The 25th Shanghai International Film Festival was delivered with a promise to take the pulse of Asian cinema right away

The 25th Shanghai International Film Festival was delivered with a promise to take the pulse of Asian cinema right away

Simply based on the awards it gave, the 25th Shanghai International Film Festival fulfilled its promise of celebrating emerging stars of Asian and Chinese cinema.

There were Golden Chalice victories for established markets Japan and China, as well as lesser-known ones, including Uzbekistan. And there were some scene-stealing emotions shared on stage at the Shanghai Grand Theater, including moments when two of China’s biggest stars, Hu Ge and Da Peng, jointly received the festival’s Best Actor award and then they shared memories of their long-lasting friendship.

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Japanese filmmaker Kazuyoshi Kumakiri was certainly overwhelmed by the occasion, as the main Chinese festival event marked a return to normalcy – and a return of international guests – after travel restrictions and the various uncertainties of the global pandemic.

by Kumakiri Yoko won the festival’s Best Feature, Best Actress and Best Screenplay awards in the Golden Globe’s main competition on Saturday night. The jury applauded a “special film” which tells the story of a middle-aged woman (played by past Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi, from Babel fame) whose father’s death forces her to interact with people, after two decades of isolation from society.

“Kikuchi and I have been thinking about working together for about 20 years,” said Kumakiri. “Today the wish comes true and we are here right now. It’s so unreal, like we’re in a dream.

Overall, SIFF has shortlisted 53 films from around the world to enter its five main sections of the Golden Goblet — the Main Competition, Asian New Talent, Documentary, Animation and Short Film categories — and when the curtain fell on Sunday they had been more of 450 films screened during the 10 days of the festival. The festival also saw the return of crowds – more than 300,000 tickets were reportedly bought within an hour of online sales – and fans flocked to check out international A-listers including Michelle Yeoh, Jason Stratham , Chow Yun-fat and Zhang Ziyi.

Look closely at the schedule and you would have noticed two markets conspicuous by their absence – the US and South Korea – as fractious diplomatic relations continue to overshadow events in China. But the Shanghai organizers walked away by emphasizing the connections the festival managed to make within the large swath of the global film community that was in attendance. And among the smaller Asian markets represented this year was Laos, horror The signaland Uzbekistan, which won the Asian New Talent section with a domestic drama Sunday – a surprise that literally left its director Shokir Kholikov speechless.

“SIFF has provided a timely stage for the industry to unleash development capacity and for filmmakers and institutions to release the latest achievements,” said Wenquan He, general manager of the Shanghai International Film and TV Events Centre. “The main driving force behind the development of the Shanghai International Film Festival is that this metropolis has always been the epicenter of renewal and development, has always adhered to the ‘open, innovative and inclusive’ urban character, and reflected the spirit of the city. It has always sought to become a window for China to connect the world.”

China’s Liu Jiayin was named Best Director for All ears, which follows an eulogy writer whose work changes the way he looks at life and marks a return to the director’s chair after more than a decade of teaching screenwriting. The director said it was a very personal film and that it helped her change the way he looked at his life.

There was high praise from the judges. “This film touches on current issues in modern times and takes our feelings to distant places. The natural performances of all the actors are a testament to the director’s remarkable skills,” they said.

All ears it’s all about one man’s personal journey — and when that man is played by Hu there will always be a stir (the 40-year-old star has an estimated 70 million social media followers). Picking up his Best Actor award, Hu stole the show again, but was quick to share it, and the award, with Da Peng, whose turn in the thriller Dust to dust saw the festival decide to split the Best Actor award between the two.

Cue shared onstage memories of the moment they met, one as a rising star (Hu) and one as a young journalist who wanted to act (Da Peng). Social media in China has been celebrating the moment ever since.

“We met in 2005,” Hu explained. “And together we climbed a snow-covered mountain. The road to creating art and climbing the mountain of snow is the same – we never knew when we would reach the top – but it was a journey that was well worth it.”

Da Peng, famous for his TV comedies and films, arrived in Shanghai with a double bill. The Jonathan Li-directed Dust to dust was in the running for the competition’s main awards while Da Peng’s latest effort as a director, the street dance-themed comedy Unique, has officially closed the festival. And once again he showed his business savvy, with former boy band star Wang Yibo outplaying box office draw veteran Huang Bo.

Dust to dust draws on the talents of Hong Kong’s Li for his second feature — he’s been noted for previous work as an assistant director in the likes of Hellish Business IIIpart of the franchise that inspired the Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese The departure — and also draws on an infamous 1995 heist in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong for its story.

The SIFF demonstrated that the commercial acumen of Hong Kong filmmakers continues to be tapped for predominantly mainland Chinese blockbusters. It’s a trend that won’t be ending anytime soon; and veteran Herman Yau used SIFF to present his latest thriller Moscow mission at a festival sidebar event, although it was not screened. by Yau Moscow mission it also draws on a true crime story that has fascinated China – this time a violent 1993 Trans-Siberian train robbery – and features major box office receipts in Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu.

The international filmmakers who helped Shanghai return to normal operation spoke of the enthusiasm of fans who attended the post-screening Q&A sessions and of the festival in general, with 91-year-old Japanese director Yoji Yamada returning to Shanghai after a 20-year hiatus with his family drama Mom, is that you? as part of the main competition, stating that he was impressed with how “mature and more atmospheric” the festival had become.

There was a series of MasterClasses which were aimed at providing insights into the film making process as well as inspiring the hopes of the Chinese film industry. Veteran filmmakers Peter Chan, Ildikó Enyedi, Zhang Lu and Sho Miyake spoke to packed halls.

SIFF also hosted a science fiction film week, seeking to tap into the rise of a genre which, despite being a relatively new phenomenon in China, has seen its most successful franchise rise to over 1.3 billion this year dollars in total ticket sales since the release of The Wandering Earth 2 in January. There were seminars on topics such as ‘Science Fiction: An All-Human Perspective and Chinese Stories’, and festival-goers were left pondering future possibilities as the seminar speakers seemed to share the prediction that ‘Science Fiction with Chinese Characteristics’ would bring the genre towards a brave new world of cinema.