Asia steps into Cannes spotlight

Asia stepped into the spotlight at the Cannes film festival Thursday, with offerings from China and South Korea making grand entries.

Applause from world critics rang out in the festival's theatres for acclaimed Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai's father-son drama, "Chongqing Blues" as well as for "The Housemaid", a warped erotic tragic-drama by South Korea's Im Sang-soo.

They were the first of an impressive batch of five Asian feature films competing for the top Cannes award, the Palme d'Or.

In all 19 films are contending for the prize, to be announced at a closing ceremony on May 23 by a jury headed by US director Tim Burton.

Wang, 43, is no first-timer on the international festival circuit, long known for movies that take a hard look at contemporary China.

And his poignant "Chongqing Blues" is no exception. As a father who long ago abandoned his wife and son returns to find out how the boy died, Wang explores the changing face of Chinese society.

"Amid China's rapid economic development we have lost our values, our family values, cultural values," he said at a news conference. "The father's quest for his lost son is also a quest for traditional values."

The movie is set in the foggy city of Chongqing in southern Sichuan province, a mess of sky-scrapers for blue-collar workers who in back streets and dingy courtyards often live communally as they did decades ago.

China this year also makes its first foray on the Cannes Film Market, the world's biggest annual movie marketplace.

The mainland Chinese film industry claims that, on average, one new cinema screen is opened every day and the country's box office takings last year saw a year-on-year rise of 44 percent.

Wang's film was followed on Thursday by "The Housemaid", the first of two South Korean movies vying for the Palme. The other, Lee Chang-dong's "Poetry", screens next week.

"The Housemaid", a remake of a 1960 movie which premieres Friday, stars Jeon Do-yeon, who won the 2007 best actress award at Cannes in Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine".

She plays a young maid employed by a rich couple who gets pregnant by the man of the house and is turned on by his wife and mother-in-law with gruesome consequences.

The original "Housemaid" is a classic thriller by renowned South Korean director Kim Ki-young, though the vengeful climax of the remake falls somewhere between thriller, horror and melodrama.

Other Asian entries this year are Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's "Outrage" and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives".

The 12-day festival kicked off Wednesday with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett stepping up the fabled red carpet for a gala black-tie ceremony also attended by Eva Longoria, Aishawrya Rai-Bachchan and Salma Hayek.

Sean Penn, Mick Jagger, Naomi Watts, Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard are among a bevy of other A-listers due to jet into Cannes.

Also contending for the Palme are works by major arthouse names such as Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and Britain's Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

The only US film in competition for the Palme this year is "Fair Game" by "The Bourne Identity" director Doug Liman.

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