Li Ruijun flies the Asian flag at Cannes
World’s preeminent art house film festival mostly relies on familiar faces to represent region's cinema
Cannes Film Festival has taken great pride over much of the past 70 years in helping introduce the emerging stars of the Asian art house scene to the world.
The likes of China’s Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai (Happy Together) and Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda (Nobody Knows) have burnished their reputations and reached a global audience through acclaim garnered from their victories – or just their presence – in the festival’s main competitions. More recently, though, the Cannes programmers have seemingly been unimpressed by what’s been going on in the region.
China missed out on competition selection totally last year while there hasn’t been an Asian winner of the Palme D’Or since 1997 (Shohei Imamura’s The Eel). Cannes has been wooed by other markets, and so it has proved again in 2017 with only rising Chinese star Li Ruijun flying the flag for what can be considered relatively unknown talent from Asia (to the outside world at least).
The 33-year-old’s Walking Past the Future will compete in this year’s Un Certain Regard section, as the festival kicks off on Wednesday.
Li’s drama – which follows a young woman (Yang Zishan) who moves from the big smoke of Shenzhen back to her family’s home in Gansu province – is the only Chinese film involved in a main competition at Cannes this year. For Asia as a whole, five films are vying for a top prize. The other works come from more established directors well-known to the international festival and art house circuit: Japanese director Naomi Kawase‘s drama Radiance, South Korean veteran Hong Sang-soo romantic The Day After, and maverick South Korean Bong Joon-ho’s action-adventure Okja are all in the running for the prestigious Palme D’or.
Of those, it has been Bong’s film that has made the most noise – so far – and that’s primarily due to the fact that it’s been produced with the streaming service Netflix, a move that has raise the ire of French film industry traditionalists.
But Bong came out fighting this week. “I don’t take seriously the recent debate,” he told Variety. “In the end, physical theaters and digital streaming platforms will co-exist.
Joining Li in the Un Certain Regard section will be another Cannes regular in Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa – who won the same award back in 2015 with his weeper Journey to the Shore. This time around the 61-year-old helmer is bringing Before We Vanish, a sci-fi romance, to the French seaside.
The focus on Asia from there turns to films being screened out of competition, with fans at the world’s preeminent art house festival being given a taste of how filmmakers from the region like to push the boundaries of established genres. To that end, they’ll be treated by – well, who knows what exactly – from the label-defying Japanese director Takeshi Miike, who is bringing his Blade of the Immortal to town. Although the film was inspired by a popular manga, with Miike you can never be sure what you’ll end up with.
There are also two thrillers on the slate – a genre Korean directors do like no one else – and much is expected from Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess and Byun Sung-hyun’s The Merciless. There will also be a special screening of Hong Sang-soo’s Korean-French co-production Claire’s Camera.
Cannes runs from May 17-28.
Asian films at Cannes 2017 (feature films)
Official selection: Radiance (Dir: Naomi Kawase, 2017, Japan); The Day After (Dir: Hong Sang-Soo, 2017, South Korea); Okja (Dir: Bong Joon-Ho, 2017, South Korea).
Un Certain Regard: Before We Vanish (Dir; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017, Japan); Walking Past the Future (Dir: Li Ruijun, 2017, China).
Out of Competition: Blade of the Immortal (Dir: Takashi Miike, 2017, Japan); The Villainess (Dir: Jung Byung-gil, 2017, South Korea); The Merciless (Dir: Byun Sung-hyun, 2017, South Korea).
Special screening: Claire’s Camera (Dir: Hong Sang-soo, 2017, South Korea and France).