The Force remains strong in China

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the sci-fi saga, has continued to pummel the competition at China’s box office. Having only been released in the country on Jan. 9, the film had grossed about $114.29 million by Jan. 24, comfortably leaving in its wake the runner-up, local animated feature Boonie Bears III, which raked in some $33 million since opening on Jan. 16. A respectable third place went to Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk (about Twin Towers daredevil Philippe Petit), which was able to generate $6.74 million during its first week of release in China.   

China to Launch Global Distribution Network

China’s state media announced in January that the country is going to establish a network to globally distribute domestic films to give Chinese audiences abroad easier access to homegrown movies and to also enhance the increasingly important local film industry’s clout in the international market. According to the reports, the country’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), a government body overseeing all media matters, is going to collaborate with China Media Capital Holdings Ltd. and China Lion Film Distribution Inc. to build a platform to help form the distribution network.

Internationally known Chinese actors Jackie Chan and Gong Li have reportedly agreed to serve as promotional ambassadors for the platform. Hong Kong-produced fantasy film The Monkey King 2–which stars Gong Li–is slated to be the first movie to be released through the new platform in more than 50 major cities across North America, Europe and Asia, and simultaneously with its China opening in early February.

China’s media quoted the vice minister of the Communist Party of China’s publicity department, Jing Junhai, as saying that he “hoped the platform could not only help Chinese people around the world enjoy Chinese culture and Chinese film development, but also tell Chinese stories and show the Chinese spirit to the world.” Meanwhile, Tong Gang, deputy director of SAPPRFT, told news website China.org.cn: “Chinese films have achieved a great leap forward and will try to find new growth opportunities in the wider global market. The new platform will help the Chinese film industry’s development.”

Qatar Bans Transgender Film

The government of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar has banned all screenings of the transgender-themed film The Danish Girl, which stars British actor and Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne in the lead role. The move followed angry protests by locals in online media decrying the “moral depravity” of the film after it had initially begun screening in early January in a handful of theatres in the capital Doha. Apparently, the film was then immediately pulled and Qatar’s Culture Ministry on Jan. 12 posted on its Twitter account: “We would like to inform you that we have contacted the concerned administration and [that] the screening of The Danish Girl is now banned from cinemas. We thank you for your unwavering vigilance.”

A U.K.-USA-Belgium-Denmark-Germany co-production set in the 1920s, the romantic drama is loosely based on the lives of Danish painter couple Gerda and Einar Wegener. In the film, the wife, Gerda, paints her husband (played by Redmayne) wearing women’s clothing. When the painting turns out to almost instantly become talk of the town, Einar begins dressing up as a woman routinely and renames himself “Lili Elbe.” He increasingly identifies with his alter ego and resolves to become a woman. He later even undergoes one of history’s first gender-reassignment surgeries.

Thai Indie Films to Screen in Rotterdam

Two independent films by Thai directors screened in competition at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam, which took place from Jan. 27 through Feb. 7 in the Dutch port city. The Island Funeral by acclaimed female director Pimpaka Towira was selected for the festival's main “Bright Future” section, which highlights the works of up-and-coming filmmakers, while Motel Mist, the directorial debut of well-known screenwriter and columnist Prabda Yoon was shown as part of the Tiger Awards competition.

The Island Funeral tells the story of a young woman who embarks on a road trip together with her brother and a friend to visit the Muslim insurgency-plagued southern Thai province of Pattani. Coming from the faraway capital of Bangkok, they are surprised and shocked at the level of violence they encounter in the province. Motel Mist, meanwhile, cleverly intertwines the lives of four fictional characters: a middle-aged pedophile who has just kidnapped a young schoolgirl to molest–and possibly murder–in a seedy motel room, a child actor suffering from alien-abduction delusions who checks in to the motel room across the hall, a disillusioned motel employee who dreams of a cooler job, and the kidnapped schoolgirl’s sexy classmate who just arrives in time to save her friend from the pedophile’s clutches.

This year’s festival for the first time also had a Thai national, director Anucha Suwichakompong, sitting on the Tiger Awards jury’s bench. He already had won the Tiger Award for himself six years ago for his own directorial debut, Mundane History.

The Rotterdam festival has long been regarded as an important platform for Thailand’s independent filmmakers. For example, Aditya Assarat accepted the Tiger Award trophy in 2008 for his tsunami disaster drama Wonderful Town, while in 2011 Sivaroj Kongsakul took home the same award for his salubrious adultery drama Eternity. Last year, the trophy was won by Jakrawan Ninthamrong for Vanishing Point, an intricately woven mystery story revolving around a tragic car accident throwing an entire family into disarray and a terrible crime committed deep in a forest.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.