While festivals acknowledge popular masters such as Johnnie To and John Woo, awards go to those who have been recognized as being aesthetically more adventurous. As the titles mentioned above indicate, the New Wave has traditionally dominated Hong Kong’s representation in major European film festivals. Straddling the fence between commercial entertainment and cinematic innovation, most “first” (Tsui Hark, Allen Fong, Ann Hui, among others) and “second” (Alex Law, Mabel Cheung, Stanley Kwan, Wong Kar Wai, among others) have been able to survive in the Asian commercial market as well as stand out in the arena of global film art. However, festival programming involves more than the quality of the motion pictures involved. It often depends on the background and personal interest of programmers, jockeying for prestige among a small circle of critical or commercial standouts, on the amount of money devoted to cultivating the domestic potential of a particular industry or the buzz surrounding films associated with a specific local festival.
The 2009 Cannes Film Festival provides a case in point. While a glamorous cocktail reception “China Night: Celebration of 100 Years of Hong Kong Cinema” was held at Carlton Beach during the festival, Johnnie To’s Vengeance was the only new film from Hong Kong to be selected in competition at the festival, that is, if you don’t count the opening film, Lou Ye’s Spring Fever, which is technically a Chinese-Hong Kong-French co-production. Lou’s bleak, sensational homosexual tale shot with a handheld camera and natural lighting was awarded Best Screenplay, while To left the festival with his hands empty.
The "China Night: Celebration of 100 Years of Hong Kong Cinema" cocktail reception in Cannes.
Photo courtesy of hkfilmart.com.
It was similar the year before: the legendary Hong Kong representative at Cannes 2008 was not a new film – Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux as a special screening – while the only Hong Kong production title, or co-production to be more exact, appeared to be Liu Fendou’s Ocean Flame in Un Certain Regard. No other Hong Kong film was present, although Cannes was never short of East and Southeast Asian titles in recent years. Jia Zhangke’s 24 City and Eric Khoo’s My Magic were in competition, with a few other Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese titles out of competition and in special selections.