Chinese Films Take Top Honors at Asia’s Largest Film Festival

Two up-and-coming Chinese directors score at Busan International Film Festival, which sees an attendance drop of more than 25 percent over last year.


Two Chinese directors shared Asia’s largest film festival’s top prize, as the event’s audience saw a sharp decline in a crossroads year.

Wang Xuebo’s Knife in the Clear Water and Zang Qiwu’s The Donor both received the New Currents Award, the Busan International Film Festival’s (BIFF) highest honor, splitting a US$30,000 prize. Awards at the event, held this year between October 6-15 in the southern South Korean resort and port city of Busan, focus on up-and-coming directors, rather than audience awards or commercial successes.

Both films are arty fare that will struggle to generate a cinema audience at China’s blockbuster- and comedy-dominated domestic box office, but as with many films that succeed at Busan, will find a home and perhaps further acclaim on the global festival circuit.

Wang’s Knife is set in the far mountains of Ningxia’s province. As the film opens, the old Ma Zishan and his son are mourning his wife. Loved by everyone in the village and the family, the son wants to sacrifice their only bull for his mother’s 40 days disappearance ceremony. Zishan isn’t against it, but his sorrow and his love for the old animal make him wonder. Even his prayers and the Imam don’t seem to erase his doubts. Until one morning, when the old bull stops eating and drinking. Has he seen the knife in the clear water?

Zang’s Donor  tells a story of the dark side of modern Chinese society where the good will to protect a family results in tragedy after all. Yang Ba is not able to provide financial support and decides to sell a kidney to Li Zhaohui, Li Daguo’s sister. But when Zhaohui’s life is at stake from an adverse reaction to the kidney transplant, Daguo demands that Yang Ba give him his son’s kidney. Yang Ba refuses this demand and tries to protect his son.

The New Currents jury was headed by Souleymane Cisse, a director from Mali; Guneet Monga, a producer from India; Bero Beyer, director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam; Zhang Lu, director, Korea; and Iranian director, cinematographer and producer Mahmoud Kalari.

BIFF, now in its 21st year, saw its attendance drop by over 27 percent this year, attributed to budget cuts and a typhoon that swept the area during the festival’s opening day, Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.  Once a truly international festival, in recent years BIFF has increasingly featured Korean films and stars. The festival is Asia’s largest, due in part to a lack of competition.

Busan’s greatest attraction for the industry is its film market, which has suffered in recent years due to its calendar proximity to the American Film Market in early November. BIFF is followed in October by the Tokyo International Film Festival, which tends to feature more commercial films and runs this year from October 25-November 3.