China directors name 'Black Coal' top film; rules to be altered next year

'Black Coal, Thin Ice' won best film, screenwriter and actor at China Film Directors Guild Awards

The crime drama "Black Coal, Thin Ice" bagged three awards at the China Film Directors Guild Awards, including film of the year, at a ceremony held over the weekend.

Director-writer Diao Yinan won screenwriter of the year while the actor of the year award went to Liao Fan. Liao won the Silver Bear for actor at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, where "Black Coal" also took home top kudos.

Judges at Sunday's ceremony praised Liao’s performances as “extremely well-balanced between firmness and flexibility.” Gong Li won actress of the year for her turn in Zhang Yimou’s drama “Coming Home,” a story about lives interrupted by the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Director Lou Ye, who was previously banned from making films for five years for creating a politically sensitive film, was awarded director of the year for “Blind Massage,” the story of a group of blind masseurs’ highs and lows in a massage parlor. His signature artistic style of jump cuts and blurry images helped seeing audiences experience the world of the blind.

Ann Hui won director of the year from Hong Kong and Taiwan for her lengthy biopic “The Golden Era.”

The China Film Directors Guild Awards have been handed out since 2005. Last year, the group decided not to award any prizes for film of the year or director of the year. Feng Xiaogang, an opinionated Chinese director and the jury leader last year explained the controversial move by saying: "This guild is not made to entertain ourselves. The fact is that the quality of domestic films is declining." 

Still, this year's selections did not meet with universal approval either. He Ping, a well-known director and the ex-secretary of the guild, called this year’s film selections “the most shameful of the past six years.” He wrote on his official Sina Weibo account: “There are many lousy films among the selected films entering the competition this year.”

On the other hand, other critics said a number of high-quality films were not able to enter the competition due to the rigid, outdated rules. For example, “Dearest,” a drama about child abductions in mainland China, was directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Chan and so was only qualified to compete in the best Hong Kong and Taiwan director category, even though the film had a full mainland cast.

Vicky Zhao, the mainland actress who starred in "Dearest," was also not eligible in the actress category, which many filmmakers found hard to digest. Zhao was able to compete in the Golden Horse film awards in Taiwan.

Director Huang Jianxin, a previous president of the guild, challenged current president Li Shaohong during a press conference when the nominations were announced in March: “We all say mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan are a family, then why do we still separate Hong Kong and Taiwan from mainland? Vicky Zhao has won the nomination in Taiwan, but she is disqualified in the mainland film director guild. Is it a joke?”

“Dearest” wasn't the only film facing such a dilemma. “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” -- one of the top-grossing films of recent months, with more than $150 million in box office receipts -- faced the same dilemma because it was directed by Hong Kong director Tsui Hark.

Judges eventually decided to dedicate the Special Jury Recognition Film Award to “Dearest.” On the stage, Chan said “every place has its own rules of the game; I will respect the rules.”  

Li Shaohong, president of China Film Directors Guild, admitted the rule had prevented “Dearest” from entering the competition. However, he said that because there are now so many co-productions, “the guild plans to change the rules next year. So we gave the special reward to ‘Dearest’ as a compensation. Now we don’t have any regrets.”

Feng Xiaogang, when giving the awards during the ceremony, sent best wishes to Chinese directors and noted that pressure from Hollywood is still intense.

“I just heard the box office of 'Fast & Furious 7' had exceeded 300 million [renminbi]," on its opening day in China, or more than $50 million. "That is big pressure on Chinese directors I hope everyone can take both art and market into account, and hold on for Chinese film.” 

Nicole Liu in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

 

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