Award-winning director Chen Kaige is regarded by many as one of China’s most talented filmmakers. This weekend, TALK ASIA ‘s Anjali Rao follows Chen as he attends the Berlinale film festival, sits down with him in Beijing to discuss his latest film, ‘Forever Enthralled’ and hears how he denounced his own father during the Cultural Revolution.
In his latest work, the director of ‘Farewell my Concubine’ once again explores the world of Chinese opera by chronicling the life of legendary Peking Opera master, Mei Lanfang. He explains how he faced numerous challenges depicting old Beijing: “So many things being destroyed, with good reason or bad reason you know. So that’s why, you know, we need to build a lot of sets particularly, the Peking Opera house.”
With ten films and more than 20 years experience to his name, the veteran director seems to care little about commercial success or critical acclaim: “Being in this business for many years, I want to continue to do so called meaningful film. I don’t really care that much that whether the film can get a nomination for Oscar…I’m out of that”
Unlike some successful Chinese directors eager to venture into English language films, Chen has directed just one, ‘Killing me softly’. The experience showed him that even Hollywood had its own form of censorship: “people ask me that where do you think you have more freedom to do picture – here in China or in the West? I think that there is another kind of censorship, as a sort of commercial pressure…”
Chen was a member of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution and forced to denounce his own father, himself a renowned director. “I think he might be very disappointed but he never really cursed me. He treated me even nicer. That made me tortured.” The director cannot truly forgive himself and admits to Rao: “I can’t because I knew it was a wrong thing to do. If I didn’t know, then I could have forgiven myself.” He plans to relieve the guilt the best way he knows how: “I hope I can make a film about it, about my father and me. Very personal, very intimate, not necessary to be very big.”
Also in this weekend’s program, Rao takes a tour of the Beijing Film Academy, a hotbed of China’s celebrated “Fifth Generation” filmmakers including Chen and Zhang Yimou. She hears from current students about the school and their thoughts on Chen, one of the Academy’s most celebrated alumni.