[lg policy] Fighting on Many Fronts in Asian Foreign-Language Entries for Academy Awards
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Wed Jan 4 16:36:39 UTC 2012
January 4, 2012, 6:01 am
Fighting on Many Fronts in Asian Foreign-Language Entries
By LARRY ROHTER
One of the intriguing mysteries of the competition for the Academy
Award for best foreign-language film is trying to figure out why
certain groups of countries submit films that are so similar in
subject matter. For example, this year, as in 2011, several European
countries have chosen films about interactions between Europeans and
immigrants from poor, ravaged nations seeking sanctuary in the West.
Have those films been submitted because they are really the best work
to come out of the countries they represent? Because the subject is so
topical? Or is it simply because someone in a national film institute
somewhere thinks that Academy voters will respond favorably to that
particular kind of film?
News, features and multimedia about the Oscars race.
Those may be questions that do not have answers, but there is no doubt
that such a tendency exists. Another such cluster this year is in East
Asia, where all four of the major nations are competing for the Oscar
with blood-soaked war dramas: China with “The Flowers of War,” Taiwan
with “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale,” South Korea with “The
Front Line” and Japan with “Postcard.”
Much has already been written about “The Flowers of War,” so there is
no point in rehashing that. (If you want to catch up, look here, here
and here.) But it is interesting to note that in both the Chinese and
Taiwanese submissions, the villains are the Japanese, while in the
South Korean entry it is the Chinese, along with the North Koreans,
who are the bad guys. Clearly, nationalism is alive and well in East
Asia; little wonder the region is sometimes called “the most dangerous
place on earth.”
But for all their airing of regional rivalries that refuse to die,
these submissions also adhere to many of the rules of genre films,
Hollywood-style, which may help explain why they, rather than other
films, have been chosen to compete for the Oscar. “The Front Line,”
for instance, will seem familiar to any filmgoer, American or foreign,
who has seen “Saving Private Ryan” or “A Few Good Men” or “The
General’s Daughter,” since it replicates tropes from all three of
those movies by mixing the horror of combat with a military
investigation that leads to unexpected conclusions.
Well Go USAA scene from “The Front Line,” South Korea’s entry for the
Oscar for best foreign-language film
“The Front Line” is set in 1953, in the waning days of the Korean War.
Central command suspects that a North Korean infiltrator has
penetrated a combat unit fighting to hold a hilltop on what might
become an armistice line, and sends an intelligence officer to
investigate. In a country as homogenous as Korea, it’s obviously not
possible to employ the same clichés common in American combat movies,
like platoons with soldiers named Rizzo, Goldberg, O’Connor and
Martinez. But the film focuses on their local equivalents: the fat
guy, the hardened veteran, the country yokel, etc.
The Oscars Saying ‘Ciao Bye-Bye’ to Old Borders
A look at the 63 movies competing for a shot at the Academy Award for
best foreign-language film suggests that many of those old rules — or
boundaries and barriers if you prefer — are disappearing.
Read More »
For a full dosage of Hollywood influence, however, it might be best to
look at “Warriors of the Rainbow,” which plays like an Asian remake of
“Avatar.” Consider this plotline: an indigenous clan-based people
living in harmony with nature find their way of life threatened when
violent interlopers from another culture arrive, intent on seizing
their natural resources and enslaving them. In this case it’s the
Seediq Bale, a tribal people who lived in the mountains of Taiwan, in
the role of the Pandorans, and the Japanese, who seized Taiwan in the
mid-1890s and held it as a colony for 60 years, substituting for
It turns out, however, that “Warriors of the Rainbow,” directed by Wei
Te-Sheng and produced by the Hong Kong action film master John Woo,
was conceived nearly a decade ago. Mr. Wei even shot a five-minute
showcase in 2003 but could not get the financing until he had a hit in
2008 with “Cape No. 7,” a romantic comedy. Production of “Warriors of
the Rainbow” then began in 2009, just as “Avatar” was about to be
Pichi Chuang/ReutersWei Te-sheng, the director of “Warriors of the
Rainbow,” at the 48th Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan in November.
In its original iteration, shown in East Asia, “Warriors of the
Rainbow” consisted of two chapters, running at a total of 4 1/2 hours.
For the West, it has been trimmed to about half that, but still
manages, as The Economist noted, to show probably ”the highest number
of graphic beheadings of any film anywhere.” Nevertheless, it was a
hit in Chinese-speaking areas, where resentment endures over Japan’s
behavior during World War II and its refusal to apologize for abuses
then and during the colonial period.
And what about the Japanese entry, “Postcard”? If there is a villain,
it is war itself, along with the damage it wreaks on survivors. When a
soldier about to be sent to the front lines during World War II
receives a postcard from his wife back home, he writes a reply and,
assuming he is going to be killed, asks a friend to deliver it at
war’s end. The friend later visits the widow at her rural home and
finds that her suffering has been even greater than he could have
This is not a surprising perspective, given that “Postcard” was
written and directed by the 99-year-old filmmaker Kaneto Shindo. Born
in Hiroshima, he served in World War II himself, emerging as one of
only six survivors from a unit of just over 100 men, and in 1953
directed “Children of Hiroshima,” about a teacher returning to that
city to find out if any of his students have survived the atom bomb.
So what are the odds that one of these four East Asian war films will
take home the Oscar for best foreign-language film? Japan has won four
times, most recently in 2008 for “Departures,” and Taiwan once, for
Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000. But China has
never won, though Chinese films have twice been nominated, and no
Korean film has even reached the final five. That’s not exactly an
encouraging track record.
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