Golden night for China at Berlin film fest

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-17 1:23:01

Chinese director Diao Yinan (R) and Chinese actor Liao Fan pose with the Golden Bear for Best Film and Silver Bear for Best Actor trophies during a press conference following the awards ceremony of the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, on Saturday. Photo: AFP

A Chinese thriller took the top prize at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival Saturday, which along with awards in two other categories, capped off a stellar night for Chinese film.                  

Bairi Yanhuo, or Black Coal, Thin Ice, the Chinese noir drama directed by Diao Yinan was awarded the Golden Bear for Best Film, the fourth Chinese mainland film to win the highest honor at the festival after Xie Fei's Women from the Lake of Scented Souls in 1993, Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum in 1988, and Wang Quan'an's Tuya's Marriage in 2007.

"It's really hard to believe this dream has come true," Diao told the festival audience, AFP reported.

His third feature, Black Coal, Thin Ice tells the story of a washed-up overweight ex-cop investigating a series of murders in northern China.

Lead actor Liao Fan, who plays the detective, scooped the Silver Bear for Best Actor, the first Chinese actor to achieve this honor at Berlin. Liao said he put on 10 kilograms to play the role.

Cinematographer Zeng Jian won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Chinese director Lou Ye's Blind Massage, in which some of the cast are blind.

Three Chinese films entered the main competition in Berlin this year. 

Zhou Xing, dean of the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, considers the active participation of Chinese films this year in the festival "encouraging," as their record in international film festivals has been patchy at best in the past years.

Market performance is not the issue, as the films in the past have shown a lack of independent cultural thinking. The award shows the importance of encouraging such creativity, Zhou told the Global Times.

Chinese movie critic Tan Fei believes that the Golden Bear for Black Coal, Thin Ice shows the global perception of China has changed.

While previous Chinese winners, such as Red Sorghum and Tuya's Marriage have a "folksy" style and rural settings, "this one depicts contemporary Chinese urban life with more universal values," he said.

Tan noted that films are never independent, but close to a nation's development.

Diao told reporters that he saw his film as bridging the gap between pure art house cinema and multiplex fare, and that he thinks Chinese film is gaining more exposure in the West due to film festivals, reported AFP. 

"Every time that we take our films abroad it seems that there is an ever greater enthusiasm for Chinese cinema," he said at the ceremony.

Chen Shan, a professor with the Beijing Film Academy, told the Global Times that the three Chinese films in the festival have one thing in common - a strong personal style.

He further noted that Chinese film production has become increasingly mature in recent years, as art films and commercial films are learning from each other for the better. 

China's domestic film industry has seen a marked rise in box office takings year-on-year. The total box office of the Chinese mainland reached 21.77 billion yuan ($3.60 billion) last year, a 27.5 percent increase from 2012's 17.07 million yuan.

Despite the strong showing, Tan said he believes there is still a large gap with leading film markets such as the US, which cannot be solved with one Golden Bear award.

Although the award is trending on social media, the response has not been as enthusiastic as with previous wins, which shows that people have growing confidence in the nation's film industry, said Tan. 

"If the censorship can be looser, I believe there will be more [good] works with diverse motifs," he noted. 

"The Berlin Film Festival was the first international platform for Chinese films after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76)," He Ping, a veteran film director and scriptwriter, wrote on his Sina Weibo Sunday.

"This is because it values different performances from the East and West. Today's success will further encourage those who take film-making seriously despite the current shallow market."

The winners

• Golden Bear for Best Film

Black Coal, Thin Ice (China)

• Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize

The Grand Budapest Hotel (UK-Germany)

• Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize

Life of Riley (France)

• Silver Bear for Best Director

Richard Linklater for Boyhood (US)

• Silver Bear for Best Actress

Haru Kuroki in The Little House (Japan)

• Silver Bear for Best Actor

Liao Fan in Black Coal, Thin Ice (China)

• Silver Bear for Best Script

Dietrich Brüggemann, Anna Brüggemann for Stations of the Cross (Germany-France)

• Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution

Zeng Jian for cinematography in Blind Massage (China)

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