A flowering of Asian cinema

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 3:59am

Asian movies fared so well at this year's Cannes International Film Festival that it is tempting to say the region's cinema has come of age. Chinese director Jia Zhangke headed the list with the best screenwriting prize for A Touch of Sin, followed by awards for entries from Japan, Singapore and Cambodia. There is no more prestigious an event to showcase cinematic artistry; just being chosen is an honour. For all the praise, though, it is wrong to say that an industry that has for decades been groundbreaking has finally found its feet.

The region has long been producing world-class cinema. Japan's Akiro Kurosawa and India's Satyajit Ray set standards in the 1950s with classic movies that modern-day Western counterparts still strive to emulate. Hong Kong cinema came into its own in the 1970s and arguably reached a pinnacle with Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express in 1994. Chinese films gained international attention two decades ago when Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine took the top honour at Cannes, the Palme d'Or (it remains the only Chinese movie to have won the award), and Taiwan's Ang Lee has a string of honours to his name, among them this year's best director Academy Award.

Asia has featured regularly at the top three international film festivals over the past decade. Among the accolades it received was the best actress award at Venice in 2011 for Hong Kong's Deanie Ip for A Simple Life, the Crystal Bear prize at Berlin the previous year for Hong Kong entry Echoes of the Rainbow, and the Venice director's prize in 2002 for South Korean Lee Chang-dong for Oasis. Nor is Jia new to the winners' circle - he took the highest prize at Venice, the Golden Lion, in 2006 for Still Life and has twice before been in contention for the Palme d'Or.

International perceptions have changed. They will shift further towards Asia as China's film industry, which in just a decade has become the world's second-biggest behind the US, grows. Already China has more than 10,000 cinema screens and an annual box office take approaching US$3 billion that's increasing by 40 per cent a year; the potential is huge.

Festival invitations and awards are only one facet of film-making excellence. The Asian movie industry is well established and growing ever stronger and more influential. As economies grow, so too will the levels of investment. That is good for cinema-goers, critics and the world.