John Woo at Cannes Film Festival 2008

Photo: John Woo at Cannes Film Festival 2008 (photo by Joey Leung)

Cannes Film Festival

14-25 May 2008

Festival website

Cannes. THE festival of all film festivals. Memories of Truffaut, Bardot, Godard from a bygone era, and more recently the Hollywood glitz of The Da Vinci Code, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and a chance to rub shoulders with jury members Sean Penn and Natalie Portman.

But not for this intrepid reporter.

Shunning glamour for realistic, gritty, true cinema, and working too hard to party with the stars, we bring you coverage of the REAL Cannes, the Cannes behind the scenes where deals are made, new films discovered, and new directors uncovered – the working-class heroes’ Cannes (in truth, a Cannes where virtually no party invites came our way so we went to watch some films instead…).

Here’s what happens in all the different facets that make up the Cannes Film Festival; here’s…The Electric Sheep Guide to Cannes.


(Distributors register for the Cannes Market, which runs alongside the Cannes Film Festival, giving them access to watch films and decide whether or not to buy the rights to distribute the film in their territory. You can register for the market if you pay and have some sort of link to the industry to get your accreditation.)

What a better place to start than with the… double impact of Jean-Claude Van Damme, (or JCVD as he is now known), starring in a film about Jean-Claude Van Damme about the life of… er… Jean-Claude Van Damme. JCVD starts with an implausibly long take with our universal soldier taking on an endless string of baddies in military uniforms with knives, guns, flame-throwers, more guns, and some with just good old hand-to-hand combat. Finally, when he breaks through the last door, we realise that he is on a film set; he rushes straight to the director and complains about not having a stunt double during the middle part of that lengthy sequence, uttering the immortal words, ‘I can’t do this shit anymore… I’m fucking forty-seven years old…’

Something a little different from the run-of-the-mill kick-ass Van Damme films, it was actually a clever non-linear, multi-point of view story that was just plain good fun (in fact you could probably say it was no… knock off of his usual films! OK OK, enough of the Van Damme jokes). Revolver have picked up the rights for UK so expect this to hit our cinemas towards the end of this year.

Van Damme himself was at this screening and he mingled with the audience a little afterwards, asking them if they cried during this film; there is a sensitive sequence during JCVD where he seemingly breaks off from the shoot and turns to the camera in a spontaneous monologue, talking about the falseness and superficiality of Hollywood and the struggles he has had – tears streaming down his face (this actually did move a number of the audience members).

We wonder if John Woo would have cried? Which brings us seamlessly to another feature of Cannes…


(Much like any other press conference, new films are announced and footage shown. Wow factor comes from directors and stars in attendance. Usually takes place in the large hotels where the real power play happens.)

Electric Sheep were invited along to John Woo’s press conference on his latest movie, a Chinese language historical battle epic called Red Cliff (Chi Bi). Those of you who follow Asian cinema news may already know of this title, and if you do, you will probably have read about the production difficulties plaguing this project, with Chow Yun Fat walking off the set a few days into the shoot, prompting cast changes and a lot of shuffling around (like a ten-man team whose striker has been sent off).

The cast obviously rallied around this project – most of the leading actors attended the press conference to show their support for the return of John Woo (the man who will forever be associated with the ‘gun ballet’ genre) back to Asia: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Lust, Caution) and Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer) will be the big names know to Western audiences. There was also a host of well-known Asian actors who have an enigmatic presence both on and off the screen (Chang Chen, Zhang Fengyi, Lin Chiling and Hu Jun).

Despite the setbacks, the production ploughed on and the results are worth the wait. There have been a host of historical big battle epics recently (Warlords by Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon by Daniel Lee). This, however, is a bigger beast with a bigger budget and astounding results – the sweeping aerial shots of the legions of soldiers on the battlefield are not the usual cut-and-paste CGI square blocks of groups of battalions, but each battalion is done separately with their own battle formation.

Action sequences are well directed as you expect from this director,and colours are not as gritty and grey as in the aforementioned Warlords and Three Kingdoms (in fact, Red Cliff focuses on one of the battles in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical novel that is read by all school children in China and Hong Kong and on which Daniel Lee’s film is based). When asked by a member of the press what he had learnt and brought back from Hollywood, John Woo talked about bringing new techniques for the younger members of the crew to learn… and after a slight pause, said jokingly, ‘.. but I still have my own style, you’ll see lots of doves flying around…’

With the strong presence of a beautiful female cast, there is inevitably going to be some love interest element to the film. We must await the final cut to see the actual weighted balance between action and romance before we can pass a final verdict on this film. With some final scenes to shoot and some post-production to finish off, this title should be out in the next three months in Asia. EIV, the people who released The Departed, will be bringing this to the UK shortly after.


(Essential for any Cannes visit, if you don’t have an invite, you might as well try to blag your way into Fort Knox. Usually happens on marquees next to the beach, or if you are Hollywood ‘A’ List, in a villa on the hills.)

KOFIC, the Korean Film Council, hosted a lavish party filled with all the food and drink you could take, right on the Cannes beach. Producers, sales agents, distributors, actors, directors, journalists, film festival organisers – all the elements of Cannes were there, spirits high despite a slight drizzle.

Electric Sheep mingled briefly with new director Na Hong-jin whose tense debut, The Chaser (see below), was in the Official Selection Midnight Screenings at Cannes. We chatted and joked also with actor Kim Yun-seok (The Chaser, Tazza: The High Rollers). Some chat with sales agents from Korea and the rest of Asia revealed that this had been quite a slow and flat Cannes. There are less completed blockbusters featuring big stars than in previous years.

After 2am, the house music was suddenly turned up many notches with the bass beating so hard you could physically feel it on your chest, and no one could hear each other – many took this as a cue (or a very subtle hint) to leave and drift off into the night. The highly enjoyable KOFIC party was a great note to end Electric Sheep‘s short foray into Cannes 2008.


The Chaser (Chugyeogja), South Korea
Official Selection, Special Screenings, Cannes 2008

From first-time director Na Hong-jin comes a film that is part Seven, part 24.

Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is an ex-cop turned pimp whose call-girls have recently gone missing. He assumes they ran away from the night business until he tracks their bookings back to one client in particular; the audience are then introduced to a psychopathic serial killer who keeps the girls in the basement of his house, torturing them calmly till they die – during one gruesome scene, in an intense close-up shot, he takes a hammer and chisel to the head of his latest victim, Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie, Shadows in the Palace) wriggling in distress whilst the hammer blows come down.

Suspense builds after Joong-ho catches the killer, takes him to the police station, only for himself to be accused of assault and impersonation of a police officer and the killer being freed – not only is the chase on again, but Mi-jin is still slowly bleeding to death in the basement, preying on Joong-ho’s conscience. By the time the police realise that they let the real killer go, Joong-ho is already in the field, a few steps ahead of them, working alone, Jack Bauer-style.

Kim Yun-seok gives an excellent performance as the tough pimp who softens up and genuinely takes responsibility, feeling he has a duty of care for his charges. Filmed mostly at night and with many hand-held sequences, The Chaser is a highly polished and accomplished first film.

Expect this film to hit our screens twice – Metrodome (the people who brought us Donnie Darko and Assembly) will be releasing this title in the UK and Warner Bros have bought the remake rights.

Joey Leung