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Onderhond's Top 62 China 2.0

500<400, Favourite 1001 movies, Doubling the Canon, Film World Cup and many other votes
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Re: Onderhond's Top 62 China 2.0

#41

Post by maxwelldeux » November 7th, 2018, 6:34 am

I mean, slightly off topic, but for the love of god please yell and scream and shout about this thread come February (likely) when we run the official China/HK/Taiwan challenge. I'm following it now, but will be super interested in it then.

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#42

Post by Onderhond » November 7th, 2018, 6:41 am

maxwelldeux wrote:
November 7th, 2018, 6:34 am
I mean, slightly off topic, but for the love of god please yell and scream and shout about this thread come February (likely) when we run the official China/HK/Taiwan challenge. I'm following it now, but will be super interested in it then.
Thanks for the heads up! I'm not following these challenges too closely, but I'll be sure to make a little noise there when the time is right :)
There will also be an ICM list at the end of the countdown, which should make it a little easier to keep track of things.

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#43

Post by Gershwin » November 7th, 2018, 7:40 am

Gorgeous screenshots. Watchlisted.
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#44

Post by matthewscott8 » November 7th, 2018, 9:07 am

Onderhond wrote:
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 >>
whoah this one looks really interesting. Wish I could find a source :(
Last edited by matthewscott8 on November 8th, 2018, 11:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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#45

Post by Onderhond » November 7th, 2018, 6:50 pm

Apparently there's a 720p version out there, but I have no access to it either. As you may see from the screenshot above, the quality of my rip was quite poor.

The bigger problem with Chinese film is that China hardly cares about physical media. I dunno what they do over there, but a lot of these films appear to be streaming-only with no obvious DVD or BR releases anywhere (but maybe I'm missing some hardcore Chinese online DVD sites - I'm mostly limited to YesAsia). And for some weird reason, these film are often streamed with English subs. It's a complete mystery to me to be honest :D

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#46

Post by Onderhond » November 8th, 2018, 5:38 am

54. Zhou Yu's Train [Zhou Yu De Huo Che] by Zhou Sun - Romance/Drama [2002/97 mins]

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

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This one is for cinewest, who keeps promoting this film to little avail. At least now there's two of us. Zhou Yu's Train is one of those films that got a local release here, for whatever reason. I watched it back when I knew nothing about Chinese cinema (I didn't even know about the two Tony Leungs yet, now that was a surprise), though it still held up when I watched it again two years ago.

It's a sweet romance with some added artistic pretences. It has a slight arthouse vibe, though at its core it's really just a romance with a little drama on the side. It's one of those transitional films that heralded in a new era for Chinese cinema, so a must see if you care about chronology.

By modern standards Zhou Yu's Train is a pretty simple romance, enhanced by subtle artistic choices and a slightly convoluted plot.
Visually the film is on par with its peers. That means strong use of color and lighting, some very nice compositions and a couple of attractive tracking shots. Sun has a broad arsenal of visual tricks, but he uses them sparsely and wisely.
It's still a great film, with a strong central romance, solid acting and a pleasant audiovisual finish. It's also an easy film to recommend, even when you're not all that familiar with Chinese cinema

Full review for Zhou Sun's Zhou Yu's Train >>

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#47

Post by Gershwin » November 8th, 2018, 8:25 am

I should finally watch that DVD I picked up during a garage sale.
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#48

Post by Onderhond » November 8th, 2018, 9:17 am

Gershwin wrote:
November 8th, 2018, 8:25 am
I should finally watch that DVD I picked up during a garage sale.
Yeah, looking back at the early 00s, it's pretty crazy to see the kind of films they released on DVD back then. In part it was complete cluelessness (just release some Asian stuff that is relatively cheap), but it was real nice push for people like me :)

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#49

Post by Onderhond » November 9th, 2018, 5:44 am

53. I Belonged to You [Cong Ni De Quan Shi Jie Lu Guo] by Yibai Zhang - Romance/Drama [2016/112 mins]

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

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Yibai Zhang was one of my first major Chinese discoveries. The man was one of the first to start directing modern, urban romances (with some depth) in China and made the genre his own. In a way, it reminds me of what Drake Doremus is doing right now: elevating a genre that is often looked down upon.

I Belonged to You is his latest film and Zhang's style clearly evolved over the years. On the one hand, he refined his attention to visual detail (which makes his latest pure eye candy), on the other hand his films also got a bit more commercial, which ironically makes it a bit harder for international audiences. The Chinese pop songs and overstated caricatures that pop up from time to time are sure to put some people off, but if you're used to them they're actually quite easy to ignore. Brush that aside and underneath you'll find a really great film.

Yibai Zhang is the king of Chinese (urban) romance. He was one of the first to uproot his lead characters from their rural environment, instead granting them a nice, urban setting to thrive in.
Superb use of color and lighting, a celebration of urban landscapes and slick camera work turn his latest into pure eye candy.
This balance between commercial appeal and artistic value is something Zhang needs to refine, but remembering some of the finer moments of I Belonged to You, it's not that hard to give him a pass.

Full review for Yibai Zhang's I Belonged to You >>

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#50

Post by cinewest » November 9th, 2018, 4:19 pm

Cool project onderhond. I like quite a few of the ones you dismissed at the start, and of course Zhou Yu's Train.

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#51

Post by Onderhond » November 9th, 2018, 7:42 pm

Yea, I'm glad I included the ones that didn't make the cut-off. They don't really belong in a tip-list, but they do give a little extra context since most film in the actual list are criminally underseen.

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#52

Post by Onderhond » November 10th, 2018, 8:23 am

52. White Vengeance [Hong Men Yan] by Daniel Lee - Romance/Drama [2011/135 mins]

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

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Daniel Lee followed the typical Hong Kong career path. Start with some local hits (Black Mask is a semi-famous Hong Kong action film), make a terrible film in the US (though truth be told, I haven't seen that one yet), get back to Hong Kong a better director and move down to China because budgets are higher over there.

White Vengeance looks like a big, epic historic war flick, but it isn't. Those films were mostly happening during the first part of the 00s, the latter half of the 00s were more about tactical warfare, which Lee takes to the extremes here. It explains why this one is probably seen by so few people, though the waning interest in Asian cinema probably had something to do with it too. Anyway, Lee handles the big budget like a boss and delivers a fun, stylish and lush looking film.

Battles are not decided by brute force and man power, instead wars are won by strategic decisions and elaborate plans to lure enemies into well-considered traps. Films like Battle of Wits, Red Cliff and Lee's own Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon have been leading the way, White Vengeance is the first film to truly get it right.
I really liked Lee's focus on the tactical side of things. I'm not a big fan of epic battles anyway, so to see things play out on more neutral territory was a lot of fun. The games of Go (Weiqi) in between made it all the more interesting.
A slice of tactical warfare that, at least to me, is a lot more challenging and interesting to follow. The climax is both exciting and emotional, the ending is smart and a small punch in the gut.

Full review for Daniel Lee's White Vengeance >>

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#53

Post by Onderhond » November 11th, 2018, 8:14 am

51. The Assassins [Tong Que Tai] by Linshan Zhao - Drama/History [2012/107 mins]

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

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If you liked (the idea of) White Vengeance, you'll probably like this one too. It's a film that pretty much fits the same profile. Gone are the lavish, endless martial arts fights, instead the film focuses on strategies and wit as warlord Cao Cao tries to unite his country.

It's not helmed by a big name director, but with Chow Yun-fat in the lead and Liu Yifei right besides him it's clear that this a pretty big budget affair. As a film it falls on the more commercial side of cinema, but lush production design and an intriguing plot make this one a solid watch.

While a typical historical epic in styling and grandeur, the film itself plays more like an Yakuza/Triad film. The focus lies primarily on Cao Cao's character and the moves he makes to get himself closer to the goal of uniting the people of his country.
Color comes in the form of accents, often a dress of drape that stands out in between the blues and grays that make up the rest of the screen. The camera work is solid too, the setting are detailed and lavish and the editing spot on
The film looks beautiful, Chow Yun-Fat is superb and the strategic implications of the story are intriguing. There are only a few action scenes and while adequately directed they are clearly just secondary to the the rest of the film.

Full review for Linshan Zhao's The Assassins >>

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#54

Post by Onderhond » November 12th, 2018, 6:32 am

50. Xuan Zang [Da Tang Xuan Zang] by Jianqi Huo - Drama/History [2016/90 mins]

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

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Jianqi Huo on a bigger scale. While the man is best known for his lavish but small scale films, Xuan Zang is quite epic. Somewhat surprisingly, Huo fares very well doing material like this. So well in fact that it was China's Oscar entry for 2016.

The first half is pretty much a road movie, with monk Xuan Zang traveling illegally to India in search of the original Buddhist texts. This is by far the most impressive part. Once in India things get quite religious, but never overbearingly so.

If you're familiar with Hong Kong cinema (or classic Chinese literature for that matter) you're sure to have heard of Journey to the West. As it turns out, Xuan Zang's trek to India is what inspired the original novel (and thus its countless adaptations).
Jianqi Huo has a special talent for framing nature in all its glory and Xuan Zang's journey gives him all the material he needs. While Zang crosses mountains, deserts and forests Huo finds ample opportunities to showcase his trademark lavish shots.
Don't expect a typical rise and fall structure or a voyage filled with setbacks. While Zang's undertaking is handled with the proper respect, Huo avoids almost all negativity, opting for a much more uplifting film.

Full review for Jianqi Huo's Xuan Zang >>

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#55

Post by Onderhond » November 13th, 2018, 6:24 am

49. Secret Fruit [Mi Guo] by Yi-chi Lien - Drama/Romance [2017/99 mins]

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

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Despite being completely unknown in the West, this is one of my most-read reviews of the past year. People in Asia seem to love this one, no doubt because there's also a series attached to it. Something I only found about afterwards, meaning that the film is standalone enough to enjoy without any prior knowledge.

It's a very sweet and cute coming of age film, the kind Japan is usually quite good at. While the drama and romance are pretty basic, the visuals really make this one stand out. The aesthetic qualities aren't that surprising though, with Yi-chi Lien (an up and coming Taiwanese director) directing. That also explains why the film has a slightly more Japanese film to it.

Secret Fruit has all the bearings of a Taiwanese film. Even though directors and actors are quite interchangeable between the three Chinese industries (and crossovers happen regularly), each one has a very distinct style that sets itself apart from the others. Taiwanese cinema tends to be more subdued, less flashy and while not exactly subtle, at least a lot softer in tone.
Quite a few memorable moments are derived from the film's visual prowess and make a lasting impression.
If you don't mind a little trip back to a simpler time (that is of course, if you're 30 or above) Secret Fruit is a stylistic highlight that feels cozy and warm and charms its way from start to finish.

Full review for Yi-chi Lien's Secret Fruit >>

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#56

Post by Onderhond » November 14th, 2018, 6:17 am

48. Love Off the Cuff [Chun Jiao Jiu Zhi Ming] by Ho-cheung Pang - Romance/Drama [2017/121 mins]

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

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Another co-production between China and Hong Kong. This film is probably the must dubious entry in the list, not in the least because the first two episodes in the series were definite (but very atypical) Hong Kong films. Even so, the injection of Chinese capital is one of the things that sets this one apart, so I felt it still deserved its place here.

Ho-Cheung Pang is by far one of the most interesting directors working in Hong Kong today. Isabella and Dream Home are probably the projects that got the most traction outside their home country, but the Love series is no doubt Pang's poster project. This third instalment is a superb film, but it is recommended to watch the first two films first.

While different in atmosphere and execution, Pang's Love films remind me of Richard Linklater's Before series quite a lot. The setup is pretty similar, with a central couple being followed throughout different stages in their lives.
If you haven't seen Puff and Buff already it's probably best to watch them before starting on Cuff, though Cuff really isn't that hard to enjoy when not having watched the earlier instalments. You'll miss some background story and references of course, but Love Off the Cuff is by and large a stand-alone entry that doesn't rely on past events to make its point.
And while the Chinese injection of capital is slightly noticeable for those in the know, there's still enough crude dialogue and comedy left to keep it in line with the two earlier films. Love Off the Cuff is still very much vintage Pang.

Full review for Ho-cheung Pang's Love Off the Cuff >>

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#57

Post by Onderhond » November 15th, 2018, 6:16 am

47. Life Show [Sheng Huo Xiu] by Jianqi Huo - Drama [2002/106 mins]

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

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Another Jianqi Huo film, but this time set in the bowels of one of China's industrializing cities. If you want to crack this list with a film that is closer to the work of Jia, this might not be a bad start.

Huo focuses on a strong female lead and the troubles that cross her path. It's a fairly simple drama, but well acted, nicely shot and not as whiny as some other films.

Life Show lands itself in one of those semi-industrialized Chinese cities. High skyscrapers, deserted buildings, rundown alleys and skeleton construction sites are all part of the scenery. Life Show finds an even smaller biotope within this city, resting its shoulders on the life of a single women, managing a food stand in a small night market, selling duck necks.
Shuangyang, the main character, is actually a rarity in Chinese films. She is a strong, independent and forceful woman, running her business all by herself and bearing the fruits of her labor.
Visually, Life Show is a pretty dark film. Of course, many scenes play at night, but even during the day Huo opts for dark alleys and plays with shadows in almost every scene. Red and green are dominating colors when he wants to lighten up the color palette, making this a typical Chinese product.

Full review for Jianqi Huo's Life Show >>

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#58

Post by cinewest » November 15th, 2018, 8:23 am

This last one you have listed looks potentially interesting to me, and I have an earlier film by the director on my "to see"list

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#59

Post by Onderhond » November 15th, 2018, 8:31 am

Well, Jianqi Huo is one of the mid-famous Chinese directors, mostly due to Postman in the Mountains (a very nice film btw). But like most hypes in the West, the interest in foreign directors is rarely sustainable and once the hype subsides people just forget about them, even though they keep making films that are just as good.

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#60

Post by Onderhond » November 16th, 2018, 6:11 am

46. Electric Shadows [Meng Ying Tong Nian] by Jiang Xiao - Drama/Romance [2004/93 mins]

(81 checks | 1 official lists) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

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Another one of those early deviants that gathered a little international attention. It's a film about film, something film fans always seem to appreciate. Think Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, but with cuter kids and a simpler romance.

It's also a film that plays a clear nostalgia card, usually not something I'm drawn to myself, but Xiao does his best to keep it lively and fresh. The light-heartedness of the film is an asset, at the same time that particular Chinese form of comic overacting pops up from time to time, which needs a little getting used to (it helps if you've seen some Hong Kong comedies, but it's a little different still).

It's a film that evolved from the work of Yimou Zhang, but does show some more modern touches in places. And it's these moments that make Electric Shadows stand out from the rest, even today.
You can think of Electric Shadows as a Chinese alternative to Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, a film that reminisces about the old days, combining drama, romance and a strong love for cinema. The structure and the themes of both films are eerily similar, even bordering on straight-up remake, but the era and setting of Electric Shadows makes for a very different experience.
Electric Shadows is a feel-good film that hits all the important marks. There is a little cruft near the end and some parts could've been streamlined a little better, but overall it's a sweet and endearing film that shows a deep love for cinema.

Full review for Jiang Xiao's Electric Shadows >>

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#61

Post by cinewest » November 16th, 2018, 6:31 am

I liked Electric Shadows well enough, but if I weren't living in China it would have meant a lot less to me, as my taste is more drawn to "arthouse" fare,

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#62

Post by Onderhond » November 16th, 2018, 6:57 am

cinewest wrote:
November 16th, 2018, 6:31 am
I liked Electric Shadows well enough, but if I weren't living in China it would have meant a lot less to me, as my taste is more drawn to "arthouse" fare,
Yeah, noticed that from the suggestions you made in the 1>500<400 topic. Ironically though, in the West a Chinese film like this probably qualifies as arthouse simply because it's Chinese (aka foreign). When people talk funny and little letters appear at the bottom of the screen, that's way too crazy for regular theaters.

More core Chinese arthouse film have an easier time finding their way to the West though, hence my list focusing more on commercial and genre works, although there are definitely some more arthouse-y films following later on.

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#63

Post by Onderhond » November 17th, 2018, 8:22 am

45. Bodyguards and Assassins [Shi Yue Wei Cheng] by Teddy Chan - Action/History [2009/139 mins]

(272 checks | 1 official lists) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

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This film is part of the reason why I put the cut-off at 275 checks. With 272 checks this one could still get listed, somewhat of a necessity really. Not that it's the best film ever, but back in 2009 this project was beyond epic. They rebuilt the old city of Hong Kong as one large, insanely big set piece to get a more authentic feel. It's a big budget blockbuster with an insane cast, plenty of action and the most amazing production design ...

And just 272 checks on ICM. Maybe there is some Chinese ICM-mirror somewhere where the latest Bay and Spielberg films also fail to cross the 275 check barrier, but I'm sure people would raise an eyebrow running into a page like that. Anyway, action and martial arts fans, just watch it. It isn't perfect, but the second hour is one big, crazy action spectacle. There must be an audience for a film like this.

How he did it, I really don't know, but director Teddy Chan raised enough money to completely rebuild the old center of Hong Kong as one insanely large set piece. It's difficult to say whether it really paid off (considering the equally insane amount of money it must have cost), but the result is certainly lavish to behold
The trailers might have you believe otherwise, but the film is really not a full-on action movie and Chan takes his time to ensure the film is more than a simple martial arts film set against historic events.
The whole first part is virtually void of any action and relies on the characters and the drama surrounding their mission. While this is far from boring, it does become a little too melodramatic at times. Once Sun arrives the second part of the film kicks off, shifting gears and playing like one massive action scene.

Full review for Teddy Chan's Bodyguards and Assassins >>

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#64

Post by mjf314 » November 18th, 2018, 8:07 am

Onderhond wrote:
November 17th, 2018, 8:22 am
And just 272 checks on ICM. Maybe there is some Chinese ICM-mirror somewhere where the latest Bay and Spielberg films also fail to cross the 275 check barrier, but I'm sure people would raise an eyebrow running into a page like that. Anyway, action and martial arts fans, just watch it. It isn't perfect, but the second hour is one big, crazy action spectacle. There must be an audience for a film like this.
Spielberg's latest film, Ready Player One, is actually more popular in China than the US. It's rated 8.7 on Douban with 572177 votes, and it's the 27th highest grossing film of all time in China.

Bodyguards and Assassins is popular too, but not as much. It's rated 7.7 with 235407 votes.

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#65

Post by Onderhond » November 18th, 2018, 8:18 am

44. Love in the 1980s [1980 Nian Dai De Ai Qing] by Jianqi Huo - Romance/Drama [2015/105 mins]

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

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By now the name Jianqi Huo should sound familiar, at least I hope so because this is his last entry in the list. It's a film that plays a bit like early Yimou Zhang, but with some more modern touches. The setting is rural though, but the styling feels updated.

So far I'm the only one who checked this film. Availability is a bitch, but nothing here warrants its obscurity. It's a fine film that should be able to speak to a rather wide audience, if they find a way to watch it of course.

In Love in the 1980s, Huo revisits the setting of Postman in the Mountains, though theme-wise it feels more like an early Yimou Zhang film. Set in a rural mountain village, the film explores the rekindled love of two old classmates who are stationed in the same town.
Even though the film is set in a rather poor, non-luxurious environment, it couldn't be further removed from typical poverty porn cinematography. Instead Huo finds great beauty in nature and plays with strong color contrasts to accentuate the beauty of the village and its surroundings.
Since China's political system plays such a large part in the outcome of the romantic relationship that I believe it's fair to stress that message-sensitive viewers will either find the film extremely touching or extremely deplorable, depending on their own beliefs.

Full review for Jianqi Huo's Love in the 1980s >>

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#66

Post by Onderhond » November 18th, 2018, 8:28 am

mjf314 wrote:
November 18th, 2018, 8:07 am
Spielberg's latest film, Ready Player One, is actually more popular in China than the US. It's rated 8.7 on Douban with 572177 votes, and it's the 27th highest grossing film of all time in China.

Bodyguards and Assassins is popular too, but not as much. It's rated 7.7 with 235407 votes.
I'm not really surprised. While the West likes to export its culture and others seems quite receptive to it, importing foreign culture in the West is not that easy. Just ask the Chinese :D

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#67

Post by Onderhond » November 19th, 2018, 6:28 am

43. Green Tea [Lü Cha] by Yuan Zhang - Romance/Mystery [2003/83 mins]

(27 checks | 1 official lists) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

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I messed up my 2-weekly rewatch schedule just to make sure that I could add this one to the list. It's a film I had fond memories of and those still proved to be pretty accurate after I watched it again.

Wen Jiang and Zhao Wei (of Vicky Zhao, if you're more familiar with her Western name) make a great couple, but it's Christopher Doyle's cinematography that makes this film special. Old China is still in there somewhere, but in this film you can see it crumbling before your own eyes.

Yuan Zhang's Green Tea [Lu Cha] is one of the early films that heralded in a new era for Chinese cinema. It contains small leftovers from the Fifth Generation's legacy, but every inch of Green Tea's celluloid foreshadowed that something was brewing.
The camera work is playful, the use of colors inspired. The editing also plays its part, often cutting between angles and providing different color stories within the same scene. It's a neat effect that's a little disorienting at first, but makes a sizeable impact on the overall atmosphere.
The lush cinematography, the quirky and tantalizing soundtrack and the effective mystery, supported by some stellar performances, make for an intriguing and refreshing film that defies expectations. Green Tea is also pretty short and to the point.

Full review for Yuan Zhang's Green Tea >>

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#68

Post by Onderhond » November 20th, 2018, 6:16 am

42. The Sun Also Rises [Tai Yang Zhao Chang Sheng Qi] by Wen Jiang - Mystery/Drama [2007/116 mins]

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

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Wen Jiang is a key figure in China's pivot, both as actor as well as director. I haven't seen Jiang's first two films yet, but The Sun Also Rises is a fine example of a transitional film.

While setting and tone still reference 90s Chinese cinema, there's a quirkiness and playfulness that wasn't there before. It starts off quite normal and predictable, but soon enough Jiang starts toying with the styling and narrative structures of the film, which comes to total fruition during the finale. It's one of those films where every coming minute is better than the previous one.

Even though the first segment of the film is quite dramatic plot-wise, there's a frivolous side to the presentation that's a little difficult to place at first.
It's not a typical Hisaishi score, but it works very well within the confines of the film. It's a quirky selection of music, sometimes grand, sometimes plain weird, but always in sync with the atmosphere of the film.
The combination of rural drama and playful, quirky comedy is a strange one at first and might seems unsavory to the general atmosphere, but slowly the film grounds itself in its own particular rhythm, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper into Jiang's mysterious world.

Full review for Wen Jiang's The Sun Also Rises >>

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#69

Post by Onderhond » November 21st, 2018, 6:20 am

41. Suffocation [Zhixi] by Bingjian Zhang - Mystery/Thriller [2005/86 mins]

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

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It's a real shame there isn't a better version out somewhere, then again it's a small miracle this film even made it to DVD. It's one of the first pure Chinese genre films I ever watched and Bingjian Zhang did a pretty great job.

You Ge does well as the lead, but it's the type of film that lives on mystery and the styling is way more important here. Looks and sounds great, but the DVD transfer is absolute crap so part of the effect is lost, sadly. Still, if you love a stylish mindfuck, this one is a fine bet.

Zhang's first (and only) could be cataloged as a mystery/horror cross-over that aims to confuse rather than scare or surprise.
Visually Suffocation is a very interesting project. The film bathes in beautiful and consistent green/yellow hues, benefits from sharp and strong editing and interesting camera positions. The less than stellar DVD quality and sometimes poor DV quality detract from the overall look though.
Zhang plays a lot with the chronology of the story, making for a somewhat confusing setup. The story gets a little clearer as the film progresses, but right when it all starts to make sense Xiao begins to lose his mind, casting another veil of mystery over the film.

Full review for Bingjian Zhang's Suffocation >>

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#70

Post by Onderhond » November 22nd, 2018, 6:30 am

40. Tracing Shadows [Zhui Ying] by Marco Mak & Francis Ng - Action/Comedy [2009/89 mins]

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

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Fans of 90s Hong Kong martial arts cinema have little reason not to look up this one. It does away with the epicness of films like Hero and Flying Daggers and puts the focus back on action and comedy. Stylistically though, it's a step up from those Hong Kong films.

Mak & Ng are two Hong Kong regulars of course, Ng in particular is one of Hong Kong's most recognizable faces. It's not uncommon to direct and act over there, though Tracing Shadows seems to be a one-off for Ng. A fine blend of China and Hong Kong.

Tracing Shadows is quite clear in its intentions. The first scene features some heavy and agile fighting fun, the second one relies more on comedic relief. The storyline? Something about martial arts masters in exile, lost treasures and roaring revenge.
Acting is pretty decent though nothing out of the ordinary. Chinese comedy is prone to overacting so if you can't handle that you might have some troubles watching this film. Luckily Ng and Wu prove to be strong leads and the rest of the cast also play their roles with conviction.
Mak and Ng gave the film a unique style and flavor while royally quoting older films from the genre. Amusing, fun and quite lovely to look at. Great fun altogether.

Full review for Mak & Ng's Tracing Shadows >>

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#71

Post by Onderhond » November 23rd, 2018, 5:56 am

39. Here, Then [Ci Chu Yu Bi Chu] by Mao Mao - Drama [2012/93 mins]

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

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I wasn't quite sure whether to include this one, but in the end I decided it could use a little push in the back regardless. After all, 14 checks isn't a whole lot. It's definitely more on the arthouse side and people who like the films of Zhange-ke Jia should have little trouble with it.

Styling, structure and (lack of) narrative definitely give the film a more arthousey finish, but the focus on young people growing up in modern rural China is novel and fresh enough for inclusion in this list. It's also one of the easier films to get a hold of, since it had proper international distribution (ie there's a DVD with EN subs out there).

People have been eager to compare Mao Mao's style to Zhang Ke Jia, but I don't really share that opinion. While there are some obvious parallels, Here, Then reminded me more of a Chinese interpretation of Hiroshi Ishikawa's films.
Mao Mao sculpts an image, a feeling that resides in all these characters and defines their actions in some way or another. These kids all lack clear goals and clear motivations to help them enjoy life, instead they just loiter around with a strong air of disillusionment.
Here, Then has a camera that seems to live separately of the characters operating in front of it. While the camera follows a fixed path, it doesn't necessarily match the actions of the characters, meaning things happen completely off-screen from time to time.

Full review for Mao Mao's Here, Then >>

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#72

Post by Onderhond » November 24th, 2018, 8:03 am

38. The Message [Feng Sheng] by Kuo-fu Chen & Qunshu Gao - Thriller [2009/120 mins]

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

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Qunshu Gao is one of the good ones. The Message was quite the calling card, a film that started out quite epic and grand but quickly imploded to become a one-location type affair. And a good one at that.

Kuo-fu Chen isn't too bad of a director either, but his solo projects aren't on the same level as Gao's. As a duo they did a fine job here, lush cinematography, fun and intruiging story and a solid cast make this one worth your while.

Let there be no doubt that Chen and Gao had a lot of money to burn on this project. From the completely overblown intro title sequence to the hyper-detailed cinematography and the stellar cast, money is dripping from just about every pore.
The aim of the government is to try and uncover the Phantom, a master-class spy who keeps the resistance informed. At face level the interrogations are friendly and humane, but with each passing day the darker and more mean-spirited intentions of the government officials come to light.
The Message is visually stunning, smart, atmospheric and even a little tense near the end. It could've done with a better, more subtle soundtrack but as it is the film works fine on all levels, delivering a rich and pleasant time amongst spies tucked away in dark, cold castles.

Full review for Chen & Gao's The Message >>

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#73

Post by Gershwin » November 24th, 2018, 2:02 pm

Here, Then looks interesting indeed.
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#74

Post by Onderhond » November 25th, 2018, 8:29 am

37. Animal World [Dongwu Shijie] by Yan Han - Mystery, Fantasy [2018/132 mins]

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

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Yan Han is quickly making a new for himself by directing slick and attractive genre films. The rest of the world is starting to notice too, because Animal World actually made in onto Netflix, probably making this one of the easiest films to grab. It might have helped that Michael Douglas has a small part, his performance is pretty bad though.

Han loves to dabble in urban fantasy worlds, which probably explains why he's so close to the Japanese. I just finished his previous film (Dream Breaker), which was produced by Sion Sono. Urban fantasy isn't that popular in China yet, making Han a trendsetter.

It seems that Hong Kong's systematic approach to (genre) film making just doesn't mix well with the more unrestrained freedom of Japanese comics. China on the other hand allows for more artistic freedom, which is exactly why Animal World is so much better than those old Hong Kong attempts.
The setup felt a lot like the Liar Game films (another manga-based franchise), with an outrageous, high-stakes game/social experiment conceived to unearth the players' animal instincts and to try and strip away the fabric of society.
If you're looking for something fun, dashing and creative, Animal World won't disappoint. It's a little mad, a little showy and often a bit incoherent, but in the end it's a hell of a ride.

Full review for Yan Han's Animal World >>

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#75

Post by Onderhond » November 26th, 2018, 7:02 am

36. Once Upon a Time in Shanghai [E Zhan] by Ching-Po Wong - Action [2014/96 mins]

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

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This is one of the final Hong-Kong imports on the list. There's a lot of fancy/famous names attached to this project (Jing Wong, Wai-keung Lau, Ching-Po Wong, Jimmy Wong, Woo-ping Yuen, Sammo Hung and Philip Ng), the result is what you'd expect from a crew like that.

Then again, not too many here would know what to expect when seeing these names I guess. Wai-keung Lau is one of the biggest commercial names in Hong Kong, Jing Wong is the Godfather of Chinese commercial cinema, Ching-Po Wong and Jimmy Wong prefer the grittier work and Sammo Hung/Woo-ping Yuen guarantee some prime action. It's modern martial arts genre cinema done right.

So how do you do a remake properly? Well, you get a good director, hire a proficient cinematographer, make sure you have enough acting talent and familiar names to drape across your poster and you keep it familiar enough as to not alienate your core audience. Extra credit for starting off your title with 'Once Upon', meaning you're pretty much set up for success.
Shot entirely in not-quite black and white, the cinematography is one of the highlights of the film. Jimmy Wong (Fuk Sau Che Chi Sei) has become Wong's cinematographer of choice, lending his films the proper visual prowess. The martial arts scenes in particular jump out. They did go a little overboard on the speed-ups, but apart from that the fight sequences are extremely dynamic, complex and hard-hitting
Between the stunning cinematography, the impressive fight scenes and the fast-paced plot it's hard not to like at least some part of Once Upon a Time in Shanghai.

Full review for Ching-Po Wong's Once Upon a Time in Shanghai >>

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#76

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 26th, 2018, 4:15 pm

Onderhond wrote:
November 25th, 2018, 8:29 am
37. Animal World [Dongwu Shijie] by Yan Han - Mystery, Fantasy [2018/132 mins]

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



Yan Han is quickly making a new for himself by directing slick and attractive genre films. The rest of the world is starting to notice too, because Animal World actually made in onto Netflix, probably making this one of the easiest films to grab. It might have helped that Michael Douglas has a small part, his performance is pretty bad though.

Han loves to dabble in urban fantasy worlds, which probably explains why he's so close to the Japanese. I just finished his previous film (Dream Breaker), which was produced by Sion Sono. Urban fantasy isn't that popular in China yet, making Han a trendsetter.
Going to add this to my Netflix queue when home. Looks funs and entertaining.

Lots of others (like the last one) do also, but being ready available on Netflix def helps

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#77

Post by Onderhond » November 26th, 2018, 4:41 pm

Lonewolf2003 wrote:
November 26th, 2018, 4:15 pm
Lots of others (like the last one) do also, but being ready available on Netflix def helps
Yeah, dunno why I didn't add that, but Once Upon a Time in Shanghai might be available on Netflix too. I watched it there first, but that was some time ago. Also countries and volatile catalogues make it hard to know whether it's available in your region, but at least it's been in their library.

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#78

Post by Lonewolf2003 » November 26th, 2018, 7:08 pm

Well apparently even Dutch and Belgian Netflix differ. Cause both aren't on here (anymore) :(

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#79

Post by Onderhond » November 26th, 2018, 7:33 pm

Animal World is quite recent, so it might still arrive. Once Upon was a few years ago, so that one is probably gone.

But yeah, they're quite different.

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#80

Post by Onderhond » November 27th, 2018, 6:28 am

35. The Brink [Kuang Shou] by Jonathan Li - Crime/Thriller [2017/101 mins]

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

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Jonathan Li worked with some of the best in the business, then went back to the Mainland to make his own film. The Brink bears are the markings of a typical Hong Kong crime/action flick, except that it's set in Mainland China.

The film is produced by Pou-Soi Cheang, meaning things get a little rougher. Some superb action scenes, good acting and a few visual highlights make this is standout thriller. Again, not the most Chinesey of films, but a good stepping stone to the real thing.

While this is Jonathan Li's first feature as a director, he has amassed an impressive list of second unit/assistant director credits in the past 15 years or so, working together with some of Hong Kong's greatest directors. Ranging from Tsui Hark, Johnnie To and Wai-Keung Lau to, who would've guessed, Pou-Soi Cheang
Smart and evocative camera angles, very strong use of color and lighting and snappy editing make for a film that looks stylish and cool. On top of that, the action choreography is very creative (even adding some underwater scenes) and the setting is gritty, dirty yet still appealing.
If you're a fan of Pou-Soi Cheang's earlier work, this is one of the easiest recommendations to make. It's not quite as spectacular as Dog Bite Dog or Shamo, but it comes pretty damn close.

Full review for Jonathan Li's The Brink >>

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