As with Wang Xiaoshuai, who also appears in competition at Berlin, Wang Quan’an belongs to what Chinese call the sixth generation of filmmakers. That means he is in his 50s, grew up in the immediate aftermath of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and has witnessed for himself China’s headlong rush into industrialization, urbanization and modernity.
Unlike the younger filmmakers that follow, many of whom are making commercial films in popular genres, Wang does not take those upheavals and the new China for granted.
While never classified as an underground director or banned for his work, Wang has nevertheless chronicled China’s societal upheavals. Often he has worked with overseas craft or finance elements to bring his films to fruition.
Struggle for survival was a common theme running through Wang’s first four films. He won Berlin’s top prize, the Golden Bear, in 2007 with the heartbreaking Inner Mongolia-set “Tuya’s Marriage,” his third film as director. He quickly followed that with another tear-jerking drama, “Weaving Girl.”
Wang’s tale of friendship across the Taiwan Strait, “Apart Together,” was set as Berlin’s opener in 2010, but lacked the pathos of his earlier efforts. His 2011 period gangster epic, “White Deer Plain,” demonstrated craft prowess — notably the merit of sticking with German cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier — but similarly failed to win Wang a bigger international following.
Despite that plateau, and lurid publicity about his love life, Berlin has stuck by its man. Wang was a member of the main competition jury in 2017.
That year Wang announced ambitious plans to make big-budget European film “Karl Marx: The Last Journey,” based on a story by German acting icon Mario Adorf. Last year, Wang announced plans for his first English-language film, about Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Neither film has yet come to fruition, and his Berlin competition film “Ondog” is set nearer to home, and pitched simply as “A Mongolian film by Wang Quan’an.”