Dark Times

21 BKLOT The Maltese Falcon
Courtesy Everett Collection

The Shanghai Film Festival presents the Chinese big-screen premieres of seven films from noir's golden age.

The Shanghai International Film Festival is adding a Tribute to Masters that will feature the Chinese big-screen debut of seven film noir classics from the golden age of the genre.

The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Casablanca, Gilda, Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Sleep will play in China for the first time in Shanghai from June 11-19.

Chinese film critic Raymond Zhou Liming says noir has traditionally struggled to reach Chinese theaters because of the very tropes that make it popular in the West: the femme fatale, distinctly unhappy endings and a bleak postwar world awash in moral ambiguity.

"Portrayals of noirish characters have a hard time passing China's censors, who tend to prefer a black-and-white moral distinction of the characters and the denouement," Zhou says.

The closest recent local example of a Chinese-language noir might be Hong Kong's series of Infernal Affairs films, especially the first installment, Zhou says. It was those films that, when adapted for Hollywood by Martin Scorsese as The Departed, won the director his only Oscar.

As both a critic and a fan, Zhou is thrilled at the prospect of seeing these black-and-white classics writ large. "The film-noir element in SIFF is the best for me because all those films are my favorites," he says. "I'm fascinated by film noir mainly because it portrays the dark side of human nature and also because the style is sophisticated."

Apart from an early-'80s screening in China of Carol Reed's 1949 classic The Third Man, no noir has ever been screened in China until now. But that doesn't mean the Chinese don't know these films -- most are available on pirated discs, and Chinese cinephiles are "very familiar with them," according to Zhou.

 "These people have read scholarly books on the subject and have watched the movies on discs," he says. "They see it as a holy grail to watch them again on the big screen."