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Udine Far East Fest Confirms its Cross Border Brilliance

The Udine Far East Film Festival kicked off on April 22 by FENG Xiaogang's with A World Without Thieves a highly entertaining film from China mixing Western style action with martial arts and cunning physical feats. As with many new films from China, mainland and Hong Kong, the central theme concerns the poverty of migrants from the north and their vulnerability to thieves in the larger cities. In Feng’s new film, Roob (Baoqiang Wang) a Buddhist temple painter has saved up enough money to return to Hebei and find a wife. Getting those funds home brings all the con artists out of the woodwork including “Uncle Bill” (You Ge), Wang Bo (Andy Lau) and Wang Li (Rene Liu) – a couple about to call it quits because Wang Li is tired of her lifestyle of thievery.

Screen International acclaimed this small Italian festival last September (September 6-9) for being a thoroughfare for top rate Asian features which are “neither local and worthy nor a studio launched ogre”. As such, the Udine fest is doing an excellent job of “cross-border trade”. More cities should adopt this profile. The festival decided to specialize on this area of cinema and the quality shows.

This is the eighth year and throughout the town of Udine the presence of the festival makes itself known with strategic information points placed around the city. Cinzia Bertoletti and Nicoletta Dose, students at Udine University, were on duty to provide information to the guests of this town north of Venice with a population of 100,000. Two years ago Bertoletti did a study on how the city has warmed up to the festival and actively supports and sponsors the event, a fest that culturally enriches the area with a vitality that is noted in completely packed screenings in “Teatro Nuovo Giovanni” – with a seating capacity of over 1000. Far East films command, and the themes of this year’s festival are captivating. Moreover Asian directors seem to remember Italy - and Udine in their films. Yesterday Once More by Johnnie TO (2004) , shot partly in Udine was inspired from a visit when TO was at a past Far East Film festival. Beyond Our Ken by PANG Ho-cheung (2004) features the hit song "Amandoti" by Italian vocalist Gianna Nannini which he heard on a trip to Rome—a film based on a quote by Tolstoy. The popular Nannini joined members of the film crew on stage at a packed screening to usher in the world premiere of To's film after a successful box office in Hong Kong.

This year, Japanese veteran director MASUDA Toshio is present for the commemoration “Nikkatsu Akushon” , action classics produced by the Nikkatsu studios during the late 50’s and 60’s in Japan. An example is the entertaining and enchanting Black Tights Killers (1966) featuring four female Ninja assassins whose mission is to recuperate gold stolen from Taiwan. Masuda was present together with SHISHIDO Jo, actor in Velvet Hustler(1967) , a film about a “yakusa” assassin that falls in love with a high class woman from Tokyo.

If you are wondering what inspired the snow covered fight scene that pits O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) against The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill Volume 1, a big hint can be found in Lady Snowblood(1973) by FUJITA Toshiya, also spotlighted at the festival.

Everything from light comedy in Everybody Has Secrets(2004) by Korean director JANG Hyun-soo to none stop Thai kickboxing set to heavy metal in Born to Fight (2004) by Panna RITTHIKRAI fills the screens. For the first screening outside Japan comes Lorelei: The Witch of The Pacific Ocean by HIGUCHI Shinjia - a fantasy about the final Japanese resistance in World War II. Based on a Japanese bestseller by FUKUI Harutoshi, (both writer and director were present at the premiere) the film concerns a submarine given to the Japanese by the Germans--complete with a secret weapon--a psychic named Paula who can see pending disaster--such as approaching torpedos. For a new generation not raised on films from this war, the insights into Japanese and US soldiers are interesting. Dramatic music recorded at "Skywalker Sound" detract somewhat from giving the audience the opportunity to sympathize with the characters, but the film is ambitious.

Showcases of martial arts are best when the spiritual practice in manifest. So far this is best exemplified in RYU Seung-wan's Arahan , a tale of five masters who lament that people in a instant discard and tie-in society have lost their belief in Tao. RITTHIKRAI's Born to Fight brings to screen the Buddhist beliefs of a Thai village and some stunning scenes including extremely proficient female fighters.

Memorable features include two Chinese films from 1987- CHEN Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine about the political changes that threaten Peking Opera as a theatre form - with a focus on female impersonator Cheng Dieyi. ZHANG Zimou’s Red Sorghum is the story of the arranged marriage of Jiu’er to a wine lord who is a leper and her new life with the father of the film's narrator after his death. Both films star the magnificent Gong Li.

More to come from the largest panorama of Asian films in the world!


Moira Sullivan

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Chatelin Bruno
(Filmfestivals.com)

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