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Feng Shui, starring Yan Bingyan, is among the Chinese films showcased at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy.
A film festival of Asian cinema in Italy is exposing Chinese movies to a wider audience.
For the past 15 years the Far East Film Festival in the Italian city of Udine has been offering Europe a window through which to view the trends and the talents emerging in popular Asian cinema.
But at this year's edition of the event - which wrapped up on April 27 - one filmmaker in particular was left wondering whether he might have given away a little too much.
Chinese director Wang Jing made the trip to this town, about two hours north of Venice, to present his drama Feng Shui, fresh from seeing its star Yan Bingyan pick up the best actress award half a world away at the third Beijing International Film Festival.
Yan's impassioned performance as a difficult character who seems not able to care when she should and not allowed to care when she wants to gripped audiences here as it has wherever it has played, but Wang was a little concerned.
"I am worried that Italian audiences will watch my film and their impression will be that all Chinese are so forceful," the director says. "But this is just my impression. Usually in Chinese cinema, women are shown as mothers or as women not in charge of their destiny. I wanted to show a woman who could fight back."
Indeed it was a common theme to be found among many of the 22 films selected, from Taiwan director Hsieh Chun-yi's quirky rom-com Apolitical Romance, to Hong Kong director Adam Wong's youth-oriented The Way We Dance - both of which featured lead female characters determined to chart their own course in the world, no matter what the obstacles.
For Wong's debut feature film, the trick was to include plenty of humor to get his point across, touching both on relationships of the cross-gender and cross-Straits variety.
"The common idea is that Taiwan boys see mainland girls as strong and mainland girls see Taiwan boys as weak," says Hsieh, who will see his film released in September. "I wanted to explore this through humor and through the two characters finding out more about each other as their relationship builds. Sometimes things aren't really what we expect them to be and I think they both find this out."
Wong's effort - set for release in Hong Kong in August - features a cast of unknowns, plucked from the dance crews the director had seen doing their thing on the campuses of the city's universities, or recruited via casting calls posted on various forms of social media. "What interested me is telling the story of people who are searching for their dreams," he says.
In a cinematic sense, the Far East Festival is helping Asian filmmakers realize their dreams too, according to its director Sabrina Baracetti.
"The festival has grown as the reach of Asian cinema has grown," she says. "Through our selections we are giving an international audience a view of what is happening in Asia."
The festival this year featured three world premieres among its lineup of 57 main program selections from across the region, a selection that was complemented by a group of films representing the government-backed Hong Kong Freshwave program for young filmmakers, a retrospective on the Hong Kong master King Hu and a tribute to the groundbreaking Philippine director Mario O'Hara, who passed away last year.
Maruyama, The Middle Schooler by Kudo Kankuro, Angel Home by Tsutsumi Yukihiko, and It's Me, It's Me by Miki Satoshi all came from Japan with their directors no doubt hoping the festival will kick-start their upcoming releases back home, as happened to Thermae Romae last year. That madcap comedy made its bow in Udine and then became the surprise of the year in Japan, netting an estimated $75 million in box office returns.
"We have over the years been able to welcome and showcase the work of directors who are just starting to get their names known internationally and we feel this is an important role we play," Baracetti says.
South Korean first-timer Lee Wong-suk falls into that category with his wildly inventive comedy How to Use Guys with Secret Tips winning the festival's main Golden Mulberry award, which is decided by the audience.
The charismatic director says the award gave him fresh confidence in his own storytelling abilities after he had been through constant battles with investors wanting to change his film during production.
Lee revealed he had been impressed by the enthusiasm of the audience in Udine - with attendance figures topping 50,000 people for the nine-day event. He also suggested he might have had a hand in launching the global rise of the K-Pop phenomenon Psy, and his smash hit Gangnam Style.
"I suppose you could say this is an historic movie as Psy was supposed to play a part but he dropped out and the end result was that he recorded Gangnam Style," Lee jokes.
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