This year’s Cannes Film Festival thrust actress Fan Bingbing into the international spotlight–thanks to her performance on the red carpet, not on the big screen. While a string of fancy dresses may have impressed many, the film featuring her –director Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chongqing Blues–failed to take home an award.
Another Chinese film, I Wish I Knew (《海上传奇》) from Jia Zhangke, also lost in a battle for the Certain Regard prize. home from Cannes empty-handed.
Taking the top honor was Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is a fantastical tale about a dying man, his past lives, and his ghostly relatives. Like many past winners, Uncle Boonme seemed to appeal more to the jury members and critics–an unwritten rule for winning the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
Maybe that’s why Chongqing Blues failed. It received better-than-average reviews from the Western media, and so it left people with the hope that the film had a chance to win.
“Jury members at Cannes always prefer artsy films with a theme relating to humanity,” film critic Shi Lei wrote on his blog. “Wang has made such a story in Chongqing Blues into an art film, a genre that he’s known for–that’s the main reason why it went so far in Cannes.”
Chongqing Blues, based on a real story, is about a captain and father (Wang Xueqi) who has been busy with work and so neglects his family. When he learns that his son was killed by police because of a kidnapping, he goes all the way from Rizhao to Chongqing to discover the truth, while reflecting on his own faults during the trip.
In the judges’ eyes, however, the film was just not artsy enough. In an interview with Sina.com after the award presentation, Wang Xiaoshuai admitted that the main reason the film lost was because it was a bit too commercial for the judges. “Yes, it’s a pity. But a film can’t just fulfill a director’s ambition. It should also appeal to a market, and keep the investors’ needs in mind, ” Wang said. “So, we had to add some commercial elements into this film.”
While judges at Cannes wanted to see more artiness in Wang’s film, it got a totally different reception back in China. Han Xiaoxi, a friend of Wang, and also one of the producers of Chongqing Blues, thought that Wang has spent too much time making art films. He said the new film turned out to be “an unsuccessful transition from art film to commercial”.
“I was quite surprised that Wang could make such a mysterious and suspenseful story into an art film,” Han told Guangzhou Daily. “It’s not exactly what I had in mind about this film.”
Wang Xiaoshuai and the main actors in this film, such as Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing, have got a modest attitude. “We didn’t expect too much when we came,” said Fan in a press conference. “This time we’ve built great communication with filmmakers around the world–that’s what we came here for.”
Wang Xueqi, who arrived at Cannes on the last day, said he just wanted to “feel the atmosphere of such a top film festival”.
But as the national screening of Chongqing Blues approaches, the producers have something to worry about. “Even though it is going into international cinemas, I’m not so sure about its domestic box-office reception,” Han said.
Artsy or commercial? You can get your answer when it hits cinemas on June 8.