For some, Year of Rat has German tale

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BERLIN -- Chinese New Year usually is a cause for celebration. But falling this year on the eve of the Berlin International Film Festival, the official launch of the Year of the Rat was met Wednesday with glum faces from the Asian contingent.

Instead of enjoying a family dinner as per tradition, most Chinese marketeers were up to their ears in cellophane and boxes at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, rushing to set up shop in time for today's opening of the European Film Market.

Over at Korean sales company CineClick Asia, there was talk of a group dinner at a Korean restaurant, where soup with rice cake -- one of several New Year's Eve traditions said to bring good health -- was definitely on the menu.

Celebrated in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, the holiday, which began Wednesday, include three days of gatherings with friends and family, leaving some worrying that the 10-day market will be slow to get going.

"It is like scheduling a film festival over Christmas," one regular said. "People are worried there won't be anyone there for the first few days."

The good news is that when they do finally arrive, the Chinese revelers should be in the money -- Ang Pow, another New Year ritual, sees red pouches containing gifts of money handed out by elder relatives to younger family members. Bosses also give employees their annual bonuses in this way.

"I would usually be at the owner's house getting my bonus and having dinner," said Chinese EFM attendee Gilbert Lim, who serves as executive vp at Thai-based Sahamongkol Film. "But since the EFM became a bigger market, we haven't had a chance to celebrate. It has been all work."

Carrie Wong, managing director at Golden Network Asia, said she would be making time to celebrate with friends from Hong Kong. But she won't be honoring another New Year's Eve habit, that of going to the temple.
"I don't think I could find one here if I tried," Wong said. "It's a pity my colleagues couldn't stay and celebrate with family."

Golden Network has a number of Chinese projects selling at the market, including the Tibetan film "Wild Horses From Shangri-la" and the martial arts film "Wushu."

Fortissimo Sales, which represents a number of Asian filmmakers -- as well as this year's opening-night film, Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones documentary "Shine a Light" -- said they wouldn't be celebrating.
"Maybe someone will show up in a Chinese dress for the premiere (tonight)," Fortissimo's Gabrielle Rozing said.

Fortissimo's offerings at the festival include a promo reel of Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's latest film, "Ashes of Time Redux."
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