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5th Generation guide

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fori
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5th Generation guide

#1

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 3:55 am

5th Generation Films
I have spent a lot of time this year watching films by 5th Generation directors, and have now seen over 150 (depending on how you count it). I had said I would post my personal guide previously, but didn’t come through. Sorry, I’m too lazy :(
Here it is though, in incomplete form (I had planned to add more detailed summaries and have brief thoughts under every movie).

ICheckMovies list for this project
ICheckMovies list for other relevant films mentioned in this guide

Be warned: the takes you'll see here will often go against consensus.



Basic background:
The 5th Generation was the group of new filmmakers who began studying film in the aftermath of the Cultural revolution. At its core was the Beijing Film Academy’s diverse group of 1982 graduates, but there are peripheral groups/individuals that are often also included. This group was responsible for drastically expanding the scope of mainland Chinese film, creating some of the most important works of world cinema, and laying the groundwork for the audacious 6th Generation & dGeneration films made in their wake. The core period of the movement is considered to end with the infamous events in Beijing of 1989. The group had a strong set of predispositions: within the core period there was a heavy focus on socialist realism based on the work of writers marginalised by the cultural revolution and narratives that were critical of the state, bureaucracy, prevalent conservative traditionalist attitudes. Many early works were war films, films for children, or absurdist satire, with much of the movement placing emphasis on rural narratives. Fourth Generation directors are not included in this.

Why the 5th Generation?
- the films of the 5th Generation marked the first time certain topics and themes had been interrogated in such a public way in China
- they also marked the first time mainland Chinese films had achieved such wide attention internationally.
- brought a diverse group of filmmakers to the fore, by far the most influential and accomplished of any cohort of Chinese filmmakers


Core directors
(that I have seen 5+ films from or have completed their feature filmography, alphabetically ordered)

Chen Kaige (陈凯歌, 1952-) Seen 15/15Show
Chen Kaige is a controversial figure among fans of Chinese cinema. He is largely known for the overwhelming praise ‘Farewell My Concubine’ gets, and to a lesser extent, the credit for ‘Yellow Earth’ bringing international attention to the 5th Generation. However, the rest of his filmography is less intuitive to newcomers (with some exceptions). Chen is a filmmaker who has constantly evolved; the rural parables of his earliest work gave way to the indulgent post-Bertolucci epics of the 90s, followed by a series of misguided projects made during the height of his prominence, each seemingly designed to compensate for the failures of its predecessor (this stretch likely contributed to his mixed reputation), then this decade has seen a renaissance of adventurous commercial filmmaking that puts Hollywood to shame. Yes, his recent work is not the principled auteurial art cinema that critics no doubt want from him, but it is all the better for it. I often tend to think of Chen as the leader of the movement; he was the first to achieve international acclaim, he directed the movement's most impactful film within China, and remains one of the movement's most recognisable figures, second only to Zhang Yimou in fame, and Zhang would almost not have had the career he has enjoyed without his collaborations with Chen as a cinematographer.

Highly Recommended:
1. King of the Children AKA 《孩子王》 (1987)
2. Caught in the Web AKA 《搜索》 (2012)
3. Yellow Earth AKA 《黃土地》 (1984)
4. The Big Parade AKA 《大閱兵》 (1986)
Often misconstrued as a propaganda film, Chen has said this film is attempting to examine individual/collective dynamics at an abstract level, and the literal narrative is entirely facade. Also makes for a stunning visual experience, with Zhang Yimou’s cinematography at its absolute peak here.
5. Life on a String AKA 《邊走邊唱》 (1991)
6. Farewell My Concubine AKA 《霸王別姬》 (1993)
7. Legend of the Demon Cat AKA 《妖猫传》 (2017)
The fact that this film isn’t celebrated by neo-elitist/revisionist/contrarian internet users everywhere is proof that vulgar auteurism is all posturing.
8. Temptress Moon AKA 《風月》 (1996)

Lightly Recommended:
- Sacrifice AKA 《趙氏孤兒》 (2010)
- Forever Enthralled AKA 《梅兰芳》 (2008)
- Monk Comes Down the Mountain AKA 《道士下山》 (2015)
- The Emperor and the Assassin AKA 《荊柯刺秦王》 (1998)

Watchable:
- Together AKA 《和你在一起》 (2002)

Not Recommended:
- The Promise AKA 《無極》 (2005)

Avoid:
- Killing Me Softly (2002)

Hu Mei (胡玫, 1958-) Seen 5/?Show
Hu Mei was initially thought of as the foremost among the women of the 5th Generation. Her early films were groundbreaking and controversial for their upfront portrayal of female sexuality and the mental toll of war. Sadly, her later work is more divisive on the issue of its craft and competency. There is a lot left for me to explore here though, and I think there will be great films among them.

Highly Recommended:
1. Years Far From War AKA 《远离战争的年代》 (1987)
2. Army Nurse AKA 《女儿楼》 (1985, with Li Xiaojun)

Lightly Recommended:
- Wind From Eight Sides of The World AKA 《江湖八面风》 (1991)
There were a bunch of things that made me curious about this before seeing it. Amongst other things, this seems to be the most well known Hu film of the 90's, a transitional period between her groundbreaking art films of the 90s and her classic television period (and subsequent widely derided return to features). The film itself is another 5th Generation Qing Dynasty Kung Fu film that has ambitions far larger than its budget. It's a real shame here, as this could have been a lot better with a more resourced production and any of the big 5th Gen cinematographers behind the camera. We follow an oddball group vying for opportunity, profit and power when the Emperor becomes vulnerable after a military defeat forces him into hiding with limited armed support. Like other early 5th Gen martial arts films, far more effort is invested in narrative than choreography, but it still works. The light-hearted genre film playfulness is still enough to win me over in the end.
Note: The english name here is my translation.

Not Recommended:
- Confucius AKA 《孔子》 (2010)
- On the Other Side of the Bridge AKA "Am anderen Ende der Brücke" (2002)
Hu Mei... in Austria? This English language film is only notable for being a weird thing to have been made. As a viewing experience it's one more unprofound, overly-sentimental, narrative heavy "epic romance" in the dustbin of history.

Huang Jianxin (黄建新, 1954-) Seen 13/15Show
Huang Jianxin is not from the class of 82, but rather a previous group who began studying towards the end of the Cultural Revolution. His early (and best) work leans towards thoughtful but chaotic comedy critical of bureaucracy, but the acerbic wit of those films gradually dulled into a run of passable comedies and dramas from the late 90s into the 2000s. After moving towards producing in the 2000s, his only further directorial efforts have been reserved for widely panned state funded propaganda films depicting the history of the Communist Party (the first two of which were co-directed by influential film producer Han Sanping). Despite this decline, Huang’s best work is more than enough to place him amongst the best and most accomplished of the movement. The three films he directed in the late 90's constitute the last pocket of his directorial work I haven't explored.

Highly Recommended:
1. Dislocation AKA 《错位》 (1986)
This quick-paced absurd comedy follows a company man who builds a robotic double of himself so he no longer has to attended corporate meetings. This is is augmented by a vision of a late capitalism mediocrity apocalypse complete with architecture satirising bourgeois fantasies of opulence, intimations of disastrous environmental catastrophe beyond city limits & occasional bursts of surreal techno-philosophy. The progression between ‘The Black Cannon Incident’ and this is somewhat like that of ‘Mad Max’ to ‘Mad Max 2’ in that everything unique and interesting about the first is honed and pushed further, and the filmmaking is so much more adept and assured. I think user “wasabi” on this forum nailed it: greatest Chinese sci-fi film.
2. Back to Back, Face to Face AKA 《站直啰!别趴下》 (1994, with Yang Yazhou)
3. The Wooden Man’s Bride AKA 《五魁》 (1994)
4. Samsara AKA 《轮回》 (1988)
5. The Black Cannon Incident AKA 《黑炮事件》 (1985)

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Stand Straight, Never Give In' AKA 《站直啰,别趴下》 (1993)
- Surveillance AKA 《埋伏》 (1997, with Yang Yazhou)
- Gimme Kudos AKA 《求求你表扬我》 (2005)

Watchable:
- Xi’an’s Finest AKA 《睡不着》 (2000, with Liu Huining)
- The Marriage Certificate AKA 《谁说我不在乎》 (2001)
I have direct experience with this and I still couldn't get into it :(

Not Recommended:
- The Founding of a Republic AKA 《建国大业》 (2009, with Han Sanping)
Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed this. If you can stand formulaic propaganda, there are some things to appreciate here.

Avoid:
- Mao Zedong 1949 AKA 《决胜时刻》 (2019, with Ning Haiqiang)
- The Founding of a Party AKA 《建党伟业》 (2011, with Han Sanping)

Li Shaohong (李少红, 1955-) Seen 10/?Show
Though initially one of the last 5th Generation directors to make a feature, Li Shaohong is now recognised as one of the most important filmmakers from the movement, and mainland Chinese cinema more broadly. She has proved uniquely adept across a wide range of formats: she is accomplished in her feature work and her television work, she is fluent in celluloid and digital filmmaking, and she has made classics on both a shoestring budget and with more financing. Her output also spans a broad spectrum of genres & topics: horror both meditative and violent, epic romance, fast paced comedy, cerebral literary adaptation and low key family dramas, and these ventures are almost always great successes. In every project she brings a dynamic - or even explosive - aesthetic, and leaves an auteurial fingerprint that is difficult to put into words but impossible to miss once you do a deep enough dive.

Highly Recommended:
1. Bloody Morning AKA 《血色清晨》 (1990)
2. The Case of the Silver Snake AKA 《银蛇谋杀案》 (1988)
3. Family Portrait AKA 《四十不惑》 (1992)
4. Baober in Love AKA 《恋爱中的宝贝》 (2004)
5. Blush AKA 《红粉》 (1994)
This is Li Shaohong's entry into the wave of low-key epics the 5th Generation made in the 90s ('The Blue Kite', 'Farewell My Concubine', 'Raise The Red Lantern', 'The Wooden Man's Bride') and it is every bit as good as those other films. Gorgeously shot and rife with subtext and metaphor, this a good choice for getting into 5th Gen films beyond the most famous stuff.
6. Stolen Life AKA 《生死劫》 (2005)

Lightly Recommended:
- The Red Suit AKA 《红西服》 (1997)
- The Door AKA 《》 (2007)
- A City Called Macau AKA 《妈阁是座城》 (2019)
- Liberation AKA 《解放了》 (2019, with Chang Xiaoyang)
Li Shaohong finally makes a film celebrating the Communist Party like so many others on the more prominent end have done. It's part of the set of films made for the 70th anniversary of the events of 1949, in this case the Battle of Tianjin. Of course, there are some things to heavily criticise; the effects are unevenly distributed (some moments even seem amateurish), they should have dubbed Wallace Cheung's poor Mandarin like they did for Philip Keung, and there are two 5 minute stretches that are simply intolerable. But the densely plotted, no-breathing-space jumble of events is enthralling and Zeng Nianping's digital cinematography is amazing. I'd watch any movie shot like this.

Peng Xiaolian (彭小莲, 1953-2019) Seen 6/11Show
Peng Xiaolian is known for conventional 5th Gen movies early in her career, followed by a series of sentimental tributes to her adopted home city of Shanghai, and subsequent some great documentary work through the 2000s. Though she was capable of brilliance, her work is riddled with inconsistency.

Highly Recommended:
1. Storm Under the Sun AKA 《红日风暴》 (2007, with Louisa Wei)
It's unsurprising that a director and acclaimed documentarian who has constantly and unambiguously drawn on personal experience in her films would be at her best when engaged in unflinching examination of one of the most formative events of her life. Don't expect 'Sans Soleil' here though, this is essentially a television documentary that wastes no times in abstraction. Poetic, evocative and deeply sympathetic look at a time, place and series of events that are hard to fathom.
Note: the 2014 English language cut (also narrated by Peng) seems to have cut out more than half the runtime, which is surprising considering the density of the original release. I haven't watched it, but am hopeful that it is at least a good summary.
2. Red Persimmons AKA 《満山紅柿》 (2001, with Shinsuke Ogawa)
3. Women’s Story AKA 《女人的故事》 (1987)

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Shanghai Story' AKA 《美丽上海》 (2004)
This is my first experience with one of Peng's Shanghai titles, and I was mostly in awe. Opening with a creative framing device, the film then winds down into a steadily paced family drama. It all generally brings a sort of casual charm; the narrative feels to real to have been penned by a writer, and the actors all inhabit their roles admirably. Joey Wang is particularly good, she is absolutely spellbinding in her last film role, and every moment she is onscreen is impossible to ignore. This was co-written and shot by Jong Lin, who had previously worked on the early films of Ang Lee, and there are strong commonalities both in story and style. I didn't like everything about this though, and one scene in particular was very questionable. Towards the end, there is a scene where the movie seemingly posits that an 8 year old girl should be held accountable for "denouncing" her imprisoned father in a letter when pressured by authority figures. This is even more uncomfortable with the knowledge that this is likely autobiographical for Peng Xiaolian. As a minor aside, the unconvincing mix of accents from the leads is easily picked by even by a foreigner like myself, and the film feels less Shanghainese as a result.

Not Recommended:
- Me and My Classmates AKA 《我和我的同学们》 (1985)

Avoid:
- 'Please Remember Me' AKA 《请你记住我》 (2017)
This is really depressing to watch. It's obvious that this was intended as a final film, and it is filled with moments that are likely autobiographical or at the very least deeply personal. Unfortunately, this doesn't preclude it from unmitigated disaster. Far from having the emotional resonance the premise promises, this film hits you with a lifeless thud akin to mistakenly walking into a pane of glass. It's deeply ironic how much Peng mythologises Zhao Dan and decries the lack of charisma in contemporary acting, because the only thing in this film with an iota of screen presence are the archival clips of his films. Perhaps most tragically, the case made here for Shanghai cinema really does the opposite of what was intended; when the film finished I couldn't help but think "if this is what Shanghai has to offer, Beijing's dominance is probably for the best"

Tian Zhuangzhuang (田壮壮, 1952-) Seen 14/15Show
Tian Zhuangzhuang’s career has been heavily marred by a mix of commercial failure and censorship. A majority of his features have been bombs or faced a battle with censors (including straight up bans on the films themselves and his capacity to make them) or both. But that just speaks to the integrity of the greatest director on this guide. It is a testament to his genius that despite all these setbacks he has risen to international prominence. Childhood friend of Chen Kaige, so it was cool to see him appear in the Chen Kaige segment of ‘My People, My Country’ in 2019.

Highly Recommended:
1. The Warrior and the Wolf AKA 《狼灾记》 (2009)
2. The Blue Kite AKA 《蓝风筝》 (1993)
3. On The Hunting Ground AKA 《猎场扎撒》 (1985)
4. The Horse Thief AKA 《盗马贼》 (1986, with Pan Peicheng)
5. The Street Players AKA 《鼓书艺人》 (1987)
6. The Go Master AKA 《吴清源》 (2006)
7. Springtime in a Small Town AKA 《小城之春》 (2002)
8. Delamu AKA 《马古道:德拉姆》 (2004)
9. Li Lianying: Imperial Eunuch AKA 《大太监李莲英》 (1991)
10. The Courtyard AKA 《小院》 (1980, student short film co-directed with other BFA students)
This is it, the first film of any sort we have from the 5th Generation. A B&W short featuring contributions from a number of future giants of Chinese cinema. There is a tremendous energy here, it feels massively influenced by New Wave cinema from around the world, particularly Europe. There's probably a great unwritten article weighing the threads of Godard's Maoist period with Tian's utter rejection of that mode of filmmaking by way of the Bazin -> Truffaut throughline. This feels supremely radical, and the editing has a weight to it that I've never seen in any Chinese film before the 80s. Suffice to say this is excellent, and I wish I could rank it higher up, but it is very hard to contend with Tian's later features.
11. The Red Elephant AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)
This is the first feature from the 5th Generation, and it's small. Obviously an amateur project, it's most interesting for where it sits in history. Here we can see how the often forgotten strand of children's films prevalent among early 5th Gen works draws formative influence from things like "The 400 Blows". There are also rough flashes of what was to come, but this is best for once you've already covered all the classics first.

Lightly Recommended:
- Unforgettable Life AKA 《特别手术室》 (1989)
- Our Corner AKA 《我们的角落》 (1980, student film co-directed with other BFA students)

Not Recommended:
- Rock Kids AKA 《摇滚青年》 (1988)
A film examining supposed cultural shifts through the lens of the most generic and poorly aging music of the 80s. I’m not sure what happened here, likely a project designed to make money, though purportedly a legitimate filmmaking endeavour. Every bit as painful and contrived as you might imagine.

Wu Ziniu (吴子牛, 1952-) Seen 12/13Show
Though largely forgotten today, Wu Ziniu broke a lot of important ground in his day. He made 7 features in the 80s (the most of any director mentioned here), made the first 5th Gen film to get banned (an elusive high priority feature called ‘The Dove Tree’), and directed several important international co-productions with Taiwan, Japan & elsewhere. His films are most often war films, and he has a rare proficiency at invoking the tragedies of history. His output shrunk to 5 features during the 90s, and he has made little this century.

Highly Recommended:
1. Joyous Heroes AKA 《欢乐英雄》 (1988)
This film brings a lot of disparate elements together in what seems like alchemy. It is a humanist drama following a large group of characters caught between the Kuomintang, the Communist party, and mountain bandits. At times verges on a Chinese western, at times more like if ‘Red Sorghum’ was a revenge movie.
2. Evening Bell AKA 《晚钟》 (1988)
Regarded as the most important of Wu’s films, this movie follows a small group of Chinese soldiers returning home after Hirohito’s surrender as they find a platoon of Japanese soldiers who have descended into depravity. The broad brush strokes the movie paints with make it all the more potent.
3. The Big Mill AKA 《大磨坊》 (1992)
Wu's run of visceral and visual masterpiece's continues into the 90s, and this is perhaps the darkest yet. Framed from the perspective of an old man lost in his memories (played adeptly by Liu Zhongyuan who is still alive!!), we veer into darker and darker territory, hitting pitch black with a series of scenes obviously drawing on Apocalypse Now and straight up horror. The progression of the narrative is delineated by the titular Big Mill in a way similar to (but more powerful than) the cutting down of the tower in "Evening Bell". Tao Zeru is here as the antagonist, a vicious town leader who has lost his legs, and is carried everywhere by his followers on a throne. Awesome to behold.
4. Sun Mountain AKA 《太阳山》 (1992)
This would be a fairly standard melodramatic inter-generational sob-story were it not for the palpable commentary of the still open-wound of the China-Taiwan relationship, and the agile aesthetic & tonal shifts that punctuate each chapter of the narrative. And Tao Zeru, his partnership with Wu Ziniu is one of the great actor-director collaborations, and he’s at his best here.
5. Sparkling Fox AKA 《火狐》 (1994)
6. The Last Day of Winter AKA 《最后一个冬日》 (1986)
7. Don’t Cry, Nanking AKA 《南京1937》 (1995)
8. The Living and the Dead AKA 《阴阳界》 (1988)

Lightly Recommended:
- Secret Decree AKA 《喋血黑谷》 (1984, with Li Jingmin)
- Hero Zheng Chenggong AKA 《鄭成功》 (2001)

Watchable:
- The Candidate AKA 《候补队员》 (1983, with Chen Lu)
- National Anthem AKA 《国歌》 (1999)
This is obviously a party mandated film, but it's actually a somewhat enjoyable one. Played with conviction and directed with the still potent abilities of a director who would abandon theatrical features all too soon, this is sort of at the precipice between the artful state cinema projects of the past (including some of China's best cinema period!) and the embarassing stuff that Huang Jianxin would soon stoop to.

Zhang Jianya (張建亞, 1951-) Seen 10/?Show
The one of the eldest of the class of ‘82, Zhang Jianya is also the worst 5th Gen director I have seen enough to have a substantiated opinion on. I think Zhang’s career is best explained by what he says in an interview with Tony Rayns. In their conversation, which appears in the 1989 documentary ‘New Chinese Cinema’, Zhang argues that not every director can make expensive and likely uncommercial art films; there need to be commercial filmmakers to keep the business afloat. Zhang’s first film is not far from what Chen Kaige & others were doing around the time, but he let his standards slide in search of fleeting commercial success, and it quickly became a race to the bottom.

Highly Recommended
1. Trapped in a Frozen River AKA 《冰河死亡线》 (1986)
This film reminds of that quote about ‘The Searchers’ that the landscape is almost a character, with its breathtaking setting of a semi frozen branch of the Yellow River bringing life to its natural thriller concept. Surprisingly features substantial commentary on the one child policy. Rudimentary filmmaking aside, this is a fantastic debut.
2. The Red Elephant AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)

Lightly Recommended:
- Sanmao Joins the Army AKA 《三毛從軍記》 (1992)
- Kidnaping Karajan AKA 《绑架卡拉扬》 (1988)

Watchable:
- The Tribulations of a Young Master AKA 《少爷的磨难》 (1987, with Wu Yigong)
This is a mediocre and bombastic adaptation of a Jules Verne story. Something like the poor man’s Hong Kong screwball classic.

Not Recommeded:
- Narrow Escape AKA 《绝境逢生》 (1994)
This is weird to watch; it might be the worst 5th Gen film that keeps the core aesthetic/ethos of the movement intact. There are a lot of conflicting themes and inclinations vying for dominance below the surface, but as a finished product, it's basically a blueprint for the "War and Peace" trilogy that Feng Xiaoning subjected the world to. Zhang was obviously on the threshold of casting off the ballast of artistic integrity here. It's fascinating and maybe even essential, but it's also pretty bad.
Note: IMDb calls this "Rescued from Desperate Situation", but "Narrow Escape" is used in the English subtitles on the film.
- Qian Xuesen AKA 《钱学森》 (2012)
Feels ripped straight from the pages of the Huang Jianxin 2010s playbook, but actually goes a lot better. A mustard seed of tangible sincerity can move mountains.
- Crash Landing AKA 《紧急迫降》 (2000)

Avoid:
- ‘Call For Love AKA 《爱情呼叫转移》 (2007)
Although I loathe this movie for both its vapid ideology and lack of filmic craft, I have to acknowledge that it was immensely prescient. Movies crafted in this image are making big money to this day.
- Fit Lover AKA 《爱情呼叫转移Ⅱ:爱情左右》 (2008)
Even worse than the first and almost certainly the worst 5th Generation movie. A dismal indictment of everyone involved. Seems to be searching for a lower common denominator than I ever knew was possible.

Zhang Junzhao (张军钊, 1952-2018) Seen 5/?Show
Zhang was the first of the cohort to direct a studio feature, with all previous 5th Generation films being student productions. That film is “One and Eight”, a lauded war film with expressive cinematography by the great Zhang Yimou & Xiao Feng. The film set the stage for what was to come, but its battle against the censors likely led him to make his follow up a forgettable propaganda effort about the Chinese Women’s Olympic gold in volleyball in ‘84. This move to appease censors led to criticism from his peers for betraying the spirit of the socialist realism. These tumultuous beginnings ultimately limited his ability to make studio features, and when he died in 2018, he had not directed anything beyond a couple of television episodes for the last 20+ years of his life.

Highly Recommended:
1. Shining Arc AKA 《弧光》 (1989)
This is my favourite of all those listed here, the best film of the 5th Generation and it’s periphery. There is so much going on here; critiques of society, class and tradition, denunciations of the hollow pretensions of bourgeois artists, nuanced exploration of mental illness and our failures to treat it, and much more. A more educated individual than me, could, with enough knowledge, context & research could probably write thick tome exploring just the subtext of this film. It also has an immaculate aesthetic, with cinematography that hits the perfect mood every time. This is elevated to perfection by sporadic bursts of brilliantly unconventional editing. Those moments are some of the greatest I have seen in film as a whole, and capture something indescribably special. Every time I think about this movie I like it more. It’s also fitting that this film is such a masterpiece, because as far as I can ascertain, it was the last 5th Gen film released before tensions in the Tiananmen Square protests came to a head. This is often cited as the end of the movement, which might make ‘Shining Arc’ the last true 5th Generation film.
2. One And Eight AKA 《一个和八》 (1983)
3. The Loner AKA 《孤独的谋杀者》 (1986)
This movie paints an idiosyncratic portrait of Kung Fu warfare at the tail end of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom revolution waged by neo-Christian cultists (with a sui generis electronic score that I cannot understate the greatness of). Really good.

Lightly Recommended:
- Three Daring Daughters AKA 《花姊妹风流债》 (1992)

Watchable:
- Come on, China! AKA 《加油——中国队!》 (1985)
While I was initially dismissive of this film, I have come around on it. Though cliche, the patriotic narrative hits the right tones and emotional notes, and Xiao Feng's vivid photography here has proved really memorable for me.

Zhang Li (张黎, 1954-) Seen 3/3Show
Zhang Li graduated from the cinematography course in 1982, and was actually the first to direct among the cinematographers. His first film as a director was banned, and his follow up didn’t make a huge impact, and my speculation is that this lack of success encouraged him to do cinematography for the rising tide of commercial cinema in mainland China in the 90s. He shot “Red Cherry” as well as several films from Feng Xiaogang. As a director he has largely worked in television, though he did co-direct a film with Jackie Chan in 2011. Most well known for shooting John Woo’s “Red Cliff” duology.

Highly recommended:
1. 'Jungle Escape' AKA 《逃出罪恶世界》 (1986)
This is a strong debut with remarkable parallels to several later films from Wu Ziniu. It follows a division of Kuomintang soldiers marooned in Yunnan in southern China years after the civil war ended, who have stooped to selling (and using) heroin and other debauchery. Recalls Apocalypse Now and even the novels of Joseph Conrad. One of the earliest 5th Generation films to be banned. Notably, it was co-written by Liu Miaomiao.

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Fake Heroes' AKA 《假大侠》 (1989)

Not Recommended:
- '1911' AKA 《辛亥革命》(2011, with Jackie Chan)
A lot of Chinese films (particularly those from Hong Kong) around this time were trying to refine aspects of production such as make-up and special effects, and this one gets lost in the sauce. It feels like this narrative was just slapped onto the screen lathered in make-up with great period costuming - and nothing else. Hollow completely devoid of charisma, and often straight up embarrassing.

Zhang Yimou (张艺谋, 1950-) Seen 23/23Show
Zhang Yimou likely needs no introduction here, most who read this will at least be somewhat familiar with his directing career. This will likely also make this a contentious part of this guide. Zhang graduated in ‘82 from the cinematography course, and only worked on 4 films in that capacity before turning to directing. Those 4 films have cinematography of such high caliber that it has taken entire careers spanning decades of cinematographer colleagues such as Gu Changwei and Zhao Fei to rival this small body of work. As a director Zhang achieved the greatest acclaim of any listed here, and his early films still constitute some of the most important work in Chinese cinema. However, his excruciating slide into mediocrity and worse dampens the enthusiasm many (myself included) have for his work.

Highly Recommend:
1. Ju Dou AKA 《菊豆》 (1990, with Yang Fengliang)
2. To Live AKA 《活着》 (1994)
3. Raise The Red Lantern AKA 《大红灯笼高高挂》 (1991)
4. Not One Less AKA 《一个都不能少》 (1999)
5. Red Sorghum AKA 《红高粱》 (1987)
6. Shadow AKA 《》 (2018)
7. Hero AKA 《英雄》 (2002)
8. The Story of Qiu Ju AKA 《秋菊打官司》 (1992)
9. A Soul Haunted By Painting AKA 《画魂》 (1994, with Huang Shuqin)

Lightly Recommended:
- Shanghai Triad AKA 《摇啊摇,摇到外婆桥》 (1995)
- Keep Cool AKA 《有话好好说》 (1997)
- Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles AKA 《千里走单骑》 (2005, with Yasuo Furuhata)
- The Road Home AKA 《我的父亲母亲》 (1999)

Watchable:
- Happy Times AKA 《幸福时光》 (2000)
- House of Flying Daggers AKA 《十面埋伏》 (2004)

Not Recommended
- Under The Hawthorn Tree AKA 《山楂树之恋》 (2010)
- Coming Home AKA 《归来》 (2014)
- Curse of The Golden Flower AKA 《满城尽带黄金甲》 (2006)
- Codename Cougar AKA 《代号美洲豹》 (1989, with Yang Fengliang)
- A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop AKA 《三枪拍案惊奇》 (2009)

Avoid:
- The Flowers of War AKA 《金陵十三釵》 (2011)
- Lady Of The Dynasty AKA 《王朝的女人·杨贵妃》 (2015, with Cheng Shiqing)
- The Great Wall (2016)

Zhou Xiaowen (周晓文, 1954-) Seen 8/?Show
Zhou came from the same class of students as Huang Jianxin, and had an equally eccentric take on the 5th Gen formula (though in a radically different way). The adjective that I feel best applies to his oeuvre is ‘abrasive’. From his aggressively serious and confronting crime films of the 80s to his weirdo Hong Kong co-production to the brutal critique of capitalism in his most celebrated film Ermo, his work is often depressing and uncomfortable to watch. After initially studying as a cinematographer, Zhou began his directing career in the late 80s with a series of thrillers and dark dramas, before evolving towards larger scale productions in the mid 90s. This was short lived, and his 21st century work is mostly forgotten.

Highly Recommended:
1. Ermo AKA 《二嫫》 (1994)
2. Common People AKA 《关于爱的故事 》 (1998)
This angsty movie about cerebral palsy sufferers trying to carve out a life for themselves feels very 6th generation; it could have easily been made by He Jianjun around this time. A potent expression of about every emotion drawn to painful extremes. Hard to imagine another fictional film getting this real.

Lightly Recommended:
- Obsession AKA 《疯狂的代价》 (1989)
- The Emperor’s Shadow AKA 《秦颂》 (1996)
- Desperation AKA 《最后的疯狂》 (1987, with Shi Chengfeng)

Watchable:
- No Regrets About Youth AKA 《青春无悔》 (1991)
- Black Mountain AKA 《黑山路》 (1994)

Not Recommended:
- The Trail AKA 《狭路英豪》 (1993, with Manfred Wong)


Less watched core directors

He Qun (何群, 1955-2016) Seen 3/?Show
He Qun was an art director, whose two collaborations with cinematographer Zhang Yimou (‘One and Eight’ & ‘The Big Parade’) feature terrific craft. He was subsequently able to transition to directing in his own right, starting with ‘Mutiny’ in 1988. His directorial efforts never attained wide fame or classic status, and He is largely forgotten within China today.

Highly Recommended:
1. Mutiny AKA 《哗变》 (1988)
I was surprised by how much I loved this debut film. It has strong premise that manages to carve out a distinct space amongst all the Sino-Japanese war films, great aesthetics (the night photography is particularly great) that maintain tension, and Zhang Guangbei in one of the best roles of his career.

Lightly Recommended
- Conned Once AKA 《上一当》 (1992, With Liu Baolin)

Watchable:
- Country Teachers AKA 《凤凰琴》 (1993)

Jiang Haiyang (江海洋, 1955-) Seen 1/?Show
A graduate of the directors class who seems to have been one of the earliest to retreat into television. Intriguingly, his film “Anonymous Phone Call” (1987) is supposedly a core period horror film, but I suspect it is no more of a horror film than Li Shaohong’s debut.

Watchable:
- 'Turning Point 1977' AKA 《高考1977》 (2009)
note: incorrectly attributed on imdb and other English language websites to "Jiang Haiyan" or "Haiyan Jiang".

Jin Tao (金韬, 1954-) Seen 2/?Show
Jin Tao is a 5th Generation director whose work leans towards the commercial, he has received modest acclaim for his work primarily in television, but also for his films.

Lightly Recommended:
- Men Coming to the Execution Ground AKA 《老少爷们上法场》 (1989)
This is an early entry into the wave of Qing dramatisations that followed Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor", and it's obvious there are a lot of kinks to iron out. There are many low energy slumps, and there is a bit of an almost goofy "Kidnapping Karajan"-esque misdirection to this, but things really come together when they need to. If you've seen a few of these kind of films, the premise may seem to lack scale, but I think it's a worthwhile shift.
- To Pursue the Policeman AKA 《追杀刑警》 (1988)
This is pretty nuts. A "Miami Vice"-like cops and crooks film that sees a too good for his own good cop targeted for assasination by a drug and pornography crime ring. This is really obviously trying to hop on the Heroic Bloodshed bandwagon, but it is so off-kilter it becomes its own thing. The film begins with a cold open where our main character survives a murder attempt by gunning down his assailant, and we are whisked away into this singular experience. It's a low-scale, lo-fi production, but if you get a chance to see it, you should. Some things to look out for: some clear examples of musical plagiarism (including the Ghostbusters theme), numerous James Bond on a budget action sequences, & the out of nowhere bodybuilding contest.

Li Xiaojun (李晓军, ?-) Seen 2/?Show
Director's class graduate most well known for being the other director on Hu Mei's "Army Nurse".

Highly Recommended:
1. Army Nurse AKA 《女儿楼》 (1985, with Hu Mei)

Avoid:
- Xuan Yuan: The Great Emperor AKA 《轩辕大帝》 (2016)
This movie has it all: incompetent CGI even by standards abandoned 10 years before it was made, poor acting, cringeworthy tribal stereotypes and most appalling of all, atrocious gender politics - this feels like an open endorsement of female subservience at some points. Also: laugh when characters invent fire, the 365 day calendar, and the first wall. I was watching Li Ziqi's youtube videos the other day, and she has better production design, cinematography, editing et al than this by miles.

Liu Miaomiao (刘苗苗, 1962-) Seen 4/?Show
The youngest of the class of 82, Liu Miaomiao is most well known for being part of the Hui ethnic minority who largely reside in Ningxia province, and making several films about her culture, which otherwise receives virtually no representation in film.

Highly Recommended:
1. Chatterbox AKA 《杂嘴子》 (1993)
Brutal tragicomedy that is both hilarious and gut wrenching, as well as the ultimate example of the greatness all these 5th Gen children’s films were angling for. Not as location specific as I imagined, aside from the local dialect, but makes up for it with enormous narrative potency and immersive photography of the Ningxia village setting. Also deserves great praise for it’s lead actor who has personality, presence, comedic timing and adorable charm, truly spectacular from a child so young.
2. Women Soilders in the Long March AKA 《马蹄声碎》 (1987)
A great contribution the lineage of Chinese films about female soldiers, this falls remarkably close to "Come and See" and things of that ilk.

Lightly Recommended:
- Stories of the Voyage AKA 《远洋轶事》 (1986)
This film tells the stories of a group of lonely people who work on a ship together, isolated by their seafaring life. It’s arranged into a series of fleeting anecdotes that maintain a bit of distance as we jump from character to character. I initially felt like it would be an ordeal to get through, but it grew on me a lot by the second half.

Watchable:
- The Boxer AKA 《拳击手》 (1988)
This is a fairly cliche movie that is obviously trying to tap into nationalist fervour over growing but still small international sporting success at the time of release. Far less transparent and much more nuanced than 'Come On, China!' but the story outside the ring which consumes most of the runtime could easily be discarded as it is so generic that leaving it to the viewer's imagination would likely hit on something more meaningful. Also completely devoid of formal ambition.

Mu Deyuan (穆德远 , 1956-) Seen 1/?Show
Mu Deyuan is a from the cinematography class, and is most known for two fantastic 4th Generation films he shot a decade apart: Wu Tianming's "King of Masks" (1996) and Zhang Nuanxin's "Sacrifice of Youth" (1986). He has worked in both director and cinematographer capacities since the 1980s.

Highly Recommended:
1. Lonely Spirit In An Old Building AKA 《黑楼孤魂》 (1989, with Liang Ming)
Note: Liang Ming is also a class of 82 cinematographer, but with nothing else to add under either, one entry should suffice for now.

Xia Gang (夏钢, 1953-) Seen 3/?Show
Xia Gang is one of the most prolific 5th Generation directors, apparently even directing his first feature in 1982 (might actually be a short though, sources suggest it's only 45 minutes long) - a television production called "We Are Still Young". He is most well known for a string of romance films beginning with "Half Flame, Half Brine" and ending with "Love At First Sight".

Highly Recommended:
1. Half Flame, Half Brine AKA 《一半是火焰,一半是海水》 (1989)

Not Recommended:
- Love At First Sight AKA 《一见钟情》 (2002)
This embarrassingly flaccid romantic comedy is only noteworthy for featuring a number of stars early in their careers, including the first feature film appearance of legendary actress Fan Bingbing, who manages to be likeable despite her atrociously written character. Almost a perfect example of a movie that fails so hard to promote it's thesis that it verges on self-satire.

Avoid:
- Lost in the Moonlight AKA 《夜色撩人》 (2017)
Xia Gang's entry into the movement comeback is a lurid thriller that is trapped by its own lack of imagination. Poorly written, acted and edited; insufferable to watch.

Xie Xiaojing (谢晓晶, ?-) Seen 3/4Show
Xie Xiaojing was among the foremost 5th Gen directors early on, but seems to have abandoned his directing career in favour of a teaching role.

Highly Recommended
1. Our Corner AKA 《小院》 (1980, student short film co-directed with other BFA students)
2. The Red Elephant AKA 《红象》 (1982, student film co-directed with other BFA students)

Lightly Recommended::
- Our Corner AKA 《我们的角落》 (1980, student film co-directed with other BFA students)

Zhang Zeming (张泽鸣, 1951-) Seen 1/?Show
Zhang Zeming was born in Guangdong and didn't go to a major film university like others here, but worked his way up in a minor studio and began his directing career in the mid 80s. Zhang has a small body of classic films that were groundbreaking for the cinema of his province.

Highly Recommended:
1. Swan Song AKA 《绝响》 (1985)
This cultural revolution drama is a parallel work to things like 'Hibiscus Town' and 'The Street Players' that colours its course with Cantonese Opera. While perhaps not as fully formed as those masterpieces, it abounds with nuance and forethought, and is one of the most best written 5th Gen films up to that point.

Unwatched core directorsShow
Directors class of 82:
Zhao Jin
Pan Yuanliang
Gang Xiaozhen
Lin Daqing
Zhou Wei
Jiang Weihe
Wang Zhihong
Pan Hua
Li Ziyu
Li Shaoxu
Bai Hong
Ying Qi
Cui Xiaoqin
Wang Ziyin

Other:
Weng Luming (?)


Peripheral figures

These are arguably not 5th Generation directors, but have noteworthy links to the movement, and I have decided to include them here.

Dai Sijie (戴思杰, 1954-) Seen 4/?Show
Studied film in France, worked parallel to the main movement.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'Les filles du botaniste' AKA 《植物学家的中国女孩》 (2006)

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' AKA 《巴尔扎克与小裁缝》 (2002)

Watchable:
- 'Niu-Peng' AKA 《牛棚》 (1989)

Not Recommended:
- 'Le Paon de Nuit' AKA 《夜孔雀》 (2015)

He Ping (何平, 1957-) Seen 6/8Show
He Ping began his career by making documentaries, before moving to Xi'an Film Studio. He is known for his western-wuxia hybrid films, and his small but consistently interesting filmography. He's output is easily among the best of anyone linked to the 5th Generation.

Highly Recommended:
1. Sun Valley AKA 《日光峡谷》 (1996)
2. Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker AKA 《炮打双灯》 (1994)
3. Warriors of Heaven and Earth AKA 《天地英雄》 (2003)
4. The Promised Land AKA 《回到被爱的每一天》 (2015)
5. Wheat AKA 《麦田》 (2009)
6. Swordsmen in Double Flag Town AKA 《双旗镇刀客》 (1991)

Sun Zhou (孙周, 1954-) Seen 5/?Show
Sun Zhou worked in television around the time of the 5th Generation break out in 84, and after formally studying production, he began directing features starting in the late 80s.

Lightly recommended:
- Breaking the Silence AKA 《漂亮妈妈》 (2000)
- Zhou Yu’s Train AKA 《周渔的火车》 (2002)

Not recommended:
- Impossible AKA 《不可思异》 (2015)

Avoid:
- I Do AKA 《我願意》 (2012)
- The Human Comedy AKA 《人间·喜剧》 (2019)
This one fails to clear even the most basic hurdles, a complete non-starter in the race to be a passable movie. Like if one was to turn the worst elements of Chinese reality tv into a movie.

Ye Daying (叶大鹰, 1958-) Seen 2/7Show
Not Recommended:
- 'Red Cherry' AKA 《红樱桃》(1996)
- 'A Time to Remember' AKA《红色恋人》 (1998)
This is another one of these mediocre Chinese films that just keep stumbling over themselves all the way to the end credits, in part due to a personality-sink white protagonist. Reminiscent of every dull and uncreative television movie you've ever forgotten. Also totally uncharismatic aside from a woefully underused Tao Zeru and a 3rd rate Leslie Cheung performance.
Last edited by fori on February 3rd, 2020, 5:30 pm, edited 58 times in total.

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#2

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 5:21 am

Non 5th Gen directors from the class of 82
There are several other notable directors who graduated from the BFA in 1982. Having neither studied in the directors course nor directed in the core period, they are not 5th generation directors, but have significant commonalities with the core directors, as well as in some cases contributed significantly to core films of the movement.

Ai Weiwei (艾未未, 1957-) Seen 9/?Show
You probably know Ai Weiwei is one of the most prominent conceptual artists active in the world today, but you may not know he graduated from the BFA’s Class of ‘82 in the Animation course. Ai Weiwei initially emerged from the Chinese avant-garde literature and arts scene of the 80s that paralleled the 5th Gen, but gained his huge international prominence as a vocal critic of the Chinese government. His work in cinema was initially dGeneration-style digital documentaries that, at their best, have that Warholesque disrespect for filmic conventions, but he has transitioned toward being a “real director”, much to my chagrin.

Highly Recommended:
1. Fairytale AKA 《童话》(2007)
A conceptual art piece stuffed into a movie. Ai uses the modes of dGeneration cinema to expand/shrink/compliment/repackage his work, forcing you outside of your conventional paradigms as a viewer. Provokes exponentially more lines of thought than the original piece. This is really interesting.

Lightly Recommended:
- Stay Home AKA 《喜梅》(2013)
- One Recluse AKA 《一个孤僻的人》(2010)
- Disturbing The Peace AKA 《老妈蹄花》(2009)

Watchable:
- Ping'an Yueqing AKA 《平安乐清》(2013)
- So Sorry AKA 《深表遗憾》(2012)
- 'Human Flow' (2017)

Not Recommended:
- Ordos 100 AKA 《鄂尔多斯100》(2012)
- Ai Weiwei's Appeal ¥15,220,910.50 AKA 《¥15,220,910.50 发课税案》(2014)

Feng Xiaoning (冯小宁, 1954-) Seen 7/?Show
Graduate of the art director's class who has primarily worked on commercial features. Feng Xiaoning had ambitions of directing right from the jump, and the only really notable credit he has as an art director is the student film "The Red Elephant". He directed a little for television in the 80's, before launching into a fairly prolific run of features beginning in 1990. Feng is primarily known for the abysmal "War and Peace" trilogy comprising "Red River Valley", "Lover's Grief Over the Yellow River" and "Purple Sunset", a painful nadir for the 5th Generation, as well as a subsequent run of shameless blockbusters devoid of any integrity or spectacle.

Lightly Recommended:
- 'The Ozone Layer Vanishes' AKA 《大气层消失》(1990)
This dystopian children's film is sort of incidentally impressive; it has a unique charm that might have more to do with the gulf between when this was made and where we are now. Features an embryonic form of the embarassing editing et al that makes later Feng Xiaoning films such a nightmare, but here it adds an awkward likability.

Not Recommended:
- 'Super Typhoon' AKA 《超强台风》(2008)
Yeah that's right, this incompetent disaster film is good by Feng's standards, in that I at least had a kernel of enjoyment from watching it. Stretches credibilty into camp charm. Still not good though.
- 'Purple Sunset' AKA 《紫日》(2001)
I can understand why many, even those who might share my disdain for the first two films of the "War and Peace Trilogy", might like this film. Superficially it has a lot in common with what one might expect from late 80's Wu Ziniu - it's a war film set at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war with thoughtful premise and great tone-setting landscape photography. And yet... no. Much like the central trio of characters, we are spun around in circles, from quagmire to quagmire. The awkward multiple narrators both rob the film of much needed contemplative moments and fail to provide the characterisation that the premise demands. There's actually a lot to say about how these three films films fail ideologically, technically and in their intended purpose, which I may dive into later.

Avoid:
- 'Animal Rescue Squad' AKA 《动物出击》(2019)
The more I watch the films of Feng Xiaoning the harder it is to really explain my thoughts on them. I have a special affinity for his work; even though his films are ideologically problematic, technically incompetent and filled with stretches that will make your jaw drop for all the wrong reasons, I can't help but feel enthused and entertained every time I see one. This movie is seemingly trying to promote mutual respect between humans and other animals by bridging the gap between Paul Greengrass and Robert Vince, which is just as ridiculous as it sounds. What truly amazes me is that despite accumulating three decades of experience directing well funded films, Feng remains virtually incompetent in all the core areas of traditional filmmaking. Ultimately I think this might be the most well intentioned film of his career and one with a decent bit of weirdo charm. Feng Xiaoning: outsider artist? I guess so...
- 'Red River Valley' AKA 《红河谷》(1997)
- 'The Sino-Japanese War at Sea 1894' AKA 《一八九四·甲午大海战》(2012)
- 'Lover's Grief Over the Yellow River' AKA 《黄河绝恋》 (1999)
This is straight up trash. The only thing to see here is maybe some "so bad it's good" laughs. I was repeatedly stunned by the utter ineptitude of this film at every turn.

Gu Changwei (顾长卫, 1957-) Seen 4/5Show
After Zhang Yimou moved into directing, Gu Changwei claimed the mantle of best cinematographer in the 5th Gen, shooting esteemed classics such as Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine, In The Heat of The Sun and Devils On The Doorstep. In the 2000s he turned his hand to directing, making a trilogy of aesthetically perfectionist, tonally melancholic rural dramas. Subsequently he has made two universally panned romantic comedies in collaboration with internet companies including WeChat.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'Love for Life' AKA 《最爱》 (2011)
2. 'Peacock' AKA 《孔雀》 (2005)
3. 'And the Spring Comes' AKA 《立春》 (2007)

Watchable:
- 'Love on the Cloud' AKA 《微爱之渐入佳境》 (2014)
Far from the sordid bomb I thought this would be, this actually has a lot of strong redeeming elements. The aesthetic is still there, the movie is making a genuine attempt at difficult material (online romance is still hard for cinema now, let alone in 2014), and I actually found it to often be - dare I say it - funny!

Hou Yong (侯咏, 1960-) Seen 1/?Show
Cinematographer from the 82 class. Hou is one of the major DPs of the movement, having shot several films each with Tian Zhuangzhuang, Wu Ziniu & Zhang Yimou.

Watchable:
'Jasmine Flower' AKA 《茉莉花开》 (2004)

Huo Jianqi (霍建起, 1958-) Seen 9/?Show
Huo Jianqi studied in the art directors course, and didn't direct until the 90s. His work tends to lean towards stylish and heavy-handed romance. Usually grouped with the 6th gen.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'Life Show' AKA 《生活秀》 (2002)
2. 'Postmen In The Mountains' AKA 《那山那人那狗》 (1999)

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Lost In Love' AKA 《如影随心》 (2019)
In a way this is the ultimate Huo Jianqi movie. Building on an ouevre of increasingly forehead-slappingly goofy melodrama with ever-thickening aesthetics, this movie is all mood and no substance. Kind of amazing.
- 'A Love of Blueness' AKA 《蓝色爱情》 (2001)

Watchable:
- 'Love In The 1980s' AKA 《1980年代的爱情》(2015)
- 'Falling Flowers' AKA 《萧红》(2012)
- 'Xuanzang' AKA 《大唐玄奘》(2016)
People hated this, but I enjoyed it. Recommended for fans of the 2001 version of Zu Warriors.
- 'A Time to Love' AKA 《情人结》(2005)

Not Recommended:
- 'Nuan' AKA 《》(2003)

Lu Yue (吕乐, 1957-) Seen 5/6Show
Cinematographer course graduate turned director Lu Yue is one of the most notable cinematographer graduates, perhaps topped only by Zhang Yimou and Gu Changwei. His commercial career starts with a bang as cinematographer for “On The Hunting Ground”, he was also early to collaborate with Hong Kong, shooting a film for noted 5th Gen ally Yim Ho. He made his name in the 90s when he had a run as Zhang Yimou’s cinematographer of choice, shooting “To Live”, “Shanghai Triad”, “Keep Cool” and Huang Shuqin’s “A Soul Haunted By Painting”, which Zhang is known to have exerted auteurial influence on. Subsequent to “Mr Zhao”, Lu shot a small number of high budget prestigious projects, the last of which was “Back To 1942” with Feng Xiaogang. I’m actually unsure as to whether he should be a core director, as he apparently directed a documentary called “Nujiang, La Vallee Perdue” in 1989 - I wish I knew more about this.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'The Obscure' AKA 《小说》(2007)
Lays bare the world of contemporary Chinese literature through the orations of pivotal authors and just plain gives you the connecting tissue between post-Cultural Revolution literature and the cinema that has drawn so much from it. This is likely far more illuminating for someone who has read the work of Wang Shuo, Ah Cheng & Yu Hua. Nevertheless, great great great.
2. 'Mr. Zhao' AKA 《赵先生》 (1998)

Watchable:
- 'Thirteen Princess Trees' AKA《十三棵泡桐》 (2006)
- 'The Foliage' AKA《美人草》 (2003)
- 'Lost, Found' AKA 《找到你》 (2018)

Ning Ying (宁瀛, 1959-) Seen 7/12Show
Upon graduating in the sound design course in 82, Ning Ying went abroad for further study, leading to her working as assistant director on Bertolucci’s ‘The Last Emperor’, a film that heavily influenced the 5th Gen. Her work as a solo director begins in 1990 and is usually associated with the 6th Generation, and for good reason: her early films are thoughtful, low key comedies with a lot in common with films from Zhang Yang, He Jianjun and her brother-in-law Zhang Yuan. In this decade she has shifted towards low impact commercial filmmaking of a serendipitously more palatable kind than Zhang Jianya or Sun Zhou. Probably the most squandered potential of any director here, all her early work is full of the promise of masterpieces that don’t seem to have eventuated. There are some I haven’t seen that look promising though.

Lightly Recommended:
- For Fun AKA 《找乐》 (1993)
- On The Beat AKA 《民警故事》 (1995)
- Railroad of Hope AKA 《希望之旅》 (2002)
- I Love Beijing AKA 《夏日暖洋洋》 (2001)

Watchable:
- Someone Loves Just Me AKA 《有人偏偏爱上我》 (1990)
Disposable romp co-opting Hong Kong aesthetics and comic sensibilities fairly authentically. I would make an interesting double bill with "The Tribulations of a Young Master" because they seem to have evolved from the same root impulse but taken it in opposite directions, both failing in ways the other succeeds.
- Kung Fu Man AKA 《功夫侠》 (2012, with Yuen Cheung-Yan)
This goofy martial arts film is filled with questionable or embarrassing moments and there are probably some major critiques to make of its conceptual underpinnings, but I was able to sit through this with my brain in extreme low gear, chuckling occasionally. In what is likely a test run for ‘Man of Tai Chi’, this was produced by Keanu Reeves!

Not Recommended:
- Romance Out Of The Blue AKA 《浪漫天降》 (2015)

Wang Xiaolie (王小列, 1961-) Seen 1/?Show
Cinematography graduate, and one of the youngest graduates. Most well known for shooting "The Troubleshooters".

Avoid:
- 'To My Wife' AKA 《与妻书》 (2012)
Heavy handed and hideously ugly umpteenth iteration of the "It's A Wonderful Life" formula.

Xiao Feng (肖风, 1960-) Seen 3/?Show
Less well known (presumably former) cinematographer who has some great work back in the day. I particularly love the fully saturated downbeat ambience he achieved in “Shining Arc”, but other great credits include “Black Snow” by Xie Fei & “For Fun” by Ning Ying. He was the cinematographer for Zhang Junzhao's 80s run, but moved into directing when Zhang's career was beginning to falter. His subsequent output has been divisive and underwatched.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'Widow's Talks' AKA 《寡妇十日谈》 (1994)
A stunning work of visual and thematic complexity. Perhaps more than anything else this directly interrogates the tradition/upheaval dynamic central to so much Mainland film. There's so much going on here that I don't know how to adequately address for now.
2. 'Eternal Watch' AKA 《岁岁清明》 (2011)
Xiao Feng experimenting with focus and composition in the legendary tea mountains of Hangzhou. The narrative is a small epic of romance and loss; we start out beautifully abstract, but unfortunately things later narrow into an unnecessary conclusion. Cast the story aside though, that wistful nostalgic aesthetic of distant romance is why you should watch this. Side note: the lead actress is terrible. I can't believe she was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Rooster Awards.
3. 'The Clear Water' AKA 《清水的故事》 (2008)
Lengthy family drama that reminds of Koreeda.

Yin Li (尹力, 1957-) Seen 2/?Show
Art director course graduate who turned to directing in the early 90s.

Lightly Recommended:
- 'The September of MIne' AKA 《我的九月》 (1990)

Not Recommended:
- 'The Knot' AKA 《云水谣》 (2006)


Other directors
These directors have tenuous links to the 5th Generation, but I think they warrant a mention.

Jiang Wen (姜文, 1963-) Seen 6/6Show
Many might be incredulous at Jiang's inclusion here, but his entry into the industry as an actor was contemporaneous to the rise of the 5th Gen, and he has collaborated extensively with those listed here. I would even argue that his inclinations as a director have far more to do with the 5th Gen than the 6th Gen or anything else.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'The Sun Also Rises' AKA 《太阳照常升起》 (2007)
2. 'Devils On The Doorstep' AKA 《鬼子来了》 (2000)
3. 'In the Heat of the Sun' AKA 《阳光灿烂的日子》 (1994)
4. 'Hidden Man' AKA 《邪不压正》 (2018)
5. 'Let The Bullets Fly' AKA 《让子弹飞》 (2010)

Lightly Recommended
- 'Gone With The Bullets' AKA 《一步之遥》 (2014)

Mi Jiashan (米家山, 1947-) Seen 1/?Show
Many might think of Mi Jiashan as a 5th Generation director, “The Troubleshooters” certainly fits perfectly into the emerging vein of Chinese film Tony Rayns discussed so much. I tend to feel otherwise, as he was active in film academia long before directing, and probably shares more with the 4th Generation. He was born in the 40s and came up in the broader film realm long before the 5th Gen.

Watchable:
- The Troubleshooters AKA 《顽主》 (1988)

Wang Xingjun (王星军, 1959-) Seen 1/?Show
Actor turned director from Gansu. Included here for the same reasons as Jiang Wen.

Highly Recommended:
1. 'Amannishahan' AKA 《阿曼尼萨罕》 (1993, with Wang Yan)
Immersive and somewhat ethereal Uyghur historical melodrama rife with the 4th Generation tendencies of early Wu Tianming and others, no doubt brought to the table by Wang Yan.

Yang Fengliang (杨凤良, 1955-) Seen 3/?Show
Actor who broke into directing through two films co-directed with Zhang Yimou

Highly Recommended:
1. Ju Dou AKA 《菊豆》 (1990, with Zhang Yimou)

Lightly Recommended:
- 'Dragon Town Story' AKA 《龙城正月》 (1997)

Not Recommended:
- Codename Cougar AKA 《代号美洲豹》 (1989, with Zhang Yimou)

Yang Yazhou (杨亚洲, 1956-) Seen 4/?Show
Actor and frequent collaborator/co-director with Huang Jianxin.

Highly Recommended:
1. Back to Back, Face to Face AKA 《站直啰!别趴下》 (1994, with Huang Jiaxin)

Lightly Recommended:
- Surveillance AKA 《埋伏》 (1997, with Huang Jianxin)

Watchable:
- 'For The Children' AKA 《美丽的大脚》(2002)

Not Recommended:
- 'Loach Is Fish Too' AKA 《泥鳅也是鱼》 (2005)


Other

CinematographersShow
The 5th Generation has produced a bunch of noted cinematographers, but those who haven’t had big directorial projects as well are sometimes left out of that conversation.

Yang Lun / 杨轮
Yang Lun worked on a small number of films ending with Huang Jianxin's "The Marriage Certificate". Likely most remembered for being the other DP on "Raise The Red Lantern" and "Ju Dou", but also deserves credit for a stint with He Ping that includes some stunning work on "Sun Valley".

Yang Shu / 杨述
Yang is young enough to verge on being 6th Generation, he was born in 1963, making him 13 years younger than Zhang Yimou! Despite not accumulating many credits in his early career, he has some great stuff under his belt. He shot Wang Xiaoshuai's 'Frozen' in 1996 which shaped a new celluloid aesthetic for the 6th Generation of that time. He would go on to shoot 'Peacock' with Gu Changwei and 'Caught in the Web' with Chen Kaige, two of the most interestingly shot Chinese films of the last two decades. Recent credits have largely been poorly received.

Zeng Nianping / 曾念平
Li Shaohong's cinematographer - and husband! They have almost exclusively collaborated with each other, and as such, his work is very accomplished. I would easily place him side by side with Gu Changwei and Zhao Fei as a 5th Gen great. He has also directed a lot for television.

Zhao Fei / 赵非
One of the most well regarded of the bunch, Zhao Fei has noteworthy credits from “The Horse Thief” to “Raise The Red Lantern” to “Let The Bullets Fly”, and even managed a brief stint as Woody Allen’s cinematographer. Reportedly Zhao’s first feature as a director is currently in the works.

Zhi Lei / 智磊
Minor figure who has shot some cool stuff such as Ning Ying’s “On The Beat”. Apparently Zhi worked on He Ping’s debut film as well. It’s not all good though, his efforts as a television director, though likely non-auteurial, have been received with universal ire, and he is responsible for some of Zhang Jianya’s 21st century work. There doesn’t seem to be a complete filmography for Zhi Lei on the internet at present. He also seems to have directed some panned commercial films in recent years.

Zhang Huijun / 张会军
Zhang is a minor figure, and would undoubtedly not rate a mention without two films he shot: ‘The Courtyard’, the 1980 student short from Tian Zhuangzhuang et al, and ‘Men Behind The Sun’, the notorious 1988 Hong Kong exploitation film that graphically portrays the horrors of human experimentation practiced by the Japanese in WWII.

Other important figuresShow
Cast & crew:
Cheng Shiqing AKA Shiqing
- This film industry executive seems to be a toxic stain on this strand of cinema. All of the small number of films he had writing input on are ridiculed bombs. Most relevant here as the primary director of “Lady of The Dynasty” and writer of “Codename Cougar”, both Zhang Yimou collaborations.
Tao Zeru
- actor who frequently collaborated with Wu Ziniu
Zhang Ziliang
- credited screenwriter on the first two 5th gen films of great merit (“One and Eight” & “Yellow Earth”)

Other:
Ah Cheng
- Author and frequent inspiration for 5th Generation films
Deng Wei
- 82 cinematography graduate and noted photographer.
Feng Xiaogang
- hugely successful director who began working in the mid 90s. Collaborates extensively with those here and is far closer to the movement in terms of style and content of his work than to any other grouping.
Ni Zhen
- Teacher of BFA courses taken by the class of '82, renowned film scholar, screenwriter ("Raise The Red Lantern", "Blush" & "The Trail") and author of "Memories of the Beijing Film Academy: The Genesis of China's 5th Generation"
Wang Shuo
- author working parallel and sometimes in collaboration with the 5th gen. Directed a feature in 2000.

ResourcesShow
Books:
'Memories of the Beijing Film Academy: The Genesis of China's 5th Generation' (1994, Updated 2002, Ni Zhen) On Google Books

Films:
'New Chinese Cinema' (1989, Tony Rayns) Part 1 | Part 2

Help me out!!! This is a work in progress!!Show
If you found any errors in this, please reply with corrections. I’m not certain about the release dates for a lot of these, so if you have a correction of any of that, please link a reliable source for the date of initial release.

Is this guide useful? Should I complete it? Is there not enough context? Too much context? What would improve it? Please reply to this thread with feedback. Thanks.

Thoughts on these films, directors the movement etc?
Last edited by fori on January 28th, 2020, 11:15 pm, edited 13 times in total.

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#3

Post by blocho » November 6th, 2019, 5:29 am

This may be "incomplete" but it's nevertheless immense and fascinating. I know almost nothing about Chinese cinema, but I thank you for this contribution to the forum. I and others can learn a lot from here about Chinese and fifth generation filmmakers.

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#4

Post by Mate_cosido » November 6th, 2019, 6:36 am

This is a great resource fori, chinese cinema is one of my favourite national cinemas, and i will use this guide next time i want to dive in, in it, hopefully soon! thanks for the effort!

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#5

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 7:31 am

Thanks guys, this took me at least 2 hours yesterday and more than an hour today to put together like this. I’m glad people find it interesting/useful. I’ll try to fill out the empty spaces one at a time now this is posted here.

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#6

Post by Obgeoff » November 6th, 2019, 8:40 am

Amazing work. Thank you.
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#7

Post by St. Gloede » November 6th, 2019, 9:08 am

Fantastic work, Fori, will definitely use this as a springboard for further viewings.

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#8

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2019, 9:42 am

I have Kaige Chen's King of the Children lined up since yesterday, funny coincidence. Not a big fan of his older work though, but we'll see :)

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#9

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 10:07 am

Onderhond wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 9:42 am
I have Kaige Chen's King of the Children lined up since yesterday, funny coincidence. Not a big fan of his older work though, but we'll see :)
You won’t like it! I predict a max score of 2/5.

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#10

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2019, 1:45 pm

Yeah, expectations are quite low, then again I've seen most of Chen's films by now, so I'll just power through. Yellow Earth is also missing still.

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#11

Post by hurluberlu » November 6th, 2019, 7:59 pm

Great stuff !

Maybe one addition among the less watched: Jiang Haiyang. He was a student of the Directing Class of the Academy in 1982 and shot a few films in the mid 80s but his filmography remains rather obscure. He is quoted with 10 other influentials directors of the 5th Generation in Reinventing China: A Generation And Its Films by Paul Clark.

Also for the peripheral figures, maybe worth to add Wu Tianming who was from the previous generation but said to be godfather of the 5th (as Head of Xi'ian studios) and a precursor with his 1986 film The Old Well.
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#12

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 9:07 pm

hurluberlu wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 7:59 pm
Great stuff !

Maybe one addition among the less watched: Jiang Haiyang. He was a student of the Directing Class of the Academy in 1982 and shot a few films in the mid 80s but his filmography remains rather obscure. He is quoted with 10 other influentials directors of the 5th Generation in Reinventing China: A Generation And Its Films by Paul Clark.

Also for the peripheral figures, maybe worth to add Wu Tianming who was from the previous generation but said to be godfather of the 5th (as Head of Xi'ian studios) and a precursor with his 1986 film The Old Well.
Hi Hurluberlu, thank for your help. I will look into Jiang Haiyang who I had not heard of (great find!). I am only including directors I have seen at least one film from here, so Jiang and others including Zhang Zeming and Xie Xiaojing (‘Red Elephant’ contribution aside) are not currently up for inclusion.
I was planning to have a paragraph on the history of Chinese film the got us to the 5th Gen, Wu Tianming’s palpable influence would be mentioned there, and the ‘Old Well’ might merit inclusion in talking about Zhang Yimou’s work as a cinematographer. I won’t dive into his broader filmography because one could easily make the case that Wu Yigong also merits inclusion then, as he was head of the bigger Shanghai Film Studio, a producer and mentor to several directors in the list, and to one-up Wu Tianming, he also co-directed with Zhang Jianya. The 4th Generation deserves its own guide I think.
I’m most interested in the book you reference here. I haven’t read a book solely dedicated to this topic and it seems like something I should prioritise. Would you say this book is helpful in expanding my knowledge about context, origins, history or missing figures from this list?

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#13

Post by RBG » November 6th, 2019, 9:50 pm

i really like ning ying. another woman director made one of my favorites https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5663040

she also stars in the film. it's 1981 but fits all the other criteria

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i also love 'ermo' :wub:
icm + ltbxd

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#14

Post by fori » November 6th, 2019, 10:37 pm

RBG wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 9:50 pm
i really like ning ying. another woman director made one of my favorites https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5663040

she also stars in the film. it's 1981 but fits all the other criteria

Image

i also love 'ermo' :wub:
Thanks RBG. Yang Yanjin is a 4th Generation director, and I have seen the film, as well as ‘Troubled Laughter’ from 1979. You should look into Li Shaohong, the most acclaimed and best female director here. I can see you’ve seen ‘Blush’, but worth prioritizing ‘Bloody Morning’.
Edit: I was a bit surprised that you said Yang Yanjin was a woman, so I doubled checked, and I think that might be a mistake. Here are his entries on Douban and Baidu:
https://movie.douban.com/celebrity/1314718/
https://baike.baidu.com/item/杨延晋

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#15

Post by RBG » November 7th, 2019, 12:10 am

oh i forgot blush! loved it! will appear in my 500>400 list next year. thanks for the recommendation

yeah i got that info from imdb so you could well be right lol
icm + ltbxd

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#16

Post by hurluberlu » November 7th, 2019, 7:37 pm

fori wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 9:07 pm
hurluberlu wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 7:59 pm
Great stuff !

Maybe one addition among the less watched: Jiang Haiyang. He was a student of the Directing Class of the Academy in 1982 and shot a few films in the mid 80s but his filmography remains rather obscure. He is quoted with 10 other influentials directors of the 5th Generation in Reinventing China: A Generation And Its Films by Paul Clark.

Also for the peripheral figures, maybe worth to add Wu Tianming who was from the previous generation but said to be godfather of the 5th (as Head of Xi'ian studios) and a precursor with his 1986 film The Old Well.
Hi Hurluberlu, thank for your help. I will look into Jiang Haiyang who I had not heard of (great find!). I am only including directors I have seen at least one film from here, so Jiang and others including Zhang Zeming and Xie Xiaojing (‘Red Elephant’ contribution aside) are not currently up for inclusion.
I was planning to have a paragraph on the history of Chinese film the got us to the 5th Gen, Wu Tianming’s palpable influence would be mentioned there, and the ‘Old Well’ might merit inclusion in talking about Zhang Yimou’s work as a cinematographer. I won’t dive into his broader filmography because one could easily make the case that Wu Yigong also merits inclusion then, as he was head of the bigger Shanghai Film Studio, a producer and mentor to several directors in the list, and to one-up Wu Tianming, he also co-directed with Zhang Jianya. The 4th Generation deserves its own guide I think.
I’m most interested in the book you reference here. I haven’t read a book solely dedicated to this topic and it seems like something I should prioritise. Would you say this book is helpful in expanding my knowledge about context, origins, history or missing figures from this list?
Fair enough !
About the book, it really focuses on the directors, their social and political background, their student and early years as filmmakers. It is based on first-hand info and quite a pleasant read. If you are interested to learn more on the sociological aspects of this generation, go for it; it is less on the films although there is a good selection commented in details.
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#17

Post by tommy_leazaq » November 8th, 2019, 6:29 am

Thanks for the great work, Fori.
This made me greedy for such guides for all other generations as well.. :D

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#18

Post by fori » November 8th, 2019, 7:50 am

tommy_leazaq wrote:
November 8th, 2019, 6:29 am
Thanks for the great work, Fori.
This made me greedy for such guides for all other generations as well.. :D
Thanks tommy_leazaq, I’d love to do those too, but I’m woefully uneducated when it comes to the other generations, at least by the standards I’d want out of a completed version of this one. There are more of this sort of thing for 6th Generation films though.

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#19

Post by cinephage » November 8th, 2019, 8:39 am

Thanks for this great work, fori, this is very interesting and helpful. I enjoy chinese cinema, but I am usually too dispersed to gather such a solid stack of information. This will greatly help me for future watches.

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#20

Post by clemmetarey » November 8th, 2019, 4:49 pm

A very informative guide fori, thanks :thumbsup:

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#21

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 8th, 2019, 11:37 pm

Great work fori! Very interesting this guide. Like others I also will use this a guide when delving more into the 5th generation (probably during the next China challenge). I’m still mostly familiar with the most popular ones now, Kaige Chen and Yimou Zhang (of whom it surprises me that none of his acclaimed classics have had any decent blu ray release yet) and seen a few others.

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#22

Post by Onderhond » November 14th, 2019, 10:39 pm

fori wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 10:07 am
Onderhond wrote:
November 6th, 2019, 9:42 am
I have Kaige Chen's King of the Children lined up since yesterday, funny coincidence. Not a big fan of his older work though, but we'll see :)
You won’t like it! I predict a max score of 2/5.
Have to say this was pretty okay. Reminded me a little of Huo's Postman in the Mountains and Hiroki's Kikansha Sensei. Not quite as good as these films, the social critique felt a little dull, but a nice film nonetheless. Rated it 3/5

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#23

Post by fori » December 6th, 2019, 5:39 am

Made some minor updates here, exactly 1 month after I first put it together. Is there a character limit on this forum? If not, this can hopefully become very extensive.

@hurluberlu Thanks for the tip on Jiang Haiyang, I saw my first film from him today.

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#24

Post by fori » December 17th, 2019, 12:02 pm

I ran out of characters in the first post... can this ceiling be elevated? If not, what should I do?
I’ve been slowly adding edits while watching films, and was hoping I could get to something that had 250 films that almost all have reviews, bios for everyone, comprehensive related section, a decade by decade history and other things. But with such a small character limit I guess that prospect is toast.

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#25

Post by Fergenaprido » December 19th, 2019, 3:23 pm

fori wrote:
December 17th, 2019, 12:02 pm
I ran out of characters in the first post... can this ceiling be elevated? If not, what should I do?
I’ve been slowly adding edits while watching films, and was hoping I could get to something that had 250 films that almost all have reviews, bios for everyone, comprehensive related section, a decade by decade history and other things. But with such a small character limit I guess that prospect is toast.
Maybe keep the OP as "core directors" and move everyone else to a second post, and then add links to each other in each post for easy navigation?

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#26

Post by fori » February 3rd, 2020, 3:52 am

Probably won’t update this anymore, though I might still add relevant films I see to the icm lists. Has anyone been catching up on these films since I posted this guide?

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#27

Post by Mate_cosido » February 3rd, 2020, 2:51 pm

I've only watched one, The Red Elephant, but i'm planning on watching more in the course of this year

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#28

Post by St. Gloede » February 3rd, 2020, 3:14 pm

Seen a couple. Saw Black Cannon Incident yesterday, which may just have been a tad too minimalistic in its satire, but extremely well made. Will try to find and watch your top recommendation for Huang Jianxin, "Dislocation" soon to see if it fares better for me.

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#29

Post by Fergenaprido » February 3rd, 2020, 4:20 pm

Grabbed a bunch from our favourite place this weekend, so haven't seen any but have been stockpiling for future enjoyment.

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#30

Post by St. Gloede » February 3rd, 2020, 5:57 pm

Strangely I could not find Dislocation, but I did find Back to Back, Face to Face.

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#31

Post by fori » February 4th, 2020, 5:41 am

Great! Please comment your thoughts once you see some! Also for those searching for subtitled copies of these, you’d be advised to look around the internet to see how much is written about it, because some will not be forthcoming. Dislocation should be available though.

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