Despite a strong South Korea and Japanese presence at this year Cannes Film Festival, Asian cinema failed to nab major prizes from the juries this year.
However, two foreign educated Chinese filmmakers did get their time in the spotlight over the festival’s closing weekend: Over at the Director’s Fortnight, Chloé Zhao took the sidebar’s top Art Cinema Award for The Rider, a drama about a Native American cowboy who reconsiders his identity when an injury forces him off the rodeo circuit.
Born in Beijing, Zhao studied in England and the United States before making her feature film debut with Native American drama Songs My Brothers Taught Me in 2015. That film also played at the Director’s Fortnight that year.
Meanwhile, Changzhou-born and Australia-educated Qiu Yang picked up the Palme d’Or in the Cannes Court Metrage short film competition with A Gentle Night (小城二月), a drama about a mother in search of her missing daughter. Qiu is the first Chinese filmmaker to win the prize in the short film competition.
“It’s f*cking amazing. Thank you,” Qiu said in his very short acceptance speech.
Meanwhile, the Asian films in the main competition – Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After (그 후) and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (옥자) – the two Asian films in Un Certain Regard – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish (散歩する侵略者) and Chinese drama Walking Past the Future (路過未來) – well-reviewed Indonesian Director’s Fortnight title Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak) and International Critic’s Week selection Oh Lucy! all went home empty-handed.
However, Naomi Kawase’s competition title Radiance (光) did win the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Asia also had its share of controversies at the festival.
At the red carpet of the festival’s opening ceremony, Chinese internet celebrity Xu Dabao made a surprise appearance on behalf of her Dreamer TV live webcast network in a dress that was made from China’s five-star flag. The photo of Xu’s dress – which almost immediately went viral – evoked largely negative response from netizens who believe that wearing the five-star flag as a dress is considered bad taste and possibly desecration of the flag. Xu quickly apologized on her Weibo and reiterated that she had no intention of disrespecting the Chinese flag.
Japanese tabloids went after Kimura Takuya and director Takashi Miike for not helping Hana Sugisaki – who was wearing a kimono – up the steps outside the Grand Theater Lumiere during the red carpet walk to the screening of Blade of the Immortal (無限の住人). Even before the festival, the film had already built up negative press in Japan due to its disappointing box office performance at home.
Asian cinema lost one of its most respected figures when Busan Film Festival Deputy Director Kim Ji-seok died of a fatal heart attack during his annual visit to the festival. The annual Korean Film Council party became an emotional tribute to Kim, whose funeral service was held in Busan earlier this week.
Already caught in a heated debate about the effects of digital distribution on films, Netflix production Okja even became the subject of fake news when some media outlets reported that its first press screening had to be stopped due to loud jeers from the audience over the inclusion of Netflix films in the competition. However, the eight-minute jeer fest was actually for the technical staff who had misframed the film.
Netizens also accused a press conference moderator (and in turn, the festival) of racism when he mistakenly introduced jury member Fan Bing-bing as the star of South Korean erotic drama The Handmaiden (아가씨). The embarrassed moderator quickly corrected himself when he realized that he had accidentally mixed Fan’s introduction with his introduction for fellow jury member Park Chan-wook, who indeed was the director of The Handmaiden.
As reported earlier, director Byun Sung-hyun had to skip the midnight screening of The Merciless (불한당: 나쁜 놈들의 세상) after a firestorm ignited in South Korea over his inflammatory comments on Twitter. The actors of the film did attend the screening as planned.