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Onderhond's Top 62 China 2.0

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Onderhond's Top 62 China 2.0

#1

Post by Onderhond » October 28th, 2018, 9:39 am

WHAT IS IT?
A list of 62 films that may serve as guidance for people interested in breaking into the vast and chaotic realm of modern Chinese (commercial and/or genre) cinema.

HOW WAS THE LIST COMPOSED?
- Only films listed with China as their primary production country
- Only films that were made in 2000 or later
- Only films with 275 checks or lower
- Only films I've watched in the past 10 years
+ I also allowed films from Hong Kong directors working in China

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
I will reveal one film per day, starting from the bottom and working my way up through the list. If one film per day sounds a little slow, it's because this is actually a sneaky stalling technique to give myself a little breathing room, while at the same time making sure the thread remains current and visible for a long enough time. I'm not going to dump the entire list in 4 or 5 days and have the thread die down one week later.

WHY DO I NEED THIS?
China's Fifth Generation probably needs no introduction, they've played their part in raising the appeal of Chinese cinema in the West. Directors like Kaige Chen and Yimou Zhang are household names to most arthouse fans. While their reign ended around the turn of the century, their influence still lives on through directors like Zhangke Jia and films like Kaili Blues. Films that love to focus on the poor struggling against modernization and industrialization. Put a Chinese country bumpkins on a rundown motorbike while contrasting his rural ways with city life and there's a good chance your film will end up in an arthouse theatre, maybe even win a prize at a film festival.

While these film have their place and serve their audience, China changed a lot in the past 20 years. Parallel to these films a newer (and much bigger) Chinese film industry has been developing. Exciting times because suddenly there was lots of money to direct commercial and genre films, but there weren't any obvious templates to work from. The result was complete chaos, with China trying very hard to discover what their particular film identity was. Most of that soul searching is over and done now, still most of the West seems completely oblivious to what's been going on over there. The Chinese film industry is close to matching Hollywood, even so they can't seem to get people's attention, at least not on a global scale.

And so I figured it would be fun to highlight some of the more creative, refined and surprising Chinese obscurities made in the past 18 years. A list of films that showcases the broader variety of Chinese films, beyond the usual suspects most people envision when thinking of Chinese cinema.

62 IS SO RANDOM .. OR IS IT?
Everybody knows that no self-respecting film list will aim for a round number. 62 just happens to be the amount of films I can plug here, although it did mean excluding some of my older watches that are up for re-evaluation.

Also, 62 is 30 + 31 + 1, which is very convenient. Especially when you add another 2 + 1 to it.

CAN I HAS STATS?
Stats! Because we all love stats and stats are great:

-/ # of countries: 1 (100% China)
-/ # of decades: 2
-/ # of female directors: 2 (I think, because Chinese names are hard)
-/ # of black directors & leads: 0 (can't win 'em all)
-/ # of Asians involved: plenty (at the very least, enough to convince people they really don't all look alike).

ANY CAVEATS?
First of all, this list is 100% personal and holds no academic value. It is purely based on my own taste, the films I've watched and enjoyed over the past 10 years. It's also an outsider's view on Chinese cinema as I live in Belgium and have no direct ties to Chinese people, nor their distribution channels. The upside is that the internet does not discriminate and if you follow the right channels you get a pretty broad spectrum of available films. Film festivals in the West have been highly unsuccessful in tracking the interesting ones, so I'm quite certain this list will cover a lot of new ground for most people here, even the people visiting the big film fests.

The "China as primary production country" rule also turned out to be a bit problematic. There has been a big power shift between Hong Kong and China, with lots of co-productions as a result. The data there isn't always consistent and/or can be fluid and I didn't feel like investigating the specifics of every single co-production. That means that there are a couple of edge cases that may not conform with IMDb's current data. Most of them appear in the bottom half of the list so the impact isn't too big, but I felt it was better to point this out before starting the countdown, should you find that IMDb lists a film as Hong Kong or Hong Kong/China rather than China or China/Hong Kong.

CAN I JOIN IN?
Absolutely. You're welcome to be inspired, watch and discuss as much as you like. It is even encouraged! Posting your own list of recommends is fine too, though I would like to ask everyone to wait until after I'm done with my own list. Also try to keep your own recommends somewhat topical, rather than posting Zhangke Jia's entire oeuvre. The focus of this list is to move away from the typical arthouse selections.

SO WHAT'S NEXT?
On Monday and Tuesday I'll be posting two (shorter) introductory lists. One with +275 checks films and one with 4* films I haven't seen in over 10 years. These films were originally part of the "official" list, but got scrapped when I narrowed down the scope of the project. Still, I think these titles have value, if only to provide some extra context. It's also nice to have these titles out of the way when starting the real list.

On Wednesday, the official countdown will begin.

And that's about it!

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#2

Post by Melvelet » October 28th, 2018, 10:08 am

Looking forward to it :)
275 checks sounds a bit arbitrary, too :D But I'm glad, you will post the 275+ list

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#3

Post by Onderhond » October 28th, 2018, 2:26 pm

Melvelet wrote:
October 28th, 2018, 10:08 am
275 checks sounds a bit arbitrary, too :D But I'm glad, you will post the 275+ list
I just looked for a cut-off that felt acceptable, keeping in mind the purpose of this list. It could've been anywhere between 273 and 280, so I figured I'd go with a round number there :)

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#4

Post by Onderhond » October 29th, 2018, 6:27 am

Like I promised, we'll start with a slightly random summary of famous Chinese films that would've made the cut, if not for the max check limitation. Some high profile ones may be missing because of primary production country woes, as explained in yesterday's caveat section. That's why you'll find Zhang's House of Flying Daggers on here, but not Hero. Similarly a film like Grandmasters is listed, even though IMDb put Hong Kong first in the list of production countries. Ah well ...

Oh, and if there are people around hoping to score some official checks, this list of drop-offs is about as good as it's going to get!

Image


08. House of Flying Daggers [Shi Mian Mai Fu] by Yimou Zhang - 2004/119 mins - (11,007 checks | 5 official lists)
We all know who Yimou Zhang is and most of us are old enough to have lived through his big martial arts rebrand. It feels a bit pointless introducing this film, but if you haven't seen it yet and you like pretty pictures, you're definitely missing out.

07. Fearless [Huo Yuanjia] by Ronny Yu - 2006/103 mins - (4,584 checks | 3 official lists)
While post '00 China had plenty of money to spend, post '97 Hong Kong was struggling to keep its head above water, so it's no surprise so many Hong Kong directors opted to relocate . Ronny Yu's Fearless is probably one of the most successful attempts, fronted by Jet Li and sporting some tremendous fighting scenes. People with as much as a passing interest in martial arts should be familiar with the film though, so no point in adding it to the actual list.

06. The Grandmasters [Yi Dai Zong Shi] by Wong Kar Wai - 2013/130 mins - (1,733 checks | 1 official list)
Kar-Wai Wong is no doubt Hong Kong's most prestigious director. For Grandmasters he worked primarily with Chinese money and actors, even so sources like IMDb list Hong Kong as the primary country of production. Whatever the case, it's a high-class martial arts film, the likes we will probably never see again. The structure of the film is a bit of a mess, but individual scenes stand out as some of the best ever produced within the genre.

05. The Flowers of War [Jin Ling Shi San Chai] by Yimou Zhang - 2011/146 mins - (977 checks | 0 official lists)
More Yimou Zhang, this time showcasing one of China's more conspicuous tricks to attract Western audiences: hiring famous Hollywood actors. Of course Zhang has enough qualities of his own and Bale wasn't half bad here, but the real discovery was Ni Ni. An actress that lights up every scene she appears in. Beyond that it's a fine war epic with lush production values and a very slick finish, but definitely on the commercial side of Zhang's oeuvre.

04. Tau Ming Chong [Warlords] by Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip - 2007/126 mins - (643 checks | 0 official lists)
While many Hong Kong directors followed the money and relocated to China, their ties to the homeland varied and while some tried to retain that typical Hong Kong feel, others had less problems falling in line with the mainland's ways. Warlords is a film that should appeal to people who love the Chinese historic war epics from that period, though with the added benefit of Peter Chan's trained eye overseeing the production.

03. Suzhou River [Suzhou He] by Ye Lou - 2010/83 mins - (383 checks | 3 official lists)
Suzhou River is one of the oldest films here and it would've been a fine addition to the official list, but it's a rare modern Chinese film that actually managed to find an audience outside of China. Sadly Ye Lou would relapse in the following years, slowly re-joining the more typical Chinese arthouse fare. A young Xun Zhou is always a treat of course, with the urban setting and the more modern aesthetic being steps in the right direction for China, making Suzhou River somewhat of a landmark film.

02. True Legend [Su Qi-Er] by Woo-ping Yuen - 2010/116 mins - (305 checks | 0 official lists)
Woo-ping Yuen made a name for himself as an action director, but he also directed quite a few feature films during the 80s and 90s. In 2010 he made a successful comeback, action fans who loved his earlier work will have little trouble getting something out of this one. Again though, this is pretty much a Hong Kong director doing his thing with Chinese money, so not really suited for the official list.

01. The Legend of Chen Zhen [Jing Wu Feng Yun: Chen Zhen] by Wai-Keung Lau - 2010/105 mins - (280 checks | 0 official lists)
A fine mixture of action and drama, helmed and fronted by some famous names and faces. Andrew/Wai-Keung Lau is one of Hong Kong's biggest directors, Shu Qi and Donnie Yen also earned their stripes, even on the international stage. The story is simple, but the production design is lush and the action scenes are effective. The Hong Kong DNA is still very tangible though, so again not the most appropriate film.
Last edited by Onderhond on October 30th, 2018, 8:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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#5

Post by GruesomeTwosome » October 29th, 2018, 1:20 pm

Cool idea, Onderhond! This should be very interesting, thanks!
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#6

Post by OldAle1 » October 29th, 2018, 5:53 pm

Very cool idea. My tastes are pretty different, but that's kind of the point I think - people promoting stuff that (perhaps) only they like or have seen. Hopefully you'll get some real discussion and back-and-forth on this though I suspect not from me as I will have seen almost nothing. I have seen 08, which I certainly liked for it's visual beauty though I can't say it has stuck with me all that strongly, and I only saw it a couple of years ago.

And hopefully more people will start similar threads and promote discussion rather than just endless list-making.

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#7

Post by Lonewolf2003 » October 29th, 2018, 6:48 pm

Cool idea Ondehond! Will be following this thread even if I might not comment a lot. Will you make an ICM list when you’re done? So I can use that in the future as guidance.

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#8

Post by Onderhond » October 29th, 2018, 8:22 pm

@OldAle1: Ideally this list will be a window into a new and unexplored part of cinema, at least for this forum. My expectations are low re: participation, I just hope some of the films will trigger people to give them a chance. If this goes well, I'll consider doing a Japanese one next year.

@Lonewolf2003: I'll definitely do an ICM-list at the end. Not much trouble and there is no limit anymore, so no reason not to make one. Maybe I will just start one when I start with the list and add new entries on a daily basis. Would that be useful?

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#9

Post by Lonewolf2003 » October 29th, 2018, 9:07 pm

If you make it at the end that's fine with me. I mostly want it so I can easily look this list up again in the future.

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#10

Post by Angel Glez » October 29th, 2018, 9:14 pm

I'm more out-of-date than you but I'll follow the thread with great interest. China has a lot to offer!

To get started, from the 8 drop-offs my favorite is the ill-treated The Flower of War, even though I'm not big fan of Zhang's epics.

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#11

Post by Onderhond » October 30th, 2018, 6:14 am

With all the super mainstream stuff out of the way, it's time for my second lists of drop-offs. This slightly shorter list will highlight the films that could've made the cut, if only I'd been able to watch them again in time. It's been more than 10 years since I last watched any of these, so I just can't truthfully vouch for them anymore. I decided I wouldn't submit them to the actual list, even though my experience with rewatches is that my taste tends to be pretty consistent over time.

It's still a great barometer for the level of obscurity we're going to be dealing with in the following 62 days though. If you don't recognize (m)any of the films below, don't worry, that's mostly by design.

Image


06. Rainbow [Wo Xin Fei Xiang] by Xiaosong Gao - 2005/90 mins - (3 checks)
Because of the rural setting this one still feels a little closer to the previous generation of Chinese cinema. Xiaosong Gao's early work is a good bet if you prefer to ease yourself in. Xun Zhou is always a plus and there are enough fantastical details to earn a spot here.

05. Purple Butterfly [Zi Hudie] by Ye Lou - 2003/127 mins - (82 checks)
Another Ye Lou film that didn't make the cut. Ziyi Zhang and quality cinematography are the highlights of this film, the rest is solid but maybe not all that remarkable. The film's stylized presentation pushes it toward genre film territory, though the pacing is closer to regular arthouse fare.

04. Curse of Lola [Zu Zhou] by Hong Li - 2005/91 mins - (6 checks)
A thriller with limited horror aspirations. The tension is constant, the film looks amazing and the 90 minute marker underlines its adherence to genre film conventions. It's a good film to start with if you're looking for some solid pre-Halloween filler.

03. Where Have All the Flowers Gone [Na Shi Hua Kai] by Xiaosong Gao - 2002/90 mins - (3 checks)
If you liked Rainbow (see 06), chances are you'll like this one too. Slightly more daring and slightly more experimental, this little oddball drama helped establish Xun Zhou as one of the up and coming Chinese actresses back in the early 00s. It's not a radical break with the past, but the will to do things differently is definitely there.

02. The Matrimony [Xin Zhong You Gui] by Hua-Tao Teng - 2007/91 mins - (20 checks)
Another fine horror film. Like many Asian horrors, there's a more dramatic story fuelling the horror elements and the film aims for atmosphere rather than chills or scares. In that sense it isn't that different from what neighbouring countries were making around that time. Except maybe that the visual finish is a bit more stylish.

01. Triangle [Tie Saam Gok] by Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, Hark Tsui - 2007/101 mins - (82 checks)
A bit of an edge case this one, with three famed Hong Kong directors and a couple of famous Hong Kong leads. I'm sure China handled some of the funding, yet Triangle still feels like a Hong Kong film. Each director handled roughly 1/3th of the story, even so the result is surprisingly consistent. And with To directing the last segment, you're assured a worthy finale.
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#12

Post by Onderhond » October 30th, 2018, 6:36 am

Angel Glez wrote:
October 29th, 2018, 9:14 pm
To get started, from the 8 drop-offs my favorite is the ill-treated The Flower of War, even though I'm not big fan of Zhang's epics.
I liked that one a lot, though it probably helped I didn't expect too much of it at the time. It's also part of an illustrious list of semi-flops that attracted big Hollywood names, hoping the rest of the world took notice. Clearly that hasn't panned out so far. Just from memory:

- Christian Bale in The Flowers of War
- John Cusack & Adrien Brody in Dragon Blade
- Kevin Spacey in Inseparable
- Hugh Jackman in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- Michael Douglas in Animals World

And I'm sure I forgot a few. They keep trying though. Next up in Bruce Willis!

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#13

Post by Gershwin » October 30th, 2018, 8:29 am

Great idea! I'll follow the results closely.
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#14

Post by Lonewolf2003 » October 30th, 2018, 2:57 pm

Of the last list I saw Purple Butterfly very recently. And liked it. It's beautiful stylized. But the distant this creates leaves the film a bit cold and unemotional. It requires some very active viewing since the movie is more focused on style than explaining the plot.

Of the first list I saw and liked House of Flying Daggers, Fearless, the Grandmasters and Suzhou River. The first three are indeed beautiful genre movies. I should rewatch House of Flying Daggers, I only saw that once when it came out while I saw Hero multiple times since my first time.

So far a 100% score: all I've seen I also liked ;)

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#15

Post by Straka » October 30th, 2018, 3:24 pm

I like both Ye Lou films that are listed. His more recent Blind Massage and to a lesser extent Mystery were solid again as well, but I can agree that it is closer to the arthouse standard.
Maybe his new film (made in Taiwan) sees him completely coming back to form, Jake Pollock handling the cinematography is a great sign at least.

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#16

Post by Onderhond » October 30th, 2018, 3:53 pm

@Lonewolf2003: broadly speaking it's something you see often in Asian films I think (especially greater China and Japan). There seems to be a bigger focus on style/atmosphere, a smaller one on characters and plot. It's a balance I personally prefer, but these kind of films do require a bit more focus as you need your eyes and ears at all times and it usually affects the pacing too (ie these films are somewhat slower).

From the first list, I'd say Chen Zhen, Warlords and True Legend should be decent recommends. They're not quite in the same league as the ones you listed, but they do offer some great action sequences.

@Straka: I did appreciate You's latest films, just not as much as his earlier ones. I think it started with Summer Palace (which I still liked), then Spring Fever was a terrible letdown. I'm quite looking forward to Saturday Fiction, Gong Li + Joe Odagiri sounds interesting enough, though the fact that it's a war drama makes me think it's going to be closer to his later arthouse-like films.

It's funny, because together with Yimou Zhang's Keep Cool I consider Ye Lou's Suzhou River as the unofficial start of China's big turnaround. And because good things always come in three, I'd also probably add Xiaogang Feng's Big Shot's Funeral (which incidentally features Donald Sutherland, so I should've added that one to the "Hollywood actors in China" list I made above).

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#17

Post by Lonewolf2003 » October 30th, 2018, 5:16 pm

This is going a bit off topic. But since you, Onderhond, seem to like stylized directed genre movies by auteur directors ( meaning directors with their own special style and such), but you generally like older movies less, I was wondering how you feel about the more genre oriented movies of the Japanese new wave. I’m thinking of directors as Senji Suzuki, Kinji Fukasakuka, Shohei Imamura and such. Those seem to be up your alley.

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#18

Post by Onderhond » October 30th, 2018, 6:37 pm

It's a bit of a mixed bag. I really like the idea of classic Suzuki, but never quite liked the films. I do like his more recent work though (Pistol Opera is a favorite of mine). I was a bit disappointed by the Imamura films I watched, same goes for Fukasaku (though I've only seen rather drab police/crime thriller stuff from them). I did like Oshima's In the Realm of Senses and Koji Wakamatsu is my favorite director of that era, so from time to time I do find some films/directors I can appreciate. But that's all in the 3* - 4* range, never higher. I just prefer modern aesthetics more.

I explore these niches from time to time, but with little consistency. Films I did like are The Snow Woman (1968), Horror of a Deformed Man (1969), The Hole (1964), The Face of Another (1966) and a bunch of Wakamatsu films.

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#19

Post by Onderhond » October 31st, 2018, 6:18 am

Aaaaaaand off we go!


62. Leaving Me, Loving You [Dai Sing Siu Si] by Wilson Yip - Romance [2004/94 mins]

(2 checks | 0 official lists)
- Sources: IMDb - ICM

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Let's kick off the list with a genre everybody loves: romance! You probably never heard of this film before, but you might have seen some others films by Wilson Yip. The Ip Man trilogy is quite iconic and films like SPL or Dragon Tiger Gate made quite a splash, but in between he also dabbled in romance. He wasn't the only one either, if the Hong Kong genre machine moves in one direction, everyone has to follow, even outliers like Johnnie To (Needing You - 2000) and Wilson Yip (Juliet in Love).

The difference with those films is that Leaving Me, Loving You is set in Shanghai rather than Hong Kong. The city itself is prominently featured, which gives the film a more Chinese feel. Since Shanghai is portrayed as a very modern and wealthy city here, it shows a very different side of China than most Chinese films of that time (which either focused on city slums or more rural areas). There are some mushy bits and the characters are far from charming (which makes it more interesting, but not necessarily easier to watch), but Yip fares well. It also doesn't hurt to have Faye Wong in the lead role. The film does take a little while to get going, but in the end Yip delivers.

Leaving Me, Loving You is not Yip's first stab at making a romantic drama. He made Juliet In Love a few years earlier and was surprisingly successful in making it an engaging experience.
Shanghai is featured like a dream city, always clean, sunny and colorful, bathing in luxury.
Wonderful cinematography, lush sets and two strong actors make this film. You have to wade through a few mushy parts, mostly in the beginning, after that it's all good.

Full review for Wilson Yip's Leaving Me, Loving You >>
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#20

Post by Onderhond » November 1st, 2018, 9:10 am

61. Wheat [Mai Tian] by Ping He - Drama/War [2009/108 mins]

(7 checks | 0 official lists)
- Sources: IMDb - ICM

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Like so many other established Chinese directors, Ping He followed the hype and tried his hand at war epics right around the start of the new millennium. Warriors of Heaven and Earth was a decent effort but fell flat compared to the competition, so it was nice to see him try something a little different with Wheat.

The setting of Wheat is familiar territory, but instead of focusing on the fighters, the armies and the action, Ping directs his camera at the ones left behind. Wheat is a film about the women and children fending for themselves while the men were fighting wars. The first half is a little bumpy, but the second half is decidedly better. Also bonus points for casting Fan Bingbing as lead character.

Wheat is different from other Chinese war epics in the sense that it keeps itself away from the actual battlefield and warfare, focusing more on the people left behind.
The lighting is particularly strong and the interior settings are lush and impressive. If you're a fan of the wealthy and traditional Chinese styling, you're gonna feel right at home.
everyone looking for a more toned-down, stylish yet amusing war film should have a go at it. Remember that the first half our is a bit rough around the edges, things will get only better after that.

Full review for Ping He's Wheat >>
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#21

Post by Onderhond » November 2nd, 2018, 5:54 am

60. Carpooling Shock [Gui Pin Che] by Li Zhang - Horror [2013/90 mins]

(1 check | 0 official lists)
- Sources: IMDb - ICM

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The first real genre film of the bunch and immediately we're down to just 1 check! Carpooling Shock is a Chinese horror film made when Chinese horror was not really a thing. This is quite obvious while watching, as its influences are truly all over the place. This mix of Asian and Western horror with Chinese aesthetics is a hotchpotch of familiar elements that combine in something quite fresh and interesting.

Zhang's input is clear, even though this is a film that caters mostly to genre fans only. If you don't like the downsides of typical horror cinema than there's plenty here that will rub you the wrong way, but those who can look past the typical horror clichés will find a film that delivers on its premise while being slightly elevated by the hand of its director.

While it caters to a very specific group of horror fans, Li Zhang proves he's more than a mere slave to the genre he operates in. Horror fans would do well to take a little chance with this film.
be sure to pay attention during the first 15 minutes. The editing is lightning fast and what happens during the first 5 minutes alone could probably serve to fill a 90 minute film.
While Zhang goes through the motions of the genre, he does so with considerable flair and gusto, upgrading the end result to something that kept me interested from start to finish.

Full review for Li Zhang's Carpooling Shock >>

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#22

Post by Onderhond » November 3rd, 2018, 8:11 am

59. Before Born [Jieguo] by Ming Zhang - Drama/Mystery [2006/104 mins]

(3 checks | 0 official lists) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

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Three full checks, that's triple the amount of yesterday's film! This is getting out of control. It's a bit strange, because I feel this one has the potential to speak to both genre and arthouse fans, which is two niche audiences. It's a somewhat slow and solemn film, at the same time it's pretty mysterious and puzzling. Zhang keeps a nice balance between the two and keeps it up for the entire running time.

But like so many other Chinese films, distribution and advertising are a bitch. It's pretty tough getting your hands on this one, to this day I'm still not sure what the source for my subbed version was. Still, if you happen to bump into Before Born, you'll risk nothing by giving it a fair chance. Just imagine the supercult hit this could become.

The poster seems to emit a rather warm and comforting aura, the film on the other hand is cold, impenetrable yet stylish and moving.
Before Born is a strange mix of crime, mystery and drama, even though there's no crime or action to be found anywhere. These little hints of genre mixing come from the lack of grip on the story early on, but they do give the film a rather special atmosphere that carries through the entire film.
If you're not a fan of silent, Asian characters doing rather strange and inexplicable stuff from time to time, this definitely won't be your movie and it's probably best to stay as far away from it as possible.

Full review for Ming Zhang's Before Born >>

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#23

Post by Onderhond » November 4th, 2018, 7:46 am

58. Snowfall in Taipei [Tai Bei Piao Xue] by Jianqi Huo - Romance [2009/106 mins]

(2 checks | 0 official lists) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

Image


Jianqi Huo, finally a bona fide Chinese director people may have heard of already. He's the man behind Postman in the Mountains, a film that did rather well internationally (although I see it has only 43 checks on ICM??). He's not the most modern and progressive director working in China, but he is quit genre-proof, so I figured his films could qualify for this list.

Snowfall in Taipei is somewhat of an international affair, with Japanese money involved and Taiwan as its main location. It's a sweet, beautifully shot and cosy romance that's very easy on the eyes and glides by smoothly. An pleasant and comfortable watch, unless you're allergic to romances of course.

Huo is someone who loves to incorporate China's traditional cultural customs and values into his films. They are typically set in a somewhat idealized China, which functions as a cosy background to the romantic or filial relationships that take center stage.
The small village amidst the Taiwan mountains isn't as oldskool or strikingly rural as its Chinese equivalents, but it's still cosy and romantic enough to evoke that typical Huo atmosphere.
The execution isn't too melodramatic or cheap, making for a nice romance with likeably characters and just enough depth. If romance isn't your thing this film most likely won't change your mind, but genre fans should find little to dislike here.

Full review for Jianqi Huo's Snowfall in Taipei >>

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#24

Post by fori » November 4th, 2018, 8:42 am

At this rate we won’t be done before Christmas.

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#25

Post by Onderhond » November 4th, 2018, 9:07 am

December 31st to be exact! Isn't that neat :D

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#26

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 4th, 2018, 10:38 am

I like the pace of one movie a day

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#27

Post by OldAle1 » November 4th, 2018, 4:09 pm

Lonewolf2003 wrote:
November 4th, 2018, 10:38 am
I like the pace of one movie a day
Yes, it's good for the small minority of us who aren't on the internet and/or watching movies 18 hours per day 365 days per year.

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#28

Post by fori » November 4th, 2018, 10:54 pm

Subtle

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#29

Post by Onderhond » November 5th, 2018, 6:13 am

57. Firestorm [Fung Bou] by Alan Yuen - Action/Crime [2013/118 mins]

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Another film that has its roots in Hong Kong. Alan Yuen was a writer for quite a few of Benny Chan's films, so it's not surprising he ended up directing a police action/thriller, Andy Lau on the other hand is one of Hong Kong's most familiar faces. Combine the two and you have a film that doesn't really breathe Mainland China.

The first 90 minutes are pretty decent, the kind of film you'd expect Andy Lau to lead. Slick, entertaining and simply well made. But then the finale kicks off, which is a 30 minute action extravaganza. It's the perfect film for Hong Kong fans looking to break into Chinese cinema.

A true revival of the police/action flick, low on artistic merits but delivering in spades when it comes to explosive, gun-toting entertainment.
There are a few great effect shots, the editing is snappy and the camera work sufficiently dynamic, yet the overall impression is one of visual modesty.
The finale is something else though. A 30-minute thrill of a ride, the perfect build-up of violence, explosions and gunfire. Fifteen minutes in I felt this was something special, but it just kept getting better and better.

Full review for Alan Yuen's Firestorm >>

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#30

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2018, 6:23 am

56. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake [Jian Hu Nu Xia Qiu Jin] by Herman Yau - Action/Drama [2011/115 mins]

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Leave it to Herman Yau to make a "different" martial arts films. Most people know Yau from his horror (cult) classics, but over the years Yau grew out to become one of the few Hong Kong directors to mix genre and social commentary on an almost constant basis, even if that meant working with much lower budgets. And even though Herman Yau is very much a Hong Kong fan favorite, this film has a more Chinese feel to it.

The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake is a film about a female martial artist fighting for the rights of women. It's a film based on a historic character, so definitely a story worth telling, but for some reason this film never really made any buzz internationally. A shame because it's a well-balanced mix of drama and action.

While female martial artists aren't exactly novel (think The Heroic Trio), this is the first time I've actually watched a film about Chinese feminism. Coupled with some impressive martial arts follies, it turns Qiu Jin into a real strong and powerful character.
Lush sets, strong camera work (especially during the fight sequences) and proper lighting give the film a very polished feel.
The result is a film that neatly balances drama and martial arts entertainment and talks about something that usually deserves very little attention in Chinese/Hong Kong (action) films.

Full review for Herman Yau's The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake >>

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#31

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 6th, 2018, 11:34 am

Could you tell more about what the difference is between Hong Kong and Chinese Mainland cinema?

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#32

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2018, 12:18 pm

Lonewolf2003 wrote:
November 6th, 2018, 11:34 am
Could you tell more about what the difference is between Hong Kong and Chinese Mainland cinema?
I think the difference in cinema is probably best reflected in the difference between the "countries" themselves. I could probably write a much longer version about the difference between the two, but I'll just give you the short version here:

Hong Kong cinema really is a machine. They pump out genre films like mad, they are continuously iterating and focus on crew and execution rather than directorial visions. Hong Kong doesn't have too many directors with a clear and unique vision, instead they have a long list of directors who are really proficient in certain genres. And when one genre has been overworked, they collectively switch to a different genre. For example, in the early 00s you see big names like Johnnie To (crime), Dante Lam (action) and Wilson Yip (horror/action) switch to romantic comedies. Why? Because everyone is suddenly doing them. It's also a rather rich "country", so their films usually look pretty slick and modern. They are easy watches and usually clock in around 90 minutes, per genre standard.

Mainland China are the country bumpkins compared to Hong Kong's urbanites, although they can also be the prouder version of Hong Kong. Around 2000 you see China starting to do epic genre films (with Hero and a lot of similar films in its wake), films that do adhere to genre conventions but are more about being lush, stately and epic, touting tradition over modern elements. And where about every Hong Kong film is a city film, China has way more rural settings for its stories. You also see that films in China are more about the vision of the director and less about producing slick genre films. There's more ideology, vision, philosophy shining through and there are less template films. Though with China booming like they're doing now, that's all starting to change of course.

You'll also notice a difference in acting styles, language, pacing etc etc. China is generally speaking a bit grimmer than Hong Kong, a bit slower, a bit tougher to chew on.

These are all broad generalizations of course, you'll find films in China that are unlike what I've described here and directors in Hong Kong (Wong Kar Wai being the most famous one) who don't participate in the typical production machine. It's something you'll quickly get a feel for after watching a couple of films from both territories, especially when watching slightly older films. The past 10 years there have been more cross-overs, making the difference a bit muddier, but in the end they still have their own specific style of making films.

So when I say The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake has a more Chinese feel to it, it means there's a stronger focus on lush settings, traditions and the historic settings, whereas a films like that made in Hong Kong would focus more on slick and impressive action scenes. It would also be cut 10-20 minutes shorter no doubt.

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#33

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 6th, 2018, 1:23 pm

Thanks for the explanation. That make those kinds of comments clearer indeed.

I would have thought HK to be more director oriented and China less. First because I associate HK more with certain directors like Woo and To and China less. Secondly also because of the political-social climate, where HK being a more liberal Western country being more focused on the individual and China being more focussed on the collective with little regards for a directors personal vision. (I'm talking now about the more mainstream and genre cinema. Not the arthouse circuit that's dominated by directors in both)

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#34

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2018, 1:38 pm

Hong Kong has a very slim and narrow "arthouse" scene though. Most of their films are strongly genre-oriented. China is the other way around, genre cinema is relatively new there, with arthouse cinema being their main export. They've been trying very hard to do more commercial/genre cinema and they've been doing well locally, but their films don't go beyond the border.

Woo and To are good examples of people working without genre confines but putting their own stamps of the film they make. (Woo is also a good example of a genre switcher, before his famous action films he made a lot of comedies - go figure).

Maybe China's situation produces more rebellious directors? It's also a way bigger country of course, Hong Kong is relatively small, its film industry is excessively big for such a small territory. Like I said in my first post though, I'm not academic and didn't really study any of this, I'm just going on the films I watch. I'm sure there are people out there with much better insights. Sadly it's hard to find people in the West writing about the finer specifics of Chinese cinema.

For reference, I've seen 965 Hong Kong films so far and just 345 Mainland China films. Even so, I feel the variety in China is much bigger than in Hong Kong.

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#35

Post by Gershwin » November 6th, 2018, 3:02 pm

Onderhond wrote:
November 6th, 2018, 1:38 pm
Hong Kong has a very slim and narrow "arthouse" scene though. Most of their films are strongly genre-oriented. China is the other way around, genre cinema is relatively new there, with arthouse cinema being their main export. They've been trying very hard to do more commercial/genre cinema and they've been doing well locally, but their films don't go beyond the border.

Woo and To are good examples of people working without genre confines but putting their own stamps of the film they make. (Woo is also a good example of a genre switcher, before his famous action films he made a lot of comedies - go figure).

Maybe China's situation produces more rebellious directors? It's also a way bigger country of course, Hong Kong is relatively small, its film industry is excessively big for such a small territory. Like I said in my first post though, I'm not academic and didn't really study any of this, I'm just going on the films I watch. I'm sure there are people out there with much better insights. Sadly it's hard to find people in the West writing about the finer specifics of Chinese cinema.

For reference, I've seen 965 Hong Kong films so far and just 345 Mainland China films. Even so, I feel the variety in China is much bigger than in Hong Kong.
Film Comment had a good piece about Hong Kong cinema a few years ago. I’ll see if I can dig it up.
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#36

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2018, 3:12 pm

I found this A-Z of Hong Kong article on their website, which is a very nice introduction to some of its most famous names (although they should've added Tsui Hark to that list).

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#37

Post by Gershwin » November 6th, 2018, 6:42 pm

Yeah, I think that’s the article I meant indeed.
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#38

Post by Onderhond » November 6th, 2018, 6:49 pm

It's a very good piece, but really it's about scratching the surface. It's as if someone wrote an article on Hollywood and mentioned Spielberg, Bay, Abrams, Fincher etc. Useful if you never ever watched a Hollywood flick, but this isn't quite the depth/insight in Hong Kong cinema I was referring to :)

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#39

Post by Gershwin » November 6th, 2018, 7:14 pm

Yeah, I thought it had more analysis in it. This is a nice introduction, but it's nowhere near an in-depth analysis. Maybe there was also another article in the same issue, or maybe my memory just fails me after four years.

Edit: yeah, look at the index. There's a whole section on Hong Kong cinema.
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#40

Post by Onderhond » November 7th, 2018, 6:11 am

55. Run for Love [Zai Shijie De Zhongxin Huhuan Ai] by Qunshu Gao, Hu Guan, Hua-Tao Teng, Meng Zhang and Yibai Zhang - Romance [2016/137 mins]

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Things are getting interesting now. If you're not familiar with Chinese cinema, an anthology film is a good place to start. Especially when it features a couple of very talented names, which is definitely the case here. Goa, Guan and Yibai Zhang will all return later on in this list.

The idea was to have 5 Chinese love stories set in foreign (ie, not China) countries. There are no weak entries, though with just one exceptional one you could say it didn't make the most of its potential. Still a very good film with plenty of variety and a fine mix of cultures and talent.

When three of China's biggest directorial talents (Qunshu Gao, Hu Guan, Yibai Zhang) were coupled with two up and coming directors (Hua-Tao Teng, Meng Zhang) and were asked to each direct a short about a couple in a foreign country, there was very little that could go wrong.
This time around five Chinese directors set out to direct a love story in a foreign setting.
Gao's entry is essential as it adds some necessary edge to this anthology. The first three shorts are nice and effective, but they play it rather safe (whereas this platform is ideal for a little

Full review for Run for Love >>

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