Asian Film Buzz – Zhang Ziyi, A Chinese Ghost Story and Cold Fish

Welcome to the Asian Film Buzz.

Zhang Ziyi has been named ‘actress of the decade’ at the distributors and exhibitors trade show, CineAsia. Ziyi has been a high profile star in the ten years since she was named ‘Star of Tomorrow’ at CineAsia and has worked with a variety of directors including Wong Kar-wai, Ang Lee, Seijun Suzuki, Zhang Yimou and Rob Marshall. Although currently hard at work on Wong Kar-wai’s Grandmasters, the actress’ next film to be released will most likely the long rumoured live action Mulan directed by Jan de Bont. Whilst I’m not too sure that Jan de Bont tackling a live action version of Mulan sounds too promising I am incredibly hopeful about Grandmasters.

For an early look at Zhang Ziyi as Mulan look no further than the AFM promotional artwork below.

Coming to us via Filmsmash is the new trailer for the latest collaboration between Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The film stars Daniel Wu, Louis Koo and Gao Yuanyuan. The tone of the film seems to be along similiar lines to To’s 2008 film Sparrow but parts of the story seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to Patrick Hughes’ (of Red Hill fame) short film Signs.

Wikileaks have been dominating the news these past few weeks and thanks to one amusing aside by Xi Jinping revealed in the US embassy cables (via the Guardian) they have even made it into the Asian Film Buzz this week. Xi Jinping is currently China’s vice president and is expected to be the next president when Hu Jintao ends his turn. The cable in question reveals the following about Xi Jinping’s taste in film:

The Ambassador also asked Secretary Xi about his recent movie viewing, recalling that Xi had told him in their meeting one year ago that he had recently seen and tremendously enjoyed “Saving Private Ryan.” Had Secretary Xi seen other recent American movies that he had enjoyed? Xi replied that he already owns the “Flags of Our Fathers” DVD, but hopes to view it during the Lunar New Year holidays had gone unfulfilled. He had seen and enjoyed “The Departed.” Xi said he particularly likes Hollywood movies about World War II and hopes Hollywood will continue to make them. Hollywood makes those movies well, and such Hollywood movies are grand and truthful. Americans have a clear outlook on values and clearly demarcate between good and evil. In American movies, good usually prevails. In contrast, “Curse of the Golden Flower,” a recently popular Chinese movie directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li (she of “Miami Vice” movie stardom) had been confusing to Xi. Some Chinese moviemakers neglect values they should promote.

It perhaps doesn’t bode too well for the Chinese film industry when the possibly-soon-to-be president seems to be a fan of Hollywood blockbusters and it’s also not too encouraging to hear that he is so easily confused by something as relatively straightforward as Curse of the Golden Flower.

Details of China’s first 3D animated feature, Legend of a Rabbit, have been announced and the RMB120 million ($18 million) budgeted film will hit Chinese cinemas in July 2011. The film appears to share a few similarities with Kung Fu Panda and it will most likely go head to head with Kung Fu Panda 2 in China this summer. The fine folks at Filmsmash posted a preview for the film, which you can find embedded below.

Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is currently turning up on a lot of 2010 top ten lists and has even just been named the number one film of 2010 by Cahiers du cinema. Although I wasn’t particularly impressed by Weerasethakul’s latest, the striking imagery and enigmatic subject matter did help those marketing the film to be a little creative with the posters. Mubi have a very nice round up of posters for Uncle Boonmee from around the world. My personal favourite is probably the Mexican poster which chooses to focus on one of the film’s peculiar ‘ghost monkeys’.

THR bring the news that Zhang Yimou’s next project will be Nanjing Heroes, a film based on the events of the Nanjing Massacre. The 600 million yuan ($90.2 million) film is set to star Christian Bale who will “play an American priest called John who helps a great number of Chinese escape certain death”. The Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Nanking Massacre and the Rape of Nanking, occurred in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War and involved the rape and murder of thousands of Chinese civilians. The event is one that still has an impact on relations between Japan and China and there are still denialists in Japan. Yimou’s film will no doubt be something of a political hot potato and controversy will most probably surround it before the film even hits cinema screens.

A few weeks back I posted a few nuggets of information about the reforming of Lily Chou-chou (the fictional musical duo from Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-chou) and this week we have a new music video. Check it out embedded below.

It was also announced this week that All About Lily Chou-chou director Shunji Iwai will be premièring his latest film, Vampire, at the Sundance film festival in January. The film stars Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Leigh Cook, Kristin Kreuk, Aoi Yu and Adelaide Clemens. You can find the official synopsis and a selection of stills below.

Synopsis: On the surface, Simon seems like a fairly normal, average young man, devoted to his teaching job and ailing mother. Secretly, he is compelled to hunt through online chat rooms and message boards, searching for the perfect girl who will ensure his own survival.

In a Q&A at this year’s Cinemanila International Film Festival Red Eagle star Ananda Everingham confirmed that a sequel to the Wisit Sasanatieng’s Thai superhero reboot was still on the cards stating “”If Wisit makes nice with 5 Star, then sequel will film in 2011.” (via @HammeredThor). The Thai box office returns for Red Eagle were below expectations and reviews have been generally negative with critics focusing on pacing and script issues and the unsatisfying execution of the action sequences. Ananda also mentioned during the Q&A that Sahamongkol are interested in the sequel. If Red Eagle might end up at Sahamongkol and pacing and action were issues perhaps Prachya Pinkaew could be brought in to tighten things up if a sequel does go ahead?

It looks likely that Red Eagle 2 won’t be directed by Sasanatieng’s as Wise Kwai are reporting that he is not interested in working with studios in future and that he is currently shopping around a a film that he wants to make independently. The film is titled Suriya and Wise Kwai also have the following description,

Suriya is a biography of a mysterious Muay Thai boxer who lived in the 1940s in the Northeast of Thailand. A true story of a small man who chooses to live his life heedlessly: a life of joy and suffering, of beauty and misfortune. A life that expires so fast, though its owner doesn’t care if anybody would waste his time remembering it.

His name is Suriya Lookthung.

The below trailer (via 24FramesPerSecond) is for the upcoming Korean film Joseon Detective aka Detective K. The film is based on writer Kim Tak-hwan’s detective novel Yulnyumoonui Bimil. Coming in the wake of Tsui Hark’s wonderful Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame it’s hard not to see clear visual comparisons. The start of a wave of period detective films featuring martial arts perhaps? Joseon Detective opens in Korea on January the 27th 2011.

UK distributor Third Window Films have announced that they will be releasing Cold Fish theatrically in the UK in April/May next year and on DVD/Blu-ray in July. Cold Fish has garnered a lot of praise at various festivals and it’s great to see it find a home in the UK at the excellent Third Window Films. The film is directed by Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Suicide Club, Exte) and is a twisted serial killer tale. I was lucky enough to see at the London Film Festival and was very impressed. Although I’ve been a fan of Sono’s since I saw Suicide Club in 2001 Cold Fish is a high point of his career so far and an accomplished film. A brief description of the plot would probably do a disservice to Cold Fish and the way Sono tackles the narrative but the following line from the official synopsis gives you a good idea of what to expect, “Cruel murders gradually cripple his mind and finally the ordinary man being driven to the edge of the abyss.”

Originally set for release this month in China, Benny Chan’s Shaolin has been pushed back to the 19th of January 2011 (according to Film Business Asia). The high profile cast includes Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse , and Jackie Chan. You can check out the latest trailer for Shaolin embedded below (via Asiatrailer).

Norwegian Wood opened in Japan on the 11th of December and Tokyograph are bringing the news that the film has already been sold to fifty countries and territories. Norwegian Wood is directed by Tran Anh Hung and based on the book of the same name by Haruki Murakami. The book, published in 1987, has been translated into a variety of languages and has been incredibly successful worldwide. The film adaptation stars Kenichi Matsuyama and Rinko Kikuchi and hits UK cinemas on the 18th of March next year.

The Tsui Hark produced A Chinese Ghost Story films are much loved by many Hong Kong film fans (including the writer of this column) and next year sees the release of a remake/reboot of the franchise by director Wilson Yip. We now have our first look at the film in the form of a couple of production stills of Kara Hui as the demon witch Grandma Hydra (thanks to Sina via 24Framespersecond). The film will most likely be released in Hong Kong in late spring/early summer next year.

Variety brought the news that Michelle Yeoh is playing Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in a film directed by Luc Besson. The film, originally titled Light now titled The Lady, is being produced by Besson’s company EuropaCorp. Speaking to The Guardian Yeoh had the following description of Aung San Suu Kyi,

You feel a real sense of calm when you’re with her. She’s a very striking figure. She is so proud of her culture and the best way to show it is with dignity and elegance. She has a glow and an aura about her.

The Guardian also scored the first official stills from the film.

I don’t mind admitting that I am really looking forward to Bangkok Knockabout. The combination of impressive martial arts and well orchestrated, professionally performed stuntwork looks to be the key to Bangkok Knockabout and that is a massive plus point for me. Check out the below behind the scenes video for some of action and a few (unfortunately untranslated) talking heads.

Karate Girl is a film that has the potential to be a really entertaining martial arts film but there’s something about this new theatrical trailer that worries me. Rina Takeda looks to be an impressive physical performer, as evidenced by the behind the scenes footage that precedes the trailer, but there’s something  about the direction, editing and set design that seems a little bland and uninspired. Take a look and see what you think.

The live action feature film version of Space Battleship Yamato has been topping the Japanese box office, earning 943,995,550 yen (about US$11.4 million) in just its first five days of release (source: ANN). The film is a big budget Japanese release and features a lead performance by SMAP member Takuya Kimura and even a theme song by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Thanks to Youtube user miecat2009 (who presumably recorded these clips from Japanese television) we have the first two minutes and a five minute section from the film. Check them out embedded below.

I’ll leave you with one of the oddest Photoshopped Christmas messages to have arrived in my email inbox this year. Attached to a Merry Christmas email from Showbox was the below image.

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