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BERLINALE 2013

FILM

Berlinale kicks off with kung fu epic

The 63rd Berlin film festival got off to a fists-flying start Thursday with Chinese director Wong Kar Wai's lush martial arts epic about the mentor of kung fu superstar Bruce Lee.

Berlinale kicks off with kung fu epic
Photo: DPA

Wong, who also leads the Berlinale’s jury this year, is using the event as a launch pad for the worldwide release of “The Grandmaster”, which opened in China last month to rave reviews and a box office bonanza.

The film, whose original two-hours-plus length has been chopped slightly for the global market, stars Hong Kong heart-throb Tony Leung from Wong’s 2000 hit “In the Mood for Love”, and Beijing-born actress Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).

The picture, which was warmly applauded at a press preview, spans several decades of Chinese history to tell the story of legendary martial artist Yip Man, who went on to train Lee, and features mesmerising battle scenes.

Take a walk down the red carpet here

Wong, 54, told reporters he was confident the movie, which is screening out of competition at the 11-day Berlinale, had appeal beyond China, the world’s second biggest cinema market after the United States.

“There is something in this film which is universal. It’s about family values and the code of honour,” he said. “If they are curious enough… it is also a step for (the international audience) to learn more, to explore.”

The film follows the Grandmaster through some of China’s most tumultuous recent history including the Japanese invasion in the 1930s.

It spent around a decade in gestation, with extensive re-shooting and injured actors.

Leung said he started learning kung fu at the age of 46, practised for four years for the film and broke his arm twice doing some of his own stunts. But he said the biggest challenge was capturing the Grandmaster’s state of mind.

“After four years of hard training I understand kung fu is not just physical training or fighting techniques,” he said.

“There is a spiritual side of kung fu and that side you cannot be learning from books or by fact-finding. It grows spontaneously with the mind free of emotions and desires. That is why I had to practise four years.”

Zhang plays the sole inheritor of the “64 Hands” technique of her father, another martial arts master, and uses them to lethal effect in the tale of betrayal and vengeance.

She said she accepted the gruelling training and filming schedule to work with Wong, who shot for 20 months over three years.

“If Wong Kar Wai asked me again to give this amount of time, I would do it again, that’s how great he is,” she said.

Reviews in the international trade press on Thursday were glowing.

“The film contains some of the most dazzling fights ever seen on screen,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

It added: “Wong’s art-house fan-base also will find much to savour, with the kind of longing that defines the filmmaker’s oeuvre,” in films such as “In the Mood for Love” and “My Blueberry Nights” with Jude Law.

Variety concurred: “Wong Kar Wai exceeds expectations… fashioning a 1930s action saga into a refined piece of commercial filmmaking.”

But German critics were decidedly less impressed by the flick, with one telling Berlin broadcaster RBB he lost interest by the end.

Wong, who made his international breakthrough in 1994 with “Chungking Express”, later joined his stars on the red carpet in his trademark sunglasses for a gala screening at the festival’s Berlinale Palast main cinema.

He is leading the panel handing out the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes among 19 contenders on February 16.

Wong told a press conference with his jury that the Berlinale was an “intimate” festival where the “true pleasure” of sharing ideas was cherished.

“We are here to serve the films, we’re not here to judge films, we are here to appreciate films, to champion the films that we really find inspiring… and move us,” he said.

The first major European film festival of the year and traditionally its most politically minded, the Berlinale this year is showcasing pictures about the human impact of the West’s economic crisis, two decades of upheaval in eastern Europe as well as fresh releases from US independent directors.

Last year the Golden Bear went to Italian veterans Paolo and Vittorio Taviani for the docudrama “Caesar Must Die” about prison inmates staging Shakespeare.

AFP/hc

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10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

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