Asian Films Garner Awards and Boos at Cannes

May 27, 2009

According to Variety, the awards for Korean vampire priest tale Thirst, the rape drama Kinatay from the Philipines, and China's politics and sex scene-heavy Spring Fever were verbally scorned by the press in attendance.

"All three of the Asian kudos drew heavy booing from the assembled press corps. Biggest scorn was reserved for the director prize for Filipino Brillante Mendoza’s rape-and-dismemberment drama Kinatay (of which even admiring jury member Hanif Kureishi admitted, “I don’t ever want to see it again, myself”), followed by jeers for Thirst and mainland Chinese director Lou Ye’s Spring Fever, which copped the nod for screenplay (generally seen as its weakest element).

These awards appeared to have reflected deep divisions within the nine-member jury, which, apart from [Jury President Isabelle] Huppert, included directors James Gray, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Lee Chang-dong; writer [Hanif] Kureishi; and actresses Robin Wright Penn, Shu Qi, Asia Argento and Sharmila Tagore.

Before the awards ceremony, rumors were already circulating that jury discussions had been particularly fraught. One member described it as the worst jury experience he’d ever had, while another was said to have described Huppert as a “fascist.””

I'm a little surprised by the boos during award announcements, especially during one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. I'm also surprised that this particular article failed to mention that Lars Von Trier's horror film Antichrist was also booed (documented heavily in the media) along with Britain's Andrea Arnold for Fish Tank (which shares the Grand Prix prize with Thirst) and France's Gaspar Noé (of Irreversible fame/infamy) for Enter the Void.

I'm not sure why Variety chose to phrase their article in this way. When I first read it, I thought, "Why only ding the Asian directors for letting their freak flags fly? Are they any less deserving than the somber European winners that dealt with Nazis and prison?" But after reading other Cannes wrap-ups, it seems like the booing was equal opportunity this year. Which begs the question: Aren't films selected for Cannes supposed to be...good?

Of course "good" is subjective, especially when dealing with international art-house fare. Is it foolish to think that a jury of filmmakers, writers, and actors can ever see eye-to-eye with a pack of journalists from around the globe? Possibly. But I say give props where they are due. Jeers or no jeers, Park, Mendoza, Ye and the other selected directors won their prizes fair and square. Cannes I get an amen?

Check out the trailer for Thirst below and links to Cannes' official excerpts of Kinatay and Spring Fever.


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.