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Golden Globes: The Chinese connection

China was all over the place and India? Keep looking, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2006 18:57 IST

There is a whole world of difference between the overall value of the general run of Indian films and that of the cinema that emerges from China. That truism was driven home for the umpteenth time at the 63rd Golden Globe Awards on Monday night. While China registered its presence in no uncertain manner in several categories, India, as always, was conspicuous by its absence.

Let’s begin right at the top of the heap. The evening belonged to the Taiwanese-born and raised Ang Lee and his newest Hollywood film, Brokeback Mountain, which won in four categories, including best dramatic film, best director and best screenplay.

Lee is today a global force although he is still best known the world over for the sweeping martial arts epic Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which, in 2000, redefined the world’s engagement with the colour and the flourish of Chinese fantasy.

He has made the act of scooping up high-profile awards a bit of a habit. The rich haul of Golden Globes that Brokeback Mountain has bagged is only the latest, and it will certainly not be the last, in a long line of accolades that have come the filmmaker’s way.

Lee had won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival a little over a decade ago with his second feature, The Wedding Banquet, about a gay Taiwanese New Yorker who seeks to hide his sexuality from his conservative parents by playing out the charade of a conventional marriage. The film was also nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar.

A still from Brokeback Mountain, which won Golden Globe award in four categories, including best dramatic film, best director and best screenplay this year.

His third film, the delectable

Eat Drink Man Woman

, woven around the relationship between a Chinese master chef and his three daughters, fetched him international critical recognition on both sides of the Pacific. There has been no looking back for him since then.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon made history at the Oscars in 2000, being nominated in as many as ten categories. It won three statuettes – Best Production design, Best Cinematography and Best original Score – besides the one for best foreign-language film.

In 1995, Lee made his first foray into mainstream Hollywood filmmaking with the skilful English-language adaptation of the Jane Austen classic Sense and Sensibility. The film, with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson playing pivotal on-screen roles, was an unqualified commercial success. It catapulted the director to the Hollywood big league.

As is quite obvious, Lee’s directorial oeuvre is an amazingly eclectic mix of stories and genres – it includes a diverse array of films like the social drama The Ice Storm, the comic strip adaptation Hulk and now the unconventional cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain.

It is not without reason that the New York University film school-trained Lee is regarded as one of the most audacious and inventive filmmakers in the business today. Brokeback Mountain, adapted from a short story by E Annie Proulx, reorients the western completely by narrating a tender homosexual love story involving two rugged cowboys. The film raked up some controversy in the US, but the critics and discerning moviegoers loved it.

Brokeback Mountain is the first-ever film with a gay theme to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture. If it goes on to bag the Best Picture Oscar a couple of months down the line, it would constitute another first. Lee’s remarkable film came to the Golden Globes with a clutch of New York Film Critics Circle Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, behind it. It will now go to the 78th Academy Awards with its claims on the top category awards well augmented.

Brokeback Mountain, of course, has no connection with China/Hong Kong/Taiwan except for the origins of the director. But that is good enough to establish the sharp contrast that exists between the empty claims that Bollywood makes and the real breakthroughs that China repeatedly achieves on the world stage.

The manner in which certain media agencies, especially some of India’s television news channels, went to town drumming up counterfeit excitement over the fact that Black, Veer-Zaara and Paheli were in the running for Golden Globe nominations would have been outright disgusting if it hadn’t been pathetically funny.

China always hovers over the Hollywood horizon and it does so on its own terms. At the Golden Globes this year, master filmmaker Chen Kaige’s The Promise and Stephen Chow’s action-packed Kung-Fu Hustle were among the best foreign-language film nominees.

The wonderfully gifted and beautiful Zhang Ziyi (Memoirs of a Gesiha) was nominated as best actress in the motion picture – drama category alongside the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof), Charlize Theron (North Country), Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Felicity Huffman (Transamerica). The Chinese actress lost out to Huffman and the two films from China had to make way for Paradise Now, made by the Holland-based Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad.

Does the mention of Palestine tell us anything at all? It is a nation without a geographical location and therefore filmmaking can be no more than a stray and scattered activity out there. Yet, a Palestinian filmmaker, when he is given the chance, is capable of winning a Golden Globe. The world’s largest film industry, in contrast, still thrives on spinning yarns about imaginary worldwide conquests. Integrity and intrinsic quality separate true winners from hopeful also-rans.

First Published: Jan 18, 2006 18:57 IST