The Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival kicks off on 15th February and takes place at venues across Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast and Perth.
The Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival returns for its 2016 edition, the Chinese film festival, which showcases feature films from Chinese speaking countries such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, is back in Australia for an ambitious 16 day event that spans 4 states and 8 different locations. President of the festival, Ray Shen, mentions that the Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival (GKCFF) aims to present mainstream moviegoers in Australia the latest offerings in Chinese cinema from major Chinese speaking countries such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Macau; this creates the opportunity for Australians to experience cinema from a society and culture that is fundamentally different than the one Australians are used to. In addition, the festival seeks to support young Chinese filmmakers and provide them with an international platform to screen their work.
With more than 10 films screened in competition, Rochford Street Review picks what would definitely be the highlights of the festival.
Interestingly, there is a sharp contrast between the 2015 edition and the 2016 edition of the film festival. 2015 was the festival’s debut year and the films that were showcased were predominantly of lighter fare focused on entertainment. 2016 however, offers a much more significantly different line up of films.
The shortlisted films of 2016 have distinctive themes of showcasing and critiquing ‘everyday life’ in Chinese society. This sense of social realism and commentary seems to drive majority of the narratives of the films in this year’s selection. Sonthar Gyal, director of Gtsngbo even mentioned in a press interview for the film, that he omitted many stylistic creative cinematography choices in order to achieve a much more realistic narrative. Gtsngbo, funded by the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Film Fund, was shot over a period of three years and portrays the story of a Tibetan family and their emotional struggles and conflicts through the eyes of the youngest family member, a girl named Yangchan.
The film deals with family and the concept of kindness and familial conflicts in rural China. The director, Sonthar Gyal is an alumnus of the Beijing Film Academy, casted non-professional actors, which resulted in strong and naturalistic performances. Gtsngbo has won a slew of award in various film festivals, taking home Best Film and Best Actress awards at the 2015 edition of the Lessinia Film Festival and won Best New Talent- Best Actress at the Shanghai International Film Festival. With strong performances, an emotional story and multiple awards under its belt, Gtsngbo looks to be a standout at the 2016 Festival.
While the films such as Gtsngbo allows a window to the everyday life and the cultural narratives of China and the Chinese way of life, the films do not shy away from social commentating on issues, such as the ever widening societal gap of haves and have nots. A Fool features the utter desperation of the latter. A Fool is the 2014 directorial debut of Cheng Jianbin, who also stars in this cautionary tale of being a good Samaritan in a society where the only values that is respected are monetary. Cheng Jianbin plays Latiaozi, a farmer who is attempting to bribe prison officials in exchange for an early release for his son, at the same time, he aids a homeless man and allows him to stay at the farm, this random act of kindness would result in disastrous consequences for Latiaozi and his plans for his son’s release.
As a view to contemporary China, A Fool stays away from the glamourous steel pinnacles of Shanghai and the prestigious, patriotic glow of Beijing and instead offers up a congested, decrepit slums and over-commercialized shopping malls that serve as a darker reflection to China’s relentless economic boom. The film has already won major awards, Best New Director and Best Leading Actor wins at the celebrated Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan and looks to be a strong contender at the Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival.
Similarily to A Fool, North By Northeast is about the lives about regular people, however, much of it is played for laughs in this case. The title is an obvious but playful nod to Hitchcock’s masterful thriller North by Northwest, North By Northeast however, is set in 1978, about a group of villagers and their efforts to capture a rapist who is on the loose in rural China, at the head of the investigation is an incompetent police captain and an exiled doctor. The year the film is set in is significant, it is two years after the end of Mao Ze Dong’s Cultural Revolution.
Surprisingly despite the grim setting and dark material, director Zhang Bingjian plays it off as a comedy, which is an interesting angle to take, considering how audiences are accustomed to seeing such themes and settings as makings of a much darker and horrific movie. While the film does not venture too deep into social commentary, audiences can still see the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution permeate through the backstory of the characters, the basic colour palette of the costumes and the stark and desolate daytime cinematography.
Social commentary can take different forms, as we have seen it in genres ranging from the dramatic and comedic. This is where Kaili Blues stands out, it is a surrealistic drama. The debut film of Bi Gan, the film is a surreal tale of a doctor, Chen who is searching for his nephew after he goes missing, in between his search, he comes to terms with his dark past and with his damaged relationship with his hoodlum brother. Kaili Blues works as a tone poem through its hypnotic, Malickian camera work, dreamlike images and disjointed narrative, yet these the surrealistic aesthetics brings attention to the stark reality of the character’s lives, it is an examination of the lives of the less well to do in China’s economic rise, all the characters live in squalor. Yet around them, construction work and gleaming high rises exist, the characters live in an ever shrinking time bubble of poverty as modernity threatens to push them out. Kaili Blues is a breathtaking but melancholic journey through the lives of the impoverished and is highly recommended viewing.
With a plethora of films in competition for top honors at the Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival, these are only a few of the many highlights scheduled, as Ray Shen mentioned that every single films that is selected went through a highly stringent selection process to ensure a high calibre of films. The festival itself will run from the 15th of February to the 9th of March, to find out more about the festival and the full list of the great films that are showcased, as well as to book tickets, one can visit the Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival’s website at: http://www.cff.org.au/homepage/
– Perry Lam
Perry Lam is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review. He is the director of the documentary short film BLACK RAT has been selected for numerous film festivals both in Sydney and overseas. https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/02/welcome-perry-lam-rochford-street-review-associate-editor/