Beijing (Reuters): Art-house starlet Tian Yuan probably won't have Zhang Ziyi's entourage of rubber-necking fans and paparazzi following her every step when she makes her debut at Cannes but it won't be for want of an eye-catching evening gown. '' I'm taking four dresses to the festival,'' she said to a small group of journalists between takes of her latest movie project in Beijing. ''My friend showed me four samples-they're all so beautiful-so I'll be taking them all.'' The French film festival's glitterati may be taken by the waifish 21-year-old's fresh face and fashion sense, but popcorn audiences still scratch their heads over Tian's film credits.
Unlike compatriot Zhang, Tian has not appeared in martial arts blockbusters, nor worked with A-list directors. But the former lead singer for teenage rock band Hopscotch is no stranger to the air kisses and glitz of film festivals. She spent much of 2005 waltzing down red carpets and collecting awards at various ceremonies across Asia on the strength of her debut in ''Butterfly'' (2004)-a lesbian romance in which she played a rock singer who seduces a female teacher. Tian's latest film, ''Luxury Car'', opening at Cannes, won't garner her prizes in France, though. It has been entered in the Un Certain Regard section-a fringe category apart from the main competition. Many Western critics, however, smitten by China's gritty, slice-of-life tales will watch Tian Yuan's third movie with interest.
''I play a country girl whose father was a university student who said something wrong during the Cultural Revolution and was sent to the countryside,'' Tian said. Like Summer Palace -the other Chinese film that premiered at Cannes last week-Luxury Car makes references to a piece of history that traditionally alarms China's censors. It also depicts the lives of karaoke TV hostesses -delving into a nocturnal world that might offend some Chinese people's tastes. But unlike Summer Palace, Luxury Car will screen with the censors' blessing.
While Lou Ye, the director of Summer Palace, faces bans from working in China after thumbing his nose at the country's film bureau, Tian's film has been cleared for screening in China- the first of her movies to do so but only a few Chinese people are likely to go and see it, said Tian -regardless of its reception overseas. ''Most people just don't care about films and who won the awards-unless it's the Oscars. They don't really care about Cannes or Venice or Tokyo or Sundance,'' she said. It's partly because of censorship, but mostly it's because there's not much of an audience.''
China's movie censors' recent tolerance for frank depictions of society might be a minor breakthrough for directors, but the average Chinese movie-goer doesn't share the West's enthusiasm at the box office. Director Wang Xiaoshuai's ''Shanghai Dreams''-a tale of family conflict set in the grim industrial hinterlands where millions of families were forcibly removed during the Cultural Revolution -was given free rein to shoot and release the film in China. Despite winning the jury prize at Cannes last year, ''Shanghai Dreams'' was a spectacular box office flop in China, opening to near-empty cinemas and largely written off by critics as pandering to the Western thirst for exoticism. Traditional Chinese sensibilities remain strong, Tian said.
Her debut film, ''Butterfly'', in which she shares a passionate kiss with a woman, could never have been released in China, the actress said, adding that society is still a long way from accepting such content. ''China has a gap between the 1960s and the 1980s. China lost 20 years. People need time to grow up.'' Things are changing but very gradually, she said.
''My friends really liked 'Butterfly' and regularly watch European and American movies but they are just a small circle. But the circle is growing. 'People are getting rich and are getting more time to spare, so they start to think about more things.'' For the short-term, however, Tian is thinking about Western audiences. Despite her art-house leanings, Tian said, of course, she would like to go to America and work in Hollywood. Western theatre-goers will have to be prepared to accept a Chinese actress who doesn't have a mean kick.
''Now the (Chinese actors) in Hollywood got famous because they acted in kung fu films,'' Tian said. ''I think maybe I am different, I'm not so good at fighting. I want to have a chance to show American people that not all actors from China are good at kung fu.