Shanghai Film Festival: Action and Asia in Focus at 18th Edition


A health scare related to the MERS virus weighs on the fest as organizers ask South Koreans not to come.

The Shanghai International Film Festival kicks off this weekend with a focus on Asia and action at the 18th edition of the event in China's financial hub, although a health scare related to the MERS virus will cast a shadow.

The festival is being held from June 13-21 and will screen more than 300 films from China and abroad at 45 cinemas around the city.

The red-carpet event will welcome nearly 400 stars from home and abroad to the opening ceremony, including Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Fan Bingbing, Yao Chen, Jackie Chan, Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai, Liu Ye and Eddie Peng.

The Jackie Chan Action Movie Week is expected to be a highlight this year. This will kick off with a forum with Chan, Wu Jing, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Rob Cohen, and subsequent events will include Andrew Lau, Bruce Law, Renny Harlin, Brett Ratner, Li Bingbing and Fan Bingbing.

Notably absent from this year's festival will be key South Korean guests, who have decided not to attend amid growing concern over the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in East Asia.

The directors and producers of two Korean films competing in the festival, The Shameless and Salut d'Amour, have canceled their trip, while Busan International Film Festival organizers also called off their visit.

The annual SIFF Project market will aim to match up 35 independent film projects with finance, distribution and sales, and will be chaired by Founding of a Party director Huang Jianxin.

"I've been a judge at the Shanghai festival for years and this is my third time in a row as president of the project market," Huang told The Hollywood Reporter.

"I think highly of the festival. Compared to the Beijing festival, it is closest to being an international film festival and the different participants at the festival each leverage the opportunities there. It's a top choice," Huang said.

Huang is executive producing a big-screen adaptation of the web drama Surprise!, and the project will be launched at SIFF.

With nine deaths and 122 diagnosed cases as of Thursday, Korea has seen the biggest outbreak of the disease outside of Saudi Arabia, where it was discovered in 2012.

As it does every year, the festival gives audiences an opportunity to watch movies they wouldn't ordinarily catch, as censorship is relaxed during the event. This year, Shanghainese can watch on the big screen movies that did not get a showing in Chinese cinemas, such as Whiplash, Boyhood, The Theory of Everything and Leviathan.

A big draw for local movie fans will be the opportunity to watch all six movies in the Star Wars saga on the big screen. This will mark the first screening of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in China.

This year Leviathan director Andrey Zvyagintsev will head the Golden Goblet Jury, which will include Chinese director Cai Shangjun, Chinese actress Hao Lei, Korean screenwriter Kim Hee-jai, French director and screenwriter Philippe Muyl, Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi and U.S. producer Ron Yerxa.

Leviathan, which is screening out of competition, won the best screenplay award at Cannes last year, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Zvyagintsev's most recent movie was chosen "on account of the acclaim Leviathan has received," according to SIFF organizers.

Among the films nominated for the Golden Goblet Award are Sunstroke, from Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov; Kang Je-gyu's Salut D'amour; Cake, by Daniel Barnz, from the U.S.; and Taiwan director Wang Tung's Where the Wind Settles.

The nominations also include Polish director Jacek Lusinski's Carte Blanche, The Duchess of Warsaw by France's Joseph Morder (France), Jameh Daran by Iran's Hamid Ghotbe, The Midwife by Antti Jokinen (Finland/Lithuania) and The Night Watchman, directed by Pierre Jolivet (France/Belgium).

The festival's opening movie is Hong Kong actor Derek Yee's I am Somebody, about extras at the Hengdian studio in Zhejiang province.

The festival closes with Ballet in Flames of War, a co-production from Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov and Chinese director Dong Yachun, which is also making its global debut at SIFF.

The movie tells of Chinese and Soviet soldiers who fought together against some 300 Japanese soldiers, who refused to give up almost one month after Japan surrendered in the Second World War.

The e-commerce giant Alibaba, which is trying to boost its presence in the entertainment industry, has signed a three-year deal with the festival. Alibaba's crowdfunding-like service, Yulebao, will become an officially designated interactive entertainment partner of the festival, and the group's Taobao Dianying will serve as SIFF's official online ticketing platform.

British director Malcolm Clarke will serve as jury president for the Documentary Jury Panel, and the animation jury will be headed by Ishu Patel.

The Asian New Talent Award jury will be headed by Korean director Kim Han-min, with Taiwanese director Yee Chih-yen, French producer Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, Malaysian actress Sinje Lee and Chinese actor Huang Xuan.

Fifteen films were nominated for the Asian New Talent Award, including a crop of wave-making Asian films, such as Teenage Babylon, End of Winter, River, Wolf Warrior and 13.