Chinese story-telling sparks lively debate
By Patrick Frater
Mon, 18 June 2012, 08:20 AM (HKT)
A high-powered panel of Chinese and US film-makers got the first full day of the Shanghai International Film Festival 上海國際電影節 off to a philosophical start with a thoughtful, and sometimes contradictory, discussion on Chinese story-telling.
Director FENG Xiaogang 馮小剛 threw in some politically inflammatory remarks that almost no other local film-maker could get away with.
The American speakers said the film industry as a whole is facing challenging times, through corporatisation, technological change and increasing competition for audiences' time and money. These require changes to the way that stories are told the world over.
"Movies are getting bigger, louder, edits are getting shorter and there are more story lines as Hollywood is making movies for types rather than people. They are about escapism, fantasy, cartoons and robots, I'm not interested in any of these things," said screenwriter Nicholas Meyer. Producer, Gary Kurtz said that the Hollywood films that have been successful in China, like Transformers, "have no story at all".
Chinese director and screenwriter said that the relaxing of import quotas that have limited the number of Hollywood imports into China is affecting the Chinese film industry. "It creates a need to tell stories. It creates a need [for Chinese stories] to reach the market," he said.
Feng, who has a track record as one of China's most successful directors who has proven one of Shanghai's most consistently contentious panellists, this year took pot shots in several directions at once. "There is a real need to tell the world about what is happening in China," he said. "Foreigners often say they don't understand China, but really they don't want to."
"There are no Chinese film directors who do well in international markets except those doing martial arts. We are very weak, though we tend to think of ourselves as very strong," he said. Getting into his stride he added: "In fact we are a country of counterfeits: we have fake milk powder, fixed football matches, manipulated box office results and counterfeit DVDs."
While the Chinese panellists debated the merits of historical subject matter and whether the rest of the world is listening, US producer Mike MEDAVOY (pictured) insisted "It is not a weakness to be a Chinese film-maker these days, it is a strength."
Meyer played down supposed differences between story-telling technique in Hollywood and China. "All stories work mechanically the same. They are about asking a question at the beginning and staging ways to find the answer. Along the way it is the job of the dramatist to create as much suspense as possible," he said. The historical context is not window dressing, it is part of the context."
Feng, as so often, had some of the best lines for himself. "There are two types of film scripts. Those cooked up by intelligent people brainstorming in hotel rooms, and those that emerge from the streets, by stupid people. I said to LIU Zhenyun 劉震雲 [the screenwriter and original author of his upcoming drama Back to 1942 一九四二], we are by no means intelligent, so we'd better get out there..."
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