Historical drama, Back to 1942, entered for the 86th Oscars

Updated: 2013-10-09 00:31

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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The Chinese mainland has entered Feng Xiaogang's Back to 1942, a drama about a famine that killed 3 million people that year, in the competition for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

Feng's film unveils a dark chapter in modern Chinese history when, in 1942, a famine, war chaos and corruption drove residents of central Henan province on a devastating exodus.

The movie features Hollywood stars Adrien Brody as a US journalist and Tim Robbins as a priest.

China Lion distributed the film in the United States in January. It is the second of Feng's films to be selected to contend for the award by the State Film Bureau. The first was Aftershock, about an earthquake that hit northern China in 1976.

Another widely anticipated candidate for selection was A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke. But that film, currently showing at the 51st New York Film Festival, was not theatrically released in China and thus was ineligible for submission.

Eligibility for contenders in the category must have seven consecutive days of screening in their native countries' commercial theaters, in addition to technical standards such as certain sound formats and accurate English subtitles.

According to the academy's official website, a record 76 countries and regions have submitted films for consideration in the foreign-language film category for the 86th Academy Awards. Moldova and Saudi Arabia are first-time entrants. Montenegro is submitting for the first time as an independent country.

Hong Kong selected Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster, a poetic kung fu saga for the category. The film, starring Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung, was released in the US on Aug 23 and grossed a decent $6.5 million.

Taiwan submitted Soul, a thriller by art house director Chung Mong-hong.

Members of the academy will vote for 15 films out of the 76 entrants and then nine of the 15. The final results will be announced at the ceremony on March 2.

Ben Ji, managing director of Reach Glory Media Group and a veteran producer, saw Back to 1942 as a reasonable choice to compete, mainly for its story.

"The film was very local, told in a very Chinese cultural background, yet not too historical for the US members of the Academy to understand," he said.

The two Hollywood stars, he added, helped make the film approachable.

But he pointed out that the award has, for years, gone not to genre films, but those with a different style from Hollywood films. For that reason, Back to 1942, a typical disaster epic, is not a promising contender.

Moreover, films distributed in North America by a US distributor have been proved to have an advantage in the campaign, Ji said, because of their better publicity and exposure to academy members. Back to 1942's US distributor was a Chinese company and the box office take was only $310,000.

No Chinese film has won the Best Foreign Language Oscar since Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001. Zhang Yimou's martial arts epic Hero was nominated in 2003 but lost to the German film Nowhere in Africa.

Senior industry insider Bai Qiang said China has produced few titles that cater to the award's priorities in recent years, and does not believe Chinese filmmakers' "Oscar complex" will help address the important issues in the industry.

"Look at the previous winners in this category and you will find universal values and a solid story are essential, and Chinese filmmakers should stay more hungry to polish those two parts," he said.

"And a prize is never the purpose of making a film. The more urgent problem is how to tell a good story that resonates with its audiences. Even if we win this prize, there is still a big difference needed to make in filmmaking."