Zhang Ziyi, at Cannes debut of “She’s Got No Name” photo © Andreas Rentz/Getty

Cannes: Rhapsody in May for Asian Cinema

The official poster of the 77th Festival de Cannes is a scene from “Rhapsody in August” by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It’s a fitting choice because Asia is strongly represented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The famed Studio Ghibli, founded by Hayao Miyazaki, was awarded an Honorary Palme d’Or.  India is in competition for the first time in 30 years with “All We Imagine as Light,” directed by Payal Kapadia. Saudi Arabia has a film in Cannes’ official selection for the first time with Tawfik Alzaidi’s “Norah” in the Un Certain Regard section, after premiering at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival. And five films from China are included in the official selection this year.
In announcing the 2024 lineup, Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux said, “India and China are countries that are coming back to us.” It’s been three or four years since China was high profile in world cinema due to the pandemic. This year, he expressed “the satisfaction of having China, a major cinema country, back in the selection.”
The great Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-Ke is in competition with a decades-spanning love story, “Caught By the Tides” (Feng Liu Yi Dai). The film, his sixth entry in the official selection, follows the romantic destiny of his heroine; the filmmaker delivers a unique, epic tale that spans all of his previous films and more than 20 years of a country undergoing profound change.
Jia Zhang-Ke has been a Cannes favorite since “Unknown Pleasures” in 2002. The filmmaker is a leading figure of the Sixth Generation of Chinese directors. That movement follows China’s Fifth Generation of filmmakers, when Chinese cinema rose to prominence in the late 1980s, sweeping the world’s most prestigious film festivals, Cannes, Venice and Berlinale. The most famous of the Fifth Generation directors are Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou.
Chen Kaige’s 1993 Chinese-Hong Kong epic “Farewell My Concubine” won the Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and the 1994 Golden Globe for foreign-language film. The following year at Cannes, Chinese master Zhang Yimou won the grand jury prize with “To Live” (1994), which also saw the best actor award go to star Ge You. Zhang returned to the Cannes Film Festival in 1995 with “Shanghai Triad” starring Gong Li, and won the technical grand prize. Five of Zhang Yimou’s films have been nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Besides competing in the top prize category, Zia Zhang-Ke played the supporting role of Uncle Yao in Guan Hu’s drama “Black Dog” which was honored with a top prize in Un Certain Regard. Guan Hu also belongs to the Sixth Generation of directors in Chinese cinema, as does Lou Ye.
Fifteen years after winning the screenplay award for “Spring Fever,” Lou Ye returned to Cannes with his  “An Unfinished Film” in the special screening section. The movie is about China’s Covid Crisis in 2020; a film crew reunites near Wuhan to resume the shooting halted years earlier, only to share the unexpected challenges as cities are placed under lockdown.
Two Hong Kong movies inspired festival fever: director Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s crime thriller “She’s Got No Name” and action thriller “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In” directed by Soi Cheang.
“Walled In” opened the Midnight Screenings. It is the film adaptation of “City of Darkness,” the series of cult Manhua (Chinese comics/graphic novels) by Andy Seto. Set in the 1980s, “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In” follows a troubled young Chinese-Vietnamese man Chan Lok-Kwun (Raymond Lam) who accidentally enters the Kowloon Walled City. Hong Kong’s famed Sammo Hung played Mr. Big.
Director Soi Cheang and cast members Louis Koo, Terrance Lau, Raymond Lam, German Cheung and Tony Wu were present for the screening. Afterwards, Cheang said “The fact that we can put together so many talented Hong Kong artists for this Hong Kong story is very meaningful and magnificent thing to me. I hope overseas audiences will also feel our love for Hong Kong.”
Expressing his gratitude to the festival he said “Special thanks to Wilson Yip and Angus Chan. It took eight years to make this movie happen.”
Screening 24 May, one day before the close of the festival, was “She’s Got No Name,” based on one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in China. It stars Zhang Ziyi, Golden Globes best actress nominee for “Memoirs of A Geisha” (2015).