Berlinale has history with Asia's top helmers

Ang Lee, Johnnie To credit Berlin for starting careers

BERLIN -- It's no accident that Asian cinema is in the spotlight for the 60th Berlin Film Festival. The Berlinale has long been the international launching pad for films and filmmakers from the Far East.

Such now-established names as Johnnie To, Chan Wook Park, Zhang Yimou, Kim Ki-Duk and Oscar-winner Ang Lee all got their start in Berlin.

"I call myself a son of Berlin because they sort of discovered me," said Lee, whose debut, "Pushing Hands," premiered at the German fest and who won the Golden Bear in 1993 with "The Wedding Banquet." Lee shared the trophy that year ex-aequo with "Xiang hun nu" from mainland Chinese director Fei Xie.

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It was Berlinale director Moritz de Hadeln who turned the festival into a global stage for Asian cinema. In the 1980s, he actively sought out directors from Korea, Japan and particularly China and Hong Kong. Berlin was the first international festival to show films from mainland China and the first to give a Chinese film its top prize when Zhang's "Red Sorghum" won in 1988.
"Berlin has been so important for Chinese films, especially since 'Red Sorghum,' won the Golden Bear," said actress Nan Yu, star of 2006 Golden Bear winner "Tuya’s Marriage" and a member of this year's Berlinale Jury.

Mainstream features such as Yoji Yamada's "The Twilight Samurai" and Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" (Golden Bear winner in 2002) used Berlin as a platform to international success. Both titles translated their Berlinale hype into Oscar fame. "Spirited Away" won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2003, and "Twilight Samurai" receiving an Oscar nom in the foreign-language category a year later.

But Berlin hasn't ignored Asian arthouse. To screened his first films in Berlin's Forum sidebar, Park's breakthrough film "Joint Security Area" was in competition in 2001 and Kim has been a perennial Berlin favorite, even winning a Silver Bear for best director in 2004 with "Samaritan Girl."
"The Berlin Film Festival established my name and success in Europe," To said. "Such a high class film festival which has supported and promoted so many Asian film directors deserves my deepest gratitude."

A-level fests around the world are also in Berlin's debt. Cannes has poached many of Berlin's discoveries -- Park, To, Zhang -- as has Venice, which has all but adopted Lee. But as this year's lineup demonstrates, Asian directors haven't forgotten what Berlin has done for them and for the image of Asian cinema worldwide.