I haven’t so far reported on my attendance at the Sydney Film Festival, despite an earlier suggestion that I would do so.
On Saturday I went to see the Australian premiere of Children of the Silk Road. This has also been known as The Children of Huang Shi, even though there is some suggestion that the relevant place name is not “Huang Shi” (yellow stone) but “Shuang Shi” (Pair of stones).
This was billed as the first official Australian-Chinese joint production. I am afraid it is the word “official” which is the killer here. Gorgeous scenery and striking cinematography aside, the film was pretty lacklustre, and less interesting than its purported (but much fictionalized) real-life subject. This was George Hogg, an Englishman who travelled to China in about 1937 (actually 1938 ) and ended up the headmaster of a boys’ school in the far west of China, which he led in an evacuation away from the war in a pocket Long March of 700 miles and 2 months.
I am afraid it was reasonably clear from the beginning of the film that it was going to be a pedestrian effort, because of the way in which it just began, and then proceeded to relate one thing after another. Primarily I blame the script and the direction, but some of the script faults undoubtedly were linked to its “official” status, leading to the party line on Nanjing (they probably initially hoped to have the film finished for the anniversary of 1937) and the war generally, with Chow Yun Fat as a highly unlikely Pimpernellish communist undercover agent. Others of these are also attributable to its desire to please Chinese as well as overseas audiences. I expect the film will end pleasing neither, though a general cinema release in Australia is presently advertised at the more arthouse end of the range.
Review aggregator here.
Not that the film didn’t have some dramatic moments. There were some impressive feats of film-making, but also some ludicrous moments. CYF, for example, even though on the march for at least a month, still managed (without any visible luggage) to puff constantly on factory-rolled cigarettes. How many cartons would he have needed to keep that up? And the principal western characters managed to walk through crowded Chinese streets without attracting so much as a second glance. In the light of even my own experience of stares and “Hallos”s in much more cosmopolitan parts of present-day China, that is totally unbelievable. There is more of the same which I won’t bother going in to here. Less critical for me, but I think symptomatic, is that traffic is shown travelling on the right hand side of the road, though someone else has pointed out that until 1945 Chinese vehicles travelled on the left (though, googling tells me, not universally: it did depend on where you were in China).
There were speeches at the beginning. And this is the bit I really want to report. The director of the Film Festival announced that Peter Garrett was here as relevant minister, as well as the state minister of the Arts, Frank Sartor. At this point the audience booed and hissed. They did so good humouredly, overall, (the booing was quite mild), though I doubt if it seemed like that to Sartor. It was more like the kind of booing which is reserved for the pantomime villain or for melodrama baddies: because everybody knows they are the baddie.
I don’t know where Sartor was at this point. Was he waiting backstage with Garrett? If so, then he never came on.
I guess we need to watch the SFF’s next grant figures from the NSW Government and see if a price is paid.