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Jackie Chan, Mike Tyson help kick off Shanghai Film Festival

A disease outbreak in South Korea and a film removed by censors dampen opening of Shanghai film festival

Jackie Chan, Mike Tyson and Fan Bingbing walked the red carpet Saturday night as a somewhat subdued Shanghai International Film Festival got underway in China’s bustling commercial capital.

Concerns about the outbreak of MERS in South Korea and the removal of a Japanese film at the behest of Chinese government censors put a bit of a damper on the 18th annual event, which for years was the only substantial film festival in China until Beijing launched its own festival in 2011. Both events are under government control, but authorities seem to be pouring significant resources into raising the profile of the Beijing affair, which is held in April.

Festival organizers sent emails to some expected participants from South Korea, suggesting that they stay home; at the registration desk, South Korean attendees were asked to fill out a health history form.

In the lobby of Shanghai Movie City, a movie complex that is one of the central film venues, large printed screening schedules still carried the title “Attack on Titan,” but ticket sellers said the animated Japanese film had indeed been pulled from the lineup and replaced with another Japanese movie. The film was among 38 foreign animated properties deemed excessively violent or pornographic earlier this week by China’s Ministry of Culture.

Unlike last year, when “Transformers: Age of Extinction” closed out the Shanghai festival, this year’s lineup includes no Hollywood blockbusters, though Antoine Fuqua’s long-in-the-works boxing drama “Southpaw,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is having its world premiere at the festival.

The film, which is competing for the Golden Goblet award, centers on a lefthanded junior-middleweight champ (Gyllenhaal) whose is sent into a spiral by a tragic accident. With the help of a washed-up former boxer (Forest Whitaker), he starts to fight his way back to personal and professional redemption.

The opening film was the somewhat saccharine "I Am Somebody," directed by Derek Tung-Sing Yee, about Chinese movie extras trying to make a go of it on the studio lots in Hengdian, a major movie film center not far from Shanghai.

The closing night film on June 21 will be the China-Russia co-production "Ballet in the Flames of War," directed by China's Yachun Dong and Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov. Organizers said the movie “highlights the friendship between China and Russia through a love story unfolding in the midst of World War II.”

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known in China as the War to Resist Japanese Aggression, and the festival has programmed a special section of films devoted to this theme, including “Casablanca,” German director Volker Schlondorff’s “The Tin Drum” and Andre Singer’s Holocaust documentary “Night Will Fall.”

The Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose “Leviathan” was nominated for the foreign language Oscar this year, is heading up this year’s jury for the Golden Goblet award.

The festival offers cinema-goers the chance to see a number of American films that were never imported into theaters in China, which restricts the number of foreign films that can enter the market each year. Among some of the U.S. films screening are “Whiplash” and “Birdman.” Former boxer Mike Tyson is attending the festival not because he has an American film in the festival but because he has a guest part in the upcoming Chinese movie “Ip Man 3.” DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg also attended the event.

This year, the Shanghai fest will offer fans the chance to see all six films in the “Star Wars” series, a first for the mainland. “Jackie Chan Action Movie Week” is expected to draw a number of international filmmakers, including Renny Harlin and Brett Ratner for a series of forums and screenings that organizers said “will leverage the prestige of Jackie Chan in the world of action movies, highlight Chinese culture reflected in action movies, and pool together worldwide resources in support of the globalization of Chinese films and culture.”

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China.

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