Kudos aiming to be more professional, less politicized

Is the Chinese film industry finally learning the art of self-promotion? The start of the fall awards season has brought with it an uncanny sense of unity among normally fractious elements of various Chinese film factions.

China’s Golden Rooster awards (to be held Nov. 9-12) and Hundred Flowers Film Festival and Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards have all declared 2005 a banner year for Chinese pictures.

“This was an exciting year for Chinese movies,” says Chen Yao-chi, head of the Golden Horse selection committee. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a big blockbuster or a small art film; the common thing about the nominated pictures is that they told great stories that people wanted to see.”

Such enthusiasm may be propaganda in the centenary year of Chinese moviemaking. In previous years, the festivities have been marred by everything from voting technicalities to presidential snubs. But this year things seem more professional and a tad less politicized.

Take China’s Golden Roosters, which have traditionally been open only to mainland talent in the personal categories (best actor, actress, director, etc.). For the first time, the awards have allowed nominees from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the rebel state China does not recognize as a separate country. Hong Kong star Jackie Chan is the first non-mainland Chinese to compete in the best actor category for his role in “New Police Story.” Pic is also up for the feature prize.

The Golden Horse awards also appear to be a bit more open-minded. Although there is still a bar on mainland films that have no outside coin, this year’s event is not the lopsided Taiwanese stronghold that in the past that has caused producers to angrily withdraw their pics. Hong Kong’s “Election” is the top nominated movie, with 11 noms, closely followed by “Kung Fu Hustle,” a Hong Kong-China co-production with U.S. financing.

The love seems to be spreading across the five main Chinese-speaking territories (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia). Although “The Maid” and “Be With Me” did not pick up nominations this time, Singaporean companies such as MediaCorp Raintree Pictures and Zhao Wei Films have become keen to be involved in the Golden Horses since Megan Zheng’s “Home Run” shared the newcomer award three years ago.

“The Golden Horse is like an Asian Oscar — a stamp of quality. It can help with awareness and appeal, especially for new talent,” says Kenneth Tan, topper of Golden Village Pictures.

The Hundred Flower Film Festival in Hainan next month is even extending a friendly arm to Myanmar (Burma). Members of the Myanmar Film Assn. and the director and stars of “Secret Snow” will attend.

Golden Horse committee member Wang Tong argues this year’s nominees reflect the reemergence of Chinese-language pics in Asian culture and at the B.O., pointing to titles such as “Kung Fu Hustle” and Hong Kong racing drama “Initial D” as examples of productions that can compete with Hollywood fare.

The genre films in the running might have attracted the mainland censor’s attention had they been foreign-made. Body counts and onscreen viscera are high in “Seven Swords” and “New Police Story.”

The award shows themselves underline changing Chinese attitudes to self expression and standing out from the crowd. Beauty pageants, which used to be frowned upon as frivolous or examples of evil capitalist one-upmanship, now adorn Chinese Web sites and receive wide TV coverage. In fact, the Roosters will this year be held in Sanya, the capital of southern Hainan Province and home to recent incarnations of the Miss World competition.

In a bid to attract more attention, this year’s Golden Horse digital shorts competition limits the field to entries making their preem at the accompanying fest. And Taiwan’s government doubled the total prize money to $25,000.

Arthur Jones in Shanghai also contributed to this report.

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