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China's Film Industry Celebrates Berlinale Triumph

Black Coal, Thin Ice Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Fortissimo
"Black Coal, Thin Ice"

Diao Yinan's "Black Coal, Thin Ice" took home the Golden Bear, and the Silver Bear went to Lou Ye's "Blind Massage" at the film festival.

The Chinese film industry expressed delight at the success of Chinese filmmakers at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Diao Yinan's Black Coal, Thin Ice took home the Golden Bear and the Silver Bear went to Lou Ye's Blind Massage -- proof that the industry was a force to be reckoned with.

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"I have said much earlier that for international filmmakers, 2013 is the year of China, and the following ten years will be also the China Decade," Zhou Tiedong, president of China Film Promotion International, wrote on his Sina Weibo microblog.

Lead actor Liao Fan, who plays an alcoholic former detective in the quirky noir movie, won the Silver Bear for Best Actor, the first Chinese actor to win in this category.

Director He Ping described the Berlin Film Festival as "the first window and international platform for Chinese movies going abroad after the Cultural Revolution," referring to the turbulent period of ideological extremism in China between 1966 and 1976.

"It attaches more importance to different performances from Eastern and Western cultures. Today’s success will encourage a group of people who are serious about making serious films, despite the shallow film environment," he wrote on Sina Weibo.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is the fourth mainland Chinese movie to win the Golden Bear, after Xie Fei's Women from the Lake of Scented Souls in 1993, Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum in 1988, and Wang Quan'an's Tuya's Marriage in 2007.

The initial response in state-run media to the success had been one of pride, but less emotional, presumably because the subject matter of the films examines contemporary Chinese issues, not always a favored theme for the country's censors.

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But the initial caution soon turned to joy. The Global Times newspaper, which is part of the publishing group under the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, ran a glowing tribute to the films' success, describing the Chinese sweep of the awards as a "stellar night for Chinese film."

Chen Shan, a professor with the Beijing Film Academy, told the newspaper how the three Chinese films in competition -- Ning Hao's No Man's Land, which was banned for over four years for its "nihilist" theme -- all had strong individual styles. Chinese film production had become increasingly mature in recent years, as art films and commercial films learned more from each other, he said.

China's box office was up nearly 28 per cent last year at $3.6 billion, and homegrown movies took the majority of box office.

However, Tan did not believe a single Golden Bear would bridge the gap between China's movie market and Hollywood – rules on film censorship needed to change for that to happen. "If the censorship can be looser, I believe there will be more good works with diverse motifs," he told the Global Times.

Zhou Xing, dean of the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, described the performance of as "encouraging", especially as Chinese films had only fitful success in recent years.

"Market performance is not the issue, as the films in the past have shown a lack of independent cultural thinking. The award shows the importance of encouraging such creativity," Zhou told the newspaper.

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Cinematographer Zeng Jian won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Lou Ye's Blind Massage, in which some of the cast are visually impaired. Lou is a former problem child for the film authorities, and was banned for five years for Summer Palace.

Movie critic Tan Fei said the Golden Bear for Black Coal, Thin Ice showed how the global perception of China has changed, and that it was no longer about rural settings and "folksy" themes, such as in Red Sorghum and Tuya's Marriage.

"This one depicts contemporary Chinese urban life with more universal values," he told the Global Times. He also noted that films are "never independent, but close to a nation's development."