Venice Film Festival: Hong Kong Cinema

Chinese-language movies, especially those from Hong Kong, are strongly represented at Venice this year, reflecting festival director Marco Mueller’s longtime support for pics from the region.

The selections show how chopsocky and police thrillers are still hot topics for Hong Kong cinema, increasingly bankrolled by Mainland China, but the inclusion of Ann Hui offers a different perspective on the biz.

Hong Kong director and fest favorite Johnnie To represents a late addition to the 68th festival’s main competition with his latest suspense-thriller, “Life Without Principle.”

He joins fellow Hong Kong helmer Hui, whose “A Simple Life” is also in competition, and Taiwan’s Wei Te-sheng’s “Seediq bale” in the list of Chinese-language films vying for the Golden Lion.

Tony Ching’s Siu-tung Chinese fantasy piece, “The Sorcerer and the White Snake,” will be shown out of competition.

“A Simple Life” is an emotional tale of a family servant starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ip, as well as Hui, whose dramas have made her a much-loved figure in Hong Kong. She was invited after Mueller flew to Beijing to see the movie.

Ip says she believes the pic will prove there is more to Chinese cinema than formula fare. “I’ve read in an article that in the eyes of foreigners, Chinese cinema is nothing but action films,” she says. “But ‘A Simple Life’ will demonstrate its diversity because it is a sentimental drama.”

Adds Hui: “Although this film centers on Deanie’s character, I hope the audience would treat this film not as a biopic, but as a tribute to the Hong Kong cinema.”

To’s “Life Without Principle” focuses on three characters, a bank teller-turned-financial analyst, a petty thief aiming to make it big in the futures market, and a middle-class police officer suddenly in need of a cash infusion. Their lives intersect when a bag of cash materializes in their midst.

“This is a turbulent world,” To says. “In order to survive, people have no choice but play the game. No matter how hard you try to follow the rules, sooner or later, a part of you will be lost.”

This is To’s first visit to the Lido since 2007, when he appeared with “The Mad Detective,” while “Exiled” was in competition in 2006. “Throw Down” in 2004 was shown out of competition.

Pic is produced by To’s own Milkyway Image, and presented by Media Asia Films with distribution via Media Asia Distribution.

Wei’s $24 million epic “Seediq bale,” the most expensive film in Taiwan’s history, is also in competition.

“Seediq” is an epic tale portraying the Wushe Incident, a 1930 uprising by aboriginal Seediq warriors against the Japanese when Taiwan was colonized.

It is the third time in recent years that a film by a Taiwanese director has been in the running for a Golden Lion award, after Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” in 2007 and Lee Kang-sheng’s “Help Me Eros” in 2008.

The plan is to release the 4½-hour pic, which stars Taiwan’s Vivian Hsu, in two parts in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In a bit of controversy, Taiwan objected to fest organizers when the film was designated as a Chinese co-production and demanded a correction to reflect the film’s provenience as the self-ruled island country.

The name issue is a regular bugbear at fests. Last year, China pulled out of the Tokyo Film Festival after organizers refused to change the name of Taiwan’s delegation to China Taiwan or Chinese Taipei.

Ching’s “The Sorcerer and the White Snake” features Jet Li as a sorcerer trying to save the life of a young warrior in love with a woman who is really an ancient snake demon in disguise.

Presented by China Juli Entertainment Media, the fantasy pic is produced by Chui Po Chu, and also features Eva Huang, Raymond Lam, Charlene Choi, Wen Zhang, Vivian Hsu and Jiang Wu.

The film’s distributor, Yu Dong, chairman and CEO of Bona Film Group, said “Sorcerer” is the best-performing Chinese film in terms of overseas sales this year.

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