overseas.

Veteran actor Jiang Wen ("Red Sorghum") plays Li, an honored Chinese army lieutenant who suddenly becomes a wanted man because he and his soldiers refused an order to kill civilians. Japanese actor Nakai Kiichi is a master swordsman whom the emperor dispatched to catch the mutinous lieutenant.

Although the two are adversaries, with one trying to escape across China's western plains and the other giving faithful chase, they end up putting aside their differences to help a young monk and his caravan traveling with an important Buddhist artifact. The hazard the monk faces is an evil warlord who wants to acquire the Buddhist relic for its supposed powers.

What follows is like a stagecoach being trailed by Indians. Li, the swordsman, and a small band of soldiers must then cross the desolate plains of inner Asia while battling the warlord's men and the desert's harsh elements.

The director's interest in frontier stories from China's western provinces is reflected in his other films too. 1991's "Swordsman in Double Flag Town" received the Young Director's Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, while "Sun Valley" got a special mention in Berlin in 1995.

"Warriors" is likewise filled with classic elements of the Western genre -- with a bit of Japanese samurai movies tossed in. Unlike Kurosawa's period films, the director here makes a point of using the environment as a crucial character and obstacle for the protagonist. Shot by acclaimed cinematographer Zhao Fei, who has become Woody Allen's regular lensman as well as having shot Zhang's "Raise the Red Lantern", the scenic vistas could almost pass for Wyoming or Arizona.

However, it's not just pretty scenery and galloping horses that make this an Eastern Western. Jiang's earnest stoicism recalls the moral certainty of the most memorable of John Wayne characters. Against the Tang Dynasty backdrop, the story is revealed with majestic pageantry and grandeur.

WARRIORS OF HEAVEN & EARTH

Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia/Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment/Xian Film Studio

Credits:

Director: He Ping

Screenwriters: He Ping & Zhang Rui

Producers: Yan Yi-yun, Wang Zhong-jun

Director of photography: Zhao Fei

Music: A.R. Rahman

Sound designer: Qu Lixin

Costume designer: Yao Xiaohong

Editor: Kong Jing-lei

Cast:

Lt. Li: Jiang Wen

Lai Xi: Nakai Kiichi

Wen Zhu: Zhao Wei

Master An: Wang Xueqi

Cao Jian: Hasi Bagen

Ma Gun: He Tao

Old Diehard: Wang Deshun

Zao Zimo: Li Haibin

Wu Lao Er: Harrison Liu

Turkish Emissary: Yeerjiang Mahepushen

Running time -- 114 minutes

No MPAA rating

Warriors of Heaven

Opened Oct. 1 (China); Oct. 16 (Hong Kong)

HONG KONG -- "Warriors of Heaven & Earth" is fascinating as a new genre hybrid -- a Chinese Western. A creation of director He Ping, this big-sky epic, set in the wild, wild east of the Gobi Desert, derives as much of its visual and narrative power from John Ford and Don Siegel as it does from wuxia dramas and silk road classics. Financed by Columbia Pictures Asia, the film brings back the mythic spirit of pioneers and adventurers, reclaiming themes of heroic individual struggle against evil and injustice.

Because it arrives in the shadow of such other epics as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and Zhang Yimou's "Hero", "Warriors" has not received the attention it deserves. In Hong Kong, the film captured the imagination of neither audiences nor critics.

Part of the lukewarm reception might have to do with a not particularly satisfying ending that involves silly CG effects. On the other hand, the acting is uniformly compelling, the fight sequences are energetic, and, as character drama, the material is especially enthralling. Columbia may have better luck marketing it overseas.

Veteran actor Jiang Wen ("Red Sorghum") plays Li, an honored Chinese army lieutenant who suddenly becomes a wanted man because he and his soldiers refused an order to kill civilians. Japanese actor Nakai Kiichi is a master swordsman whom the emperor dispatched to catch the mutinous lieutenant.

Although the two are adversaries, with one trying to escape across China's western plains and the other giving faithful chase, they end up putting aside their differences to help a young monk and his caravan traveling with an important Buddhist artifact. The hazard the monk faces is an evil warlord who wants to acquire the Buddhist relic for its supposed powers.

What follows is like a stagecoach being trailed by Indians. Li, the swordsman, and a small band of soldiers must then cross the desolate plains of inner Asia while battling the warlord's men and the desert's harsh elements.

The director's interest in frontier stories from China's western provinces is reflected in his other films too. 1991's "Swordsman in Double Flag Town" received the Young Director's Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, while "Sun Valley" got a special mention in Berlin in 1995.

"Warriors" is likewise filled with classic elements of the Western genre -- with a bit of Japanese samurai movies tossed in. Unlike Kurosawa's period films, the director here makes a point of using the environment as a crucial character and obstacle for the protagonist. Shot by acclaimed cinematographer Zhao Fei, who has become Woody Allen's regular lensman as well as having shot Zhang's "Raise the Red Lantern", the scenic vistas could almost pass for Wyoming or Arizona.

However, it's not just pretty scenery and galloping horses that make this an Eastern Western. Jiang's earnest stoicism recalls the moral certainty of the most memorable of John Wayne characters. Against the Tang Dynasty backdrop, the story is revealed with majestic pageantry and grandeur.

WARRIORS OF HEAVEN & EARTH

Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia/Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment/Xian Film Studio

Credits:

Director: He Ping

Screenwriters: He Ping & Zhang Rui

Producers: Yan Yi-yun, Wang Zhong-jun

Director of photography: Zhao Fei

Music: A.R. Rahman

Sound designer: Qu Lixin

Costume designer: Yao Xiaohong

Editor: Kong Jing-lei

Cast:

Lt. Li: Jiang Wen

Lai Xi: Nakai Kiichi

Wen Zhu: Zhao Wei

Master An: Wang Xueqi

Cao Jian: Hasi Bagen

Ma Gun: He Tao

Old Diehard: Wang Deshun

Zao Zimo: Li Haibin

Wu Lao Er: Harrison Liu

Turkish Emissary: Yeerjiang Mahepushen

Running time -- 114 minutes

No MPAA rating

Cannes film review: 'Devils on Doorstep'

Jiang Wen's "Devils on the Doorstep" boldly articulates the horrors and travesty of war in a tragicomedy of surreal proportions. But the film itself is hampered by so many aesthetic and linguistic problems that it will likely prove taxing to most viewers.

These problems may preclude much exhibition in the Western world, and in the Far East, the delicate issue of the Japanese occupation of China during World War II and the film's inherent anti-Japanese attitude may prevent much exposure outside of film festivals.

There's a gem of an idea lurking inside this movie, but the film is burdened with an overwrought and static first hour and wild tonal fluctuation. And for those who speak neither Mandarin nor Japanese, the flood of dialogue -- which the film's translator is apparently determined to render verbatim in the subtitles -- would defeat a speed-reader.

Which is a shame because "Devils" has the making of the darkest of black comedies. The story takes place in a remote Chinese village in the final year of the occupation. A local peasant (played by Jiang) is rousted from the joys of making love to a young widow by a knock at the door late one night. At gunpoint, he must accept delivery of two men -- a Japanese POW and his Chinese interpreter -- for a few days. Failure to mind the two men would result in his murder.

But the few days stretch into six months. Eventually, he, the widow and the entire village are in despair. While the POW issues daily tongue-lashings of the peasants in Japanese, his translator renders these as pleas for mercy, which appease the villagers.

But the moment arrives that they decide they must kill the men. Yet since none has ever slain another soul, various strategies are undertaken, all ending in failure. These passages bring on delicious comedy.

Jiang switches tone and moods so abruptly as to toy with the viewer's emotions. And the lengthy arguments among the villagers run in such circles as to tire even the most patient viewer.

Shot in black and white -- for reasons that become clear only in the final scene -- "Devils" contains little visual rhythm or variety.

Devils on the Doorstep

Asian Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.

Director: Jiang Wen

Screenwriters: Wang Shuping,

Jiang Wen, Shi Jianquan

Director of photography:

Gu Chengwei

Production designer: Tang Shiyan

Editor: Zhang Yifan, Folmer Wiesinger

Music: Cui Juin, Li Haiying, Lui Xing

Cast:

Ma Dasan: Jiang Wen

Hanaya Kosaburo: Kagawa Teruyki

Yuer: Jiang Hongbo

Yi Da Lui: Chen Qiang

Sakatsuka Inokichi: Sawada Kenya

Running Time -- 164 minutes

AFI REVIEWS: The 11th annual American Film Institute Los Angeles International Film Festival runs through Saturday at theaters in Hollywood and Santa Monica. Details: (213) 520-2000.

AFI REVIEWS: The 11th annual American Film Institute Los Angeles International Film Festival runs through Saturday at theaters in Hollywood and Santa Monica. Details: (213) 520-2000.
Today

THE SOULER OPPOSITE

7 p.m., Monica

(also 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)

Comic meets girl. Comic pursues girl. Comic dates girl. Girl stops thinking comic is funny and their relationship turns into no laughing matter. But the movie, overall, is oddly endearing even as it sweeps toward a too-slow conclusion.

Screenwriter-director Bill Kalmenson, a former comic himself, believably conveys the comic's life and angst. The suffering here, professionally and romantically, seems entirely realistic.

In a romantic comedy where one-liners are an integral part of the proceedings, comic Barry Singer (Christopher Meloni) milks his eternal adolescence and mistrust of relationships, using those topics for fuel in his stand-up comedy act.

Finally finding someone he can care for, younger woman Thea Douglas (Janel Moloney), Barry discovers it's nearly impossible to lower his defenses as he hurtles into sensitive areas of his life, like love, commitment and trust.

Meloni does a stand-out job as a stand-up comic in this ingenuous romantic comedy. There are legitimately touching scenes -- as when he finds himself in a family situation with Thea's clan and is genuinely moved by their affection. Moloney, for her part, is appealing and believable as a political activist with a sense of humor and romance. Timothy Busfield has a decent, supporting comic role, but his contribution to the film could have been pushed further into dark comedy.

Overall, the characters have a refreshing, natural feeling, and that's likely to bring "Souler Opposite" a wider release than the festival circuit.

Michael Farkash

BAT OUT OF HELL

4:30 p.m., Mann's Chinese

(also 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Monica)

A French gangster film with grisly executions, bloody gun battles and deeply buried secrets that drive a young crime boss' son (Arnaud Giovaninetti) to confront his ruthless sire, director Xavier Durringer's "Bat Out of Hell" is mildly interesting with its glimpses of seedy Paris and the usual morally reprehensible suspects, but not enough to fully engage domestic audiences overloaded with such fare.

At its murky core, the lead's rocky relationship with his father is the most intriguing thing going on, but most of the film is a feverish few days of attacks and reprisals as two gangs go to war. One develops sympathy for Giovaninetti's lost soul and his loyal comrade-in-arms (Gerald Laroche), but the film as a whole, co-written by one-time prison inmate Jean Miez, is only sporadically involving.

David Hunter

JOURNEY ON THE HOUR HAND

9:30 p.m., Mann's Chinese

(also 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)

It's not every day you see Turkey, Hungary and the Czech Republic collaborating on an existential mystery about an itinerant clockmaker who gets tangled up in the time-space continuum, but that's exactly what gives "Journey on the Hour Hand" its exotic allure.

After an intriguing start, however, the storyline undergoes a metaphysical meltdown -- imagine an episode of "The Twilight Zone" written by Kierkegaard -- and never quite recovers.

Director Omer Kavur does a good job in laying on the atmospherics and lead Mehmet Aslantug makes an effective everyman, but the film's pace is so numbingly measured that on more than one occasion it really does feel as if time has come to a complete stop.

Michael Rechtshaffen

KEEP COOL

10 p.m., Monica

Fast and frenetic, but even more so if one is familiar with the exquisite period films of Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern", Shanghai Triad"), "Keep Cool" is an amiable comedy that captures the passionate lives of a loosely connected trio in Beijing and takes off when a bookseller (Jiang Wen) pursues a sexy young woman (Qu Ying). After the expected initial brush-off, he tracks her down to an apartment complex and, in a fairly amusing gambit, hires passers-by to yell out his messages of love, a ploy that eventually succeeds.

But she is also involved with a nightclub owner, who sends thugs to discourage the persistent bookseller. In a violent encounter on the street, an aging researcher (Li Baotian) is drawn into the scenario when his portable computer is smashed to bits and he seeks compensation from the frustrated young lead. They form an alliance and set up a meeting with the nightclub owner to further their own agendas. Fine performances aside and with respect to the subtext about changes going on in Chinese society, "Keep Cool" is good but not great, which is, alas, what one expects from such a supremely talented international filmmaker.

David Hunter

Tuesday

WITHOUT A MAP

4 p.m., Monica

Trekking into too-familiar territory, writer-director Peter Turman takes us into the lives of a Hollywood wannabe writer and his quest for meaning in life and a successful romantic relationship. It's the voyage of discovery a lot of young people must make and which young filmmakers are wont to share with audiences.

The writer character, Martin Philip Tanzini), hates his job and struggles to get his icy, sexy girlfriend Anna (Lola Glaudini) to take their relationship seriously.

After they go through one more volatile breakup, Martin meets ad executive Jamie (Robin McKee) and they seem to hit it off all right, a rarity for Martin. Except, of course, he's still obsessed with Anna.

"Without a Map" frequently feels like it's treading into Woody Allen territory about a quiet, intelligent fellow at odds with the universe who ruminates endlessly about relationships and his place in the world. All this gets a bit tiresome, and a primary device -- the use of quirky, documentary style asides as the characters talk about themselves or about Martin -- also feels like a familiar technique.

Turman provides us with a competently assembled film, but some scenes are lit too dimly and dialog frequently meanders undramatically and repetitiously in the quest for verisimilitude. But then, that's the point -- a film about ennui and spiritual desolation among the aging young.

Michael Farkash

AN AMBIGUOUS REPORT ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD

10:15 p.m., Mann's Chinese

(also 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Monica)

After a five-year absence, Czech director Juraj Jakubisko returns with another lyrical, epic parable about the human race that boasts beautiful imagery and a milieu that both seriously and comically asks what's in store for us as the third millennium dawns. It's also a compelling family saga that begins with the massacre by wolves of nearly an entire village after gung-ho hunters leave it unprotected.

Among the survivors are a young, pregnant bride and the deceased groom's 10-year-old brother, who because of his heroism is promised the bride's baby girl in marriage. Seriously depopulated, the village hangs on and the young hero grows into a stern, hardworking man (Milan Bahul) while the remarried bride (Deana Horvathova) still plans to see him wed her pretty but still-immature daughter (Klara Issova).

In typical Jakubisko fashion, the story seems to stray, but not too far, when the arrival of a circus leads to a drunken night of wagering after which the village's many lonely widowers suddenly find themselves with new mates. But this new influence includes the dispirited circus owner (Joachim Kemmer), who convinces them to grow illegal poppy and cannabis crops that bring down the usually distant representatives of modern law enforcement.

With earthquakes that selectively tilt houses and a half-crazy local constantly reassuring everyone that Nostradamus predicted 1,000 years of peace, "Ambiguous" moves on to a socially disruptive relationship between Bahul's jilted groom and Horvathova's free spirit. Magical and wondrous and a bit long, but a treat for fans of Jakubisko, the film is likewise a terrific introduction to an original, compelling cinema artist.

David Hunter

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