Jackie Chan breezed into Udine, the town in northeastern Italy that hosts the Far East Film Festival, on Friday. It is the first time in its 17 year history that the specialist festival has welcomed East Asia’s most consistent movie star.
Chan, who only 24 hours earlier had handed out prizes at the closing ceremony of the Beijing festival, came in by private jet. That is an A-list extravagance that Udine has rarely seen before.
But Chan is an expert at working crowds and consistently gives good value. In the afternoon he held a press and fans event for his recent hit “Dragon Blade,” before attending the standing room only opening ceremony.
Chan was full of good cheer, apologized for having refused all the previous invitations to the festival and then regaled the audience with tales of shooting for three months in the Gobi Desert. He teased director Daniel Lee that these days they could have used greenscreen technology to create the backdrops and the secondary characters, but Lee had insisted that the authentic look would be better. As a result they endured sandstorms, water shortages and had to cast just about every available Caucasian actor in China to play the invading Romans.
The Chan effect also brought out Udine’s local officials to the opening ceremony. In previous years, the Far East Festival has wrestled with budget issues and local politicians who want to halt it. This time two councillors took to the stage to tubthump the festival, the city’s commitment and the benefits to the region’s economy.
Quietly, the tiny city has been gathering stream as an entertainment destination. Madonna and Coldplay have played the city. Bob Dylan is scheduled in the coming months. And the Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi played a pre-opening night concert on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the festival, which takes a kind of anti-world cinema stance and seeks out commercial Asian films, rather than better-travelled arthouse fare, is readying its familiar cocktail of Asian blockbusters and genre discoveries.
Totaling 62 features and four documentaries, the festival lineup includes Chinse hits “The Continent” and “Breakup Buddies,” Thai drama “The Last Executioner,” both parts of Japanese ci-fi horror “Parasyte,” South Korea’s “Cart,” “ Confession” and “My Brilliant Life” as well as “Gangnam Blues” and “Ode to My Father.”