Pò (破)—Main Visual of the 5th Mulan International Film Festival

 In Announcement

The theme of the 5th Mulan International Film Festival is (in Chinese, )—a Chinese character that means destruction, ruin, and the fall of a nation (“国破山河在”); but also breakthrough, groundbreaking, shattering barriers, and the idea that there can be no creation without destruction (“不破不立”).

can also imply daybreak (“破晓”).

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a groundbreaking masterpiece in film history. The film’s opening chapter, titled The Dawn of Man, depicts the life of a group of prehistoric apes—Dawn represents daybreak, and also the apes’ breaking ignorance to become enlightened.

The apes live and forage on a barren, desolate land. On what seems like an ordinary day, a monumental, smooth, and mysterious black monolith suddenly appears before them, while an enigmatic celestial event is happening above in the sky. These seem to deliver a profound revelation to the apes—one of them suddenly discovers that by wielding a large bone as a club, it can easily smash other bones. It realizes that this club can be used to fight, to gain power, and to get food. This is the manifestation of Pò: as in destroying other bones but also in breakthrough—an ape has learned to use a tool.

The large bone, thrown into the air, spins and falls to “become” a spaceship, fast-forwarding the timeline of humanity to the space age. The mysterious black monolith continues to appear in different scenes: on the moon’s surface, in outer space, and in the surreal room at the end of the film. The unnamed object, in each appearance, seems to quietly accompany or lead to significant breakthroughs in human civilization. In the final scene, a glowing orb containing a fetus emerges from the surreal room and approaches the Earth from space. Kubrick offers no clear endgame for humanity or any explanation on the black monolith, but I believe that this mysterious orb will break open, the infant will come out, and some revolutionary breakthroughs will occur.

The main visual for this year’s MulanIFF draws inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, depicting an apple box from a high altitude at daybreak. I first encountered apple boxes while working on a short film. They are used to prop up set furniture and light stands, level dolly tracks, or serve as makeshift seats or workbenches. Scattered around the set, they appear to be dirty, heavy, and rough enough to cause splinters. However, when actually handling them, I found them to be quite clean, lightweight, and rather smooth, so I grew very fond of them. They are extremely ordinary and simple, but highly useful.

Unlike the camera, the slate, or the director’s chair, the apple box is not a widely recognized object that symbolizes film shoots—in fact, for people who have never been on a film set, apple boxes might just be objects with no clear purpose. Thus, to me, the apple box can become a secret signal among filmmakers.

In the main visual, the apple box replaces the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both are at the same time familiar yet strange—they have simple geometric structures, but their true materials and actual purposes are a mystery. The presence of the apple box is the testimony of a film shoot. I think the art of film also quietly accompanies or drives the breakthroughs of human civilization.

The exploration of the starry sky is an eternal theme. “(The origin of) Humanity began in gazing at the stars, ZHU Yilan said. “Early humans, through their observations, recordings, and imagination of the starry sky, projected and imbued human will onto natural objects, thereby externalizing subjective experiences. The starry sky, as an Otherness, then gazed back at humanity. From this, self-consciousness emerged, and human civilization began as we created and started to use symbols. Time and space were thus given signifiers, and technology, literature, and art came into being accordingly.” Facing the seemingly chaotic and disorderly starry sky, our ancestors, with astonishing imagination, endowed them with meanings, and embarked on the long journey of exploring humanity and beauty. It is this imagination that serves as the bridge connecting audiences and filmmakers who come to MulanIFF.

Gavin Ouyang Headshot

Co-Founder, MulanIFF

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