China's leading film festival, the 15th Golden Rooster and A Hundred Flowers Film Festival, opened in east China's Hangzhou yesterday.
However, there wasn't a celebrity in sight.
The organizers apparently failed to invite megastars such as Jet Li, Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan who have been nominated for awards. Instead, the festival team decided on an ethnic song and dance show for the opening.
Lackluster opening aside, this year's festival will see actors and filmmakers from Hong Kong and Taiwan joining their mainland counterparts to compete for the eight Hundred Flowers awards for the first time, while more than 65 movies from China and around the world will vie for 15 honors in the Golden Rooster awards to be presented tomorrow and Saturday.
In the Hundred Flowers awards, mainland's Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang, Hong Kong comedian and director Stephen Chow and Hong Kong action movie director Stanley Tong Kwai-lai have been nominated for Best Director. Hong Kong's Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, Andy Lau, Tony Leung and kungfu actor Jet Li will vie for Best Actor, while the mainland's Zhang Ziyi and Taiwan's singer-actress Rene Liu are up for the Best Actress award. Liu will be one to watch having already bagged five Best Actress awards at Asian film festivals in the last decade.
The Golden Rooster Awards, sponsored by the Association of Chinese Filmmakers, were established in 1981, the Year of the Rooster on the Chinese lunar calendar. Award recipients, selected by a jury of filmmakers, artists and critics, receive a statuette in the shape of a golden rooster, as the name suggests.
The Hundred Flowers Awards, started in 1962 by Popular Cinema magazine, were suspended in the late 1960s and 70s but resumed in 1980. It's the only major mainland movie event where winners are selected by the audience, the moviegoers. The two award ceremonies were unified into one national film festival in 1992.
"The nomination lists for the Hundred Flowers Awards were compiled from votes by 1.16 million moviegoers across the country, who voted by post, the Internet or text message," said Kang Jianmin, vice chairman of the Association of Chinese Filmmakers at a press conference. He said that 99 film fans selected at random from a pool of 1.16 million will sit as jury to decide on the winner in a live broadcast on Saturday.
Whilst the festival is touted as the country's most prestigious, it is not without its kinks. In 2005, a decision was made to change the event to a bi-annual one as opposed to annual.
As a result, two films that were released in 2004 -- House Of Flying Daggers by Zhang Yimou, and A World Without Thieves by Feng Xiaogang – have been nominated for an award. If either wins, critics say this would make the festival look old and outdated.
But Kang explained that any film that was released between April 2004 and April 2006, and that made at least five million yuan (US$633,000) at the box office or captured TV ratings of at least 30 million audiences, are eligible for nomination.
Another point of contention is the fact that previous juries for the Hundred Flowers awards sent in their votes by post. Critics don't quite like the idea of 99 people actually meeting and discussing the issue.
Kang said that the problem with the previous method of voting was that fans simply voted their favorite actors, whether or not they had watched the movie. He said: "This is against the awards' original intentions. A Hundred Flowers Award is a movie award, not a popularity award or a box office award!"
The average age of the 99 voters selected is 37. Kang gave a less-than-convincing explanation by saying: "Young people only love to watch movies; they have no interest in voting."
More than 16 events have been planned for the four-day film festival before the final awards ceremonies on Saturday, including film exhibitions, a trade fair, an annual academic forum on mainland films and the launch of "Star Avenue", the Chinese equivalent to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, next to the Qiantang River.
"Star Avenue" reportedly cost the Hangzhou government and private investors, including the Hualian Group, 1.6 billion yuan (US$202 million) to make.
(China.org.cn, Shenzhen Daily by Zhang Rui October 26, 2006)