China’s cultural resilience, spiritual outlook inspire Serbia to firmly choose closer ties: director Emir Kusturica

A still from the film Black Cat, White Cat directed by Emir Kusturica Photo: AFP

A still from the film Black Cat, White Cat directed by Emir Kusturica Photo: AFP

Although Serbia and China are geographically thousands of miles apart, the distance between the hearts of the two peoples is close. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the Chinese people have always cherished a special bond of friendship with Serbia, when attending a welcome banquet held by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday, noting that Serbian athletes Novak Djokovic and Nikola Jokic, and movie director Emir Kusturica are household names in China.

Although films like
The Bridge, Walter Defends Sarajevo, and
Underground are beloved by Chinese audiences, who draw inspiration and spiritual strength from them, for Kusturica, affectionately known as “Uncle Ku” by Chinese movie fans, his connection with China goes beyond the passion for and emotion evoked by movies themselves.  

In June 2016, the internationally recognized film director appeared in China as the Jury President for the Golden Goblet Award’s main competition at the 19th Shanghai International Film Festival, coinciding with President Xi’s historic visit to his homeland. In 2024, before Xi’s second visit to Serbia, Kusturica returned to China as the Jury President for the Tiantan Award at the 14th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF). 

In a recent exclusive interview with the Global Times, Kusturica expressed his firm belief in the friendship between China and Serbia. 

“I think President Xi’s visit will bring us more opportunity to develop cooperation between the two countries… I hope that this brotherhood friendship will continue,” he told the Global Times.

Bright future 

Kusturica has always been pleased that the movie
Walter Defends Sarajevo, in which he made his debut on the big screen when he was  just 18 years old, “had been seen by almost all Chinese people.”

Born in 1954 in Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia, Kusturica has witnessed significant historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Known for his films’ revelry, absurdity, and dark ­humor, Kusturica incorporates ­carnival-style performances and vibrant colors that evoke nostalgia. His works, offering a balm for emotional wounds and sparking contemplation on Serbia’s grounding, also make him one of the few cinematic masters to have won awards at all of Europe’s three top events – the Venice Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Cannes Film Festival.

He believes that the “Slavs seal” on his movies serves to make difficult subjects more poetic and humorous than in other meticulously crafted films. 

And when discussing crafted movies with the Global Times, Kusturica also openly expressed his confidence in Chinese cinema, praising the quality and popularity of Chinese films and foreseeing a bright future for the industry.

Serbian director Emir Kusturica?during an exclusive interview with the Global Times Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Serbian director Emir Kusturica?during an exclusive interview with the Global Times Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Kusturica has also visited local film schools and witnessed the abundance of talented filmmakers and well-equipped facilities. 

“I believe that in China, you will have a chance to develop your stories with these talented people,” he said.

“The civilization of China is different from Europe, but it has a lot in common with other civilizations,” Kusturica said, noting that “seeking common ground while preserving differences” has been well represented by China’s film industry, 

According to his observation, in China, people are increasingly realizing that culture is actually at the forefront of civilization, and Chinese films have successfully defended their own culture. 

“It is very wise to tell Chinese people’s own story, and develop China’s own film industry, rather than blindly imitating Europe and America,” Kusturica said, adding that American movies, in many cases, “[their high box office] comes together with the military power.”

Against the backdrop of a tumultuous history and a reality intertwined with joy and sorrow, Kusturica has always used movies to contemplate grander themes such as politics, war, nationality, and history. 

Solidarity in new ‘bombardment’

In Kusturica’s view, China can present the world with different philosophical reflections.

Making a movie is not like making an atomic bomb and then throwing it into the world causing harm to many people, but it is about observing people’s behavior and caring for the public, Kusturica said at the film master class held at the BJIFF on April 24.

“Twenty five years ago today, NATO flagrantly bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese journalists. Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu, and his wife Zhu Ying… The China-Serbia friendship, forged with the blood of our compatriots, will stay in the shared memory of the Chinese and Serbian peoples, and will inspire us to march forward with big strides,” President Xi wrote in his signed article prior to his arrival in Serbia.

During the interview with the ­Global Times, Kusturica also mentioned this “very dramatic moment.” 

“Currently, China’s development scale is huge and has gained discourse power in many fields. Some countries try to suppress China’s development. However, in this context, I still see China persisting in defending its cultural traditions and see Chinese movies expressing the cultural perseverance and spiritual outlook of the Chinese people,” Kusturica emphasized. 

Kusturica believes that China’s economic scale and soft power are the country’s most powerful defenses, and are continuously demonstrating positivity on the global stage. 

During the master class, Kusturica said he saw Chinese people traveling around the world, and “they did not bring gunfire and bullets; they brought peace, and brought a continuous potential for development to other countries.”  

In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia. Then, the relations between China and Serbia continued to move forward due to the deep intersection and resonance of historical destiny, political ideals, and national emotions.

Twenty five years later, Kusturica believes that the friendship between China and Serbia can still bravely bear a new form of “bombardment” together.

Kusturica said he hopes China will get stronger, noting that Serbia “could certainly be closer to you” than it is now. 

Finnish Film Night fosters China-Finland cinematic exchange in Beijing

A Finnish movie screening night is held in Beijing on April 23, 2024. [Photo provided to]

A Finnish movie screening night was held in Beijing on Tuesday to foster collaboration and exchange between professionals in the Chinese and Finnish film sectors.

The spotlight of the event was on Death is a Problem for the Living, a compelling new Finnish film that delves into the complexities of addiction, friendship, and the unexpected journey of carrying the departed to their final resting place.

Death is a Problem for the Living has been nominated for the Tiantan Award for Best Picture at the 14th Beijing International Film Festival.

11 films set to hit Chinese cinemas during May Day holidays

Two voice actors of Tian Xiwei and Yu Shi in Howl's Moving Castle Photo:IC

Two voice actors of Tian Xiwei and Yu Shi in Howl’s Moving Castle Photo:IC

A total of 11 films are set to hit cinemas during the upcoming May Day holidays from May 1 to 5. The ticket pre-sales during the May Day holidays had surpassed 30 million yuan ($4 million) as of Monday morning, with
Formed Police Unit, China’s first film based on China’s peacekeeping police, topping the highest-grossing pre-sale list, according to Chinese ticketing platform Beacon. Film insiders and analysts predicted that the total box office of the film season will reach 1.3 billion yuan.

Traversing multiple genres, the 11 films cover action, suspense, comedy, animation, and romance. Industry insiders told the Global Times that these films are very competitive. 

Zhang Tong, a senior data analyst at ticketing platform Maoyan, told the Global Times on Monday that the new releases during each have their own unique characteristics and corresponding audiences. 

He added that some films are relatively close in pre-sale earnings, and the final box office performance will still depend on the subsequent promotional reach and post-screening word-of-mouth. 

“Based on current data, the total box office for the five-day holiday is expected to range around 1.3 billion yuan ($179.46 million),” he said.

A scene from the Howl's Moving Castle Photo:IC

A scene from the Howl’s Moving Castle Photo:IC

Highlighted live-action films

Formed Police Unit, starring leading Chinese actors Wang Yibo and Huang Jingyu, is the first commercial film focusing on China’s peacekeeping polices overseas. It tells the story of China’s peacekeeping police officers undertaking a sacred mission, traveling to foreign countries, and carrying out tasks in war-torn areas. 

Media sources reported that, to present the real experiences of Chinese peacekeeping police in the mission area, the production team referenced a large quantity of documentary materials, crafting the scenes, props and environment as close to reality as possible. 

The suspenseful comedy
Nothing Can’t be Undone by a Hotpot is currently ranked the second-highest-grossing film in the pre-sale list. The film combines comedic elements with the rising trend of script-killing suspense in recent years, cleverly integrating excellent traditional Chinese culture such as Sichuan opera and hotpot.

Action film
Twilight of the Warriors: Walled which was shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival, brings together Hong Kong actors, including Louis Koo and Sammo Hung. 

The plot follows troubled youth Chan Lok-kwun as he accidentally enters the Walled City, discovers the order amid its chaos, and learns important life lessons along the way.

Shi Wenxue, a film critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times that the schedules for various films are actually more diverse in terms of genres. Meanwhile, the “blockbuster effect” is becoming more evident in the Spring Festival and summer vacation periods. 

But this year’s May Day movie lineup relatively lacks “blockbuster films,” and the highlights are also relatively average, so the expectations might not be as high as in 2023.

Hit animated film

According to Maoyan, the most-anticipated films are Japanese animated films
Howl’s Moving Castle, the classic work from mega animator Hayao Miyazaki and
Spy x Family
Code: White, an animated spy action comedy film released in Japan in 2023.

The Boy and the Heron crowned the highest-grossing list during China’s Qingming Festival period, while this time, his previous work
Howl’s Moving Castle is set to debut in Chinese cinemas, and has also stirred up strong interest among moviegoers.

The hashtag “the role of Howl is the most handsome character among all Miyazaki’s works” is currently trending on Sina Weibo. Related topics on whether
Howl’s Moving Castle will re-show the glorious achievement of
Slam Dunk in Chinese film market have been discussed warmly on Chinese social media.

During 2023’s May Day holidays film period, Japanese classic animated film
Slam Dunk made a nostalgic return among Chinese moviegoers, becoming a phenomena among Japanese films in China.

Before its release, the pre-sales of the film had exceeded 100 million yuan, and in its first week. 

It became the weekly box office champion with a score of 380 million yuan and finally grossed 660 million yuan in the Chinese mainland market.

Chen Jin, a data analyst at Beacon, told the Global Times on Monday that Miyazaki’s classic works boasts an ideal audience base and high recognition, appealing to audiences of all ages. However, whether
Howl’s Moving Castle is able to create a similar phenomenon is hard to predict.

Another Japanese animated film,
Spy x Family
Code: White, which was adapted from hit Japanese manga series
Spy x Family, tells the story of an outstanding spy who transforms into a psychologist, Loid, forming an unexpectedly heartwarming “disguised family” with telepath Anya and killer Yor, each harboring secrets. 

After experiencing a series of hilarious family dramas together, they embark on their first “family trip” to defend world peace.

Among domestic animated films,
Nie Xiaoqian is based on a beautiful and tragic love story adapted from classic Chinese story Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. 

Another film
GG Bond and the
Beanstalk franchise based on an interstellar mission meets the viewing needs of the preschool audience.

Zhang noted that animated films are favored during the May Day period because the market supply caters to multiple age groups. Whether the real-action film
Formed Police Unit or
Howl’s Moving Castle will ultimately triumph is dependent on the taste of most Chinese Gen Zers and even younger audiences.

Beijing film festival drops poster for its main promotional film

Poster for film
As Spring Comes Along by Gu Xiaogang [Photo provided to]

The 14th Beijing International Film Festival, which will be held from April 18-26, released a teaser poster on Saturday for its main promotional film As Spring Comes Along by Chinese director Gu Xiaogang.

The poster for the upcoming film features the Summer Palace with lush spring scenery, embodying the beauty of traditional Chinese architecture and striking the viewer as a half rolled-up Chinese scroll painting, holding more for the eye.

Born in 1988, Gu is known for his first feature Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (2019) and its follow-up film Dwelling by the West Lake (2023).

Gu received the 2023 Kurosawa Akira Award, which honors the renowned Japanese auteur’s legacy and ongoing influence. This award is presented to filmmakers who have made waves in cinema and are expected to help guide the industry’s future, according to the Tokyo International Film Festival.