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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Asian films wow Cannes
Japanese actors at the screening of their film Gohatto
Japanese stars of Gohatto: A frank look at homosexuality
By Simon Pitts in Cannes

Bernardo Bertolucci - one of Europe's heavyweight directors who is at Cannes awarding prizes - made a comment recently on Asian films.

"European cinema is ageing," he said, "that is why I spend so much time watching films from Taiwan, Korea, or Iran."

Chinese actress Jiang Hongbo
Chinese actress Jiang Hongbo: Star of Guizi Lai Le
Bertolucci does not speak for everyone of course, but it seems that Cannes, at least, agrees that Asia and the Middle East are producing exciting work.

In competition for the prestigious Palme d'Or award at Cannes are two films each from China, Japan and Israel and one each from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Iran.

Taiwanese favourite

Of the Asian highlights, the Taiwanese entry by Edward Yang is a favourite.

A One and A Two is said to re-establish Yang as a world-class film-maker after a disappointing last decade which included Mahjong in 1996.

Taiwan director Edward Yang with actors from his film
Taiwanese director Edward Yang: With two actors from his film
The film tells the story of a businessman's mid-life crisis and revisits a favourite theme of the director - betrayal.

The film lasts an exhausting three hours.

Another marathon-length film from Asia is Devils on the Doorstep.

This well-received offering from Chinese director Jiang Wen is a black comedy about nationalism in a Chinese village during World War II.

Another highlight from Asia is In the Mood For Love.

It is by the ultra-stylish Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai whose previous work includes the luminous Happy Together and Chungking Express.

Iran's art movies

Iranian films have emerged as real favourites of art movie audiences over the years.

They do not have much success at box offices but Cannes and other festivals have shown the country's consistently interesting work.

South-Korean actors from the film Chunhayang
South-Korean actors from the film Chunhayang
This year Iran offered Cannes its youngest ever director - 20-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf.

Her movie Blackboards tells the story of freelance Kurdish teachers struggling to find pupils along the Iran-Iraq border.

Shot with Kurdish-speaking amateur actors in a treacherous area still littered with mines from the long war of the 1980s, the film is said to be a provocative look at the plight of outsiders and refugees.

At the awards ceremony on Sunday night, we will know whether or not the jury at the world's most important international film event will recognise this year's selection of films from Asia and the Middle East.

Either way, even for films to be shown here greatly increases their chances of being distributed in cinemas or on television to urban audiences around the world.

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