Toronto fest expands its Asian horizons

Never mind the calendars: It’s the Year of the Dragon at this year’s Toronto Fest.

Reflecting the recent resurgence and cross-border ties of Chinese filmers, no less than 14 of the 23 pix in the Asian Horizons sidebar feature Chinese talent on both sides of the lens.

Japan, with only four features (headlined by Takeshi Kitano’s “Sonatine”), is more lightly repped, reflecting the country’s embattled local industry. India is present with three, with additional excursions to Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Likely to prove one of the hottest tickets of the section is Tian Zhuangzhuang’s “The Blue Kite,” a politically sensitive portrait of a Peking family during the campaigns of the ’50s and ’60s. The pic won plaudits as a surprise last-minute entry in this year’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.

Like “Beijing Bastards,” the pic has got the thumbs down from China’s censors. Participation of Zhang Yuan’s “Bastards” at last month’s Locarno festival caused Peking brass to withdraw their official entry, “An Innocent Babbler.”

Like Chen Kaige’s Golden Palm co-winner “Farewell My Concubine” (unspooling in Toronto as one of the fest’s “special presentations”), “Kite” and “Bastards” were financed with Hong Kong dollars, with post-production abroad, thus putting matters like fest participation beyond the reach of Peking. (See related story, page 1.)

With most quality Mainland China pix now funded from offshore, fests are increasingly able to thumb their nose at Peking’s strong-arm tactics. Toronto’s Chinese lineup contains not a single movie with major state coin.

Taiwan production, recently revived through state subsidies and National Film Year ballyhoo, sails into the Asian Horizons section with six titles: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Puppetmaster,””18,””Moonlight Boy,” Wang Tung’sthree-hour “Hill of No Return,””Rebels of the Neon God” and “Treasure Island.”

Hong Kong costume actioners are repped by the first of the Jet Li-toplined “Fong Sai Yuk” series and Poon Man-kit’s two-part “Lord of East China Sea.”

Artier fare is showcased with Sylvia Chang’s “Mary From Beijing” starring Gong Li.

There’s also the latest from Clara Law (“Autumn Moon”), the costume thriller “Temptation of the Monk,” toplining a shaven-headed Joan Chen. Latter pic is competing in Venice.

Offbeat premiere

Destined to cause scratched heads in the West — as well as chuckles — is Joe Chan’s offbeat bow, “’92 La Legendary Rose Noire,” an homage-laden riff on Cantonese ’60s movies that was Hong Kong’s cult sleeper.

Of the four delegates from Japan, the two highlights are “Moving,” a pristine portrait of a young girl’s struggle to keep her parents from splitting up, and “Sonatine,” by popstar-maverick indie Takeshi Kitano.

An entry in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, the pic unites the disparate styles of the actor/helmer’s diamond-hard “Violent Cop” and dream-like “A Scene at the Sea.”

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