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It's in the Cannes
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The countdown began for Feng Xiaogang's latest production, The Banquet, when the unconventional director appeared at the launch of the film's official website.


Pitching his movie as a creation of the new classicalism that clarifies the misunderstandings caused by the overuse of cultural color and emotion in Chinese cinema of late, Feng asserted that he had creatively restored and resumed elegant style in the film.


Telling a tragic story in an ancient imperial court that bears a resemblance to Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Banquet is a remarkable change of direction for Feng, who, in veering away from his acclaimed comedies, announced his ambition for international recognition.


According to the production company Huayi Brothers, the optimistic director is gearing up for his appearance at the coming Cannes Film Festival this month. "We never strike out without preparation," Feng said confidently.



Huayi will splash out a hefty 4 million yuan (US$500,000) on publicity for its debut appearance at the festival, including a glamorous beach cocktail party in which a 90-second trailer produced in Canada will be screened to delight the 300 participants.


The company also purchased the cover of the festival's brochure to prelude the director's Cannes visit along with all the starring players. But Feng already has his eyes on loftier goals, hoping to get nominated for next year's Oscars.


This series of high-profiled gestures has generated concern among the cinema-going public that Feng might be following suit, and sadly the fate, of his counterparts Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige in their failed attempts to win awards with costly productions of the same ilk.


The practice of making productions backed up by huge investment, mass publicity, gaudy colors, obsessive Chinese cultural elements and excessive artifices with supposedly meaningful contents began in 2002 when China's arguably most talented director, Zhang Yimou, stormed the domestic market with his costly Hero to scoop up box office revenue of 200 million yuan (US$ 25 million). As it turned out, Zhang's tactics were not favored by puzzled overseas audiences as he failed to claim the anticipated Oscar with the Hero (2003) and The House of Flying Daggers (2004).


While Zhang temporarily returned to the human angle for the shooting Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005), director Chen Kaige met his Waterloo both at home and abroad when his blockbuster, The Promise, was widely criticized at home after being screened at the end of last year. The movie was reportedly discarded by the contracted American distribution agency after it flopped at the Berlin Film Festival early this year.


But Feng is not discouraged as he tactfully revealed at the conference that he agreed to shoot the movie as an appointed task, with the development of the company in mind.


"I think a professional director should be capable of making films not only with his inspiration but also with set tasks, which also arouse passion in me," he said.


Feng refused to ease suspicions that he cleverly increased his chances of success with a Chinese court tragedy bearing resemblance to classic western literature, a tactic rarely seen in recent years. As for whether he would end up like Zhang and Chen, the sophisticated director mildly reassures the public of his strength after he placed himself with his counterparts by saying they are the top three Chinese directors in succeeding to keep Hollywood films out of the first three places in domestic box offices.


"I can promise that The Banquet will draw audiences like a magnet and avoids the mistakes of paying too much attention to minor matters that our directors are inclined to be distracted with while making big productions," Feng boasted.


(China Daily May 16, 2006)

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