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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

#81

Post by Onderhond » November 28th, 2018, 6:36 am

34. Cow [Dou Niu] by Hu Guan - Drama/Comedy [2009/105 mins]

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

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You guys should already know Guan's Cow because I'm not the first to promote this film here. Monty has been pushing this one, but with little result. That's a shame because Cow really is something different.

Like most of Guan's films that is. He's one of those directors that didn't move to the city to make more modern cinema, but is doing his thing in the countryside. The setting is closer to the 90s work of Yimou Zhang, but the look and genre elements are way more modern.

Central to the film is the titular cow, a huge prize beast (apparently with Dutch roots) close to becoming a god in a small Chinese mountain village. Sadly, the little village is overrun by the Japanese which marks the start of an epic journey for the imported animal, although for most of the time it seems largely unaware of all the commotion happening around it. If not for Black Sheep, it could've won the Oscar for most apathetic film character ever.
There's a strange balance of genres at play, floating somewhere between comedy, drama and war, never really settling down on either side.
Visually Cow is a very accomplished film. The gray/blue filter used throughout the film gives it a grim and harsh look, often in sharp contrast with the funkier and even flashy camera work used in certain scenes. Extreme close-ups or wide-lens frog perspectives underline its less than serious overtones.

Full review for Hu Guan's Cow >>

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#82

Post by Onderhond » November 29th, 2018, 6:15 am

33. Tai Chi Hero by Stephen Fung - Action/Steampunk [2012/100 mins]

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

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This is the way to do martial arts revivals. Copy all the good stuff from the 90s films and throw in some kick-ass steampunk. It's an odd combination but when the money and the talent are there, the result is pretty damn awesome.

Tai Chi Hero is the sequel to Tai Chi Zero (slightly better, so that's a bit of a list spoiler right there) and was originally part of a trilogy, but that third film never materialized. These two chapters were released very close to each other, sadly the audience didn't really seem to care for the series. It's a real shame, because I really loved these two films.

While Hero features less in-your-face gimmickry, it has the advantage that it can skip all the introductions and dive right into the action. Hero might be a bit more traditional in style, it makes up for that with a selection of awesome action scenes and stunning set pieces.
Fung used his budget to create more steampunk machinery and bigger and more detailed set pieces. As a result the film looks stunning, featuring slick special effects, great sequences of destruction and impeccable looking wire-fu fights.
Fung created a perfect sequel that leaves you begging for the final act. If you liked Zero then I'm quite sure this film won't disappoint you in the least.

Full review for Stephen Fung's Tai Chi Hero >>

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#83

Post by Onderhond » November 30th, 2018, 5:52 am

32. Lost Indulgence [Mi Guo] by Yibai Zhang - Drama [2011/100 mins]

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

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One of Yibai Zhang's more dramatic works. He's usually a pretty devoted romance director, this time around though the romance takes a back seat (though it's still there). Instead we get more of a Jia feeling here: the juxtaposition of rural and industrial China.

Karen Mok is excellent in the lead, but that's no surprise. There's also a nice little cameo for Eric Tsang, meaning there is some HK import going on here, but that doesn't extend beyond the actors. It's just beautiful, intruiging and captivating Chinese drama that deserves more credits.

With Lost Indulgence Yibai travels to the Yang-Tse river and immediately enters the territory of fellow filmmaker Zhang Ke Jia, showing China as a mixture of old and new in a bleak, industrialized yet impressive landscape. But visually Zhang takes a different direction that is more reminiscent of Kar-wai's work, with rather dreamy camera work and many shots where parts are hidden behind the scenery.
Visually the film is impressive. Thumbs up for the strong, dreamy camera work and some absolutely stellar shots of the surroundings. Nature and industry are often opposed in films but Zhang finds beauty in the combination of both. The best shots of the film are those of the characters set to their immense surroundings. Use of color is strong as ever but then again, this is a Chinese film.
The film remains somewhat vague, story-wise and character-wise, but manages to turn that into a positive feat. It is hard to get a good grip on the elements at play between the different characters but at the same time it all feels very natural and spontaneous.

Full review for Yibai Zhang's Lost Indulgence >>

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#84

Post by Onderhond » November 30th, 2018, 6:00 am

And with 31 more title to go, it means we're exactly halfway through the list! To add a little extra context, we're also on the brink of my personal top 400.

Somewhat ironically December is also the month where I revise my entire Top 500 (though I might have to go bigger this year), so by the time this list will finish it will actually be superseded by a newer one. Doesn't really matter though, it's not so much about the positions as it is about discovery. Ah well, such is the transience of nature.

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#85

Post by Onderhond » December 1st, 2018, 7:52 am

31. Eternal Moment [Jiang Ai] by Yibai Zhang - Romance [2011/108 mins]

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

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Theoretically this is not a film for Western audiences. Based on an older Chinese soap opera and offering three alternative futures of the main characters' lives, it's a film that probably works better knowing the source material. But once you're familiar with the concept of the film it turns out it works well enough on its own.

I mentioned Yibai Zhang a couple of times already, so it shouldn't be surprised this is a solid, touching and well-executed romance. I just received the Blu-Ray this week, but apparently you can also just watch the entire thing on YouTube. That's probably the easier option (and not an uncommon one either if you're interested in Chinese cinema).

The film offers three alternative visions of Wen Hui and Yang Zheng's future, though it must be said none are as romantic as the title/genre might suggest. While still firmly grounded in the roots of commercial cinema, Eternal Moment offers a more mature look on love and relationships, staying clear from fluff and sentimentality.
The first is easily my favorite short, a lovely example of how misguided pride can create a schism between two lifetime partners, presented in a very modern and visually pleasing way.
Yibai Zhang is definitely one of the best hidden gems of Chinese cinema, if you can stomach romances you should definitely give his film the benefit of the doubt.

Full review for Yibai Zhang's Eternal Moment >>

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#86

Post by Onderhond » December 2nd, 2018, 8:35 am

30. Mr. Six [Lao Poa Er] by Hu Guan - Crime [2015/134 mins]

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

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More Hu Guan. This time he's moving to the city, away from his rural roots. The clash between young and old in China's rapidly growing and modernizing cities lies at the core of the film, but on top of that Guan built a fun, slick and stylish genre film. Also fun to see Xiaogang Feng (an important director in China's commercial rise) in front of the camera.

Like most Chinese directors who tend to wander off the beaten path, Guan seems to have trouble building up a critical mass of admirers oversees. He will probably have to prove his worth with each new film he directs
Guan serves a strong mix of gritty, oldskool Chinese life with slick, modern cinematographic touches. It's a weird melange at times, but Guan has an excellent track record of pulling it off.
Guan's latest takes a little time before it hits full speed, but once everything is set up there is plenty to enjoy. The film looks beautiful, the acting is superb and while thematically a little easy the execution and blend of genres makes sure it never becomes too dull or feels too familiar.

Full review for Hu Guan's Mr. Six >>

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#87

Post by Onderhond » December 3rd, 2018, 6:20 am

29. Flavors of Youth [Si Shi Qing Chun] by Haoling Li, Yoshitaka Takeuchi & Xiaoxing Yi - Romance/Drama [2018/74 mins]

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A Chinese/Japanese collaboration, they're starting to happen more and more. This time around it was Li that was so taken with Shinkai's 5 Centimers per Second that she went to his production house and asked if she could make a film there. Flavors of Youth is the result.

It's a three-part anthology film, each short helmed by a different director but still very consistent in style and execution. Because of all the Shinkai talk people may have been expecting a little too much, but it's a very nice, sweet and comfortable film. It's also available on Netflix (or at least it should be), so this is another easy grab.

Shinkai definitely served as inspiration and as an economic booster to get Li's project off the ground, but the film itself it actually quite different from Shinkai's work. Take this to heart, because it is important to set your expectations straight when entering the film.
Flavors of Youth reminded me more of About Love, a Pan-Asian live action anthology that also served three delicate stories with melancholic views of youth, tradition and appreciation for the smaller things in life. While About Love is a bit more focused on romance, Flavors of Youth is more centered around characters growing up.
While anthologies are usually a good excuse for experimention and variation, Flavors of Youth takes a different approach and tells three separate stories that make up one bigger, consistent whole.

Full review for Li, Takechi & Xiaoxing's Flavors of Youth >>

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#88

Post by Onderhond » December 4th, 2018, 6:25 am

28. But Always [Yi Sheng Yi Shi] by Snow Zou - Romance [2014/106 mins]

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China loves its romances troubled. Two characters that are clearly destined to be together, but are kept apart by fate. It's not a very original premise, but when it looks this good who cares. Snow Zou is one of the few female directors in this list, thuogh having seen one other film by her I'm not so sure if she's the essential ingredient that makes this one work. Still, this is a great and stunning-looking romance.

Don't watch But Always if you're looking for something mind-blowingly original. At its core, the film is a very simple romance about two people who seem fated to be together, but keep missing the change to hook up because of circumstances.
While plot-wise But Always may be pretty derivative, the cinematography and art direction provide the film with the necessary flair. There's hardly a scene where the lighting doesn't play at least some part in the film's visual appeal. Coupled with blisteringly beautiful colors and dreamy, almost weightless camera work it makes for a stunning visual presentation.
Personally I liked the ending, but if you can't stomach the Chinese running with one of the more defining events in recent US history than you might want to give this one a pass.

Full review for Snow Zou's But Always >>

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#89

Post by Onderhond » December 5th, 2018, 6:28 am

27. Fist & Faith by Jiang Zhuoyuan - Action/Comedy [2017/98 mins]

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A film like Fist & Faith should have no trouble finding an audience oversees. It's fun, geeky and entertaining, not quite unlike the Crows Zero films. But those are Japanese and backed by Miike of course, while Zhouyuan is a young Chinese film maker. In the end it's still very much about branding rather than actual quality.

If you'd like to see how China does more comicbook-like films (though clearly more manga than US comics), you should give this one a try. If you can find it that is.

The film finds itself somewhere stranded in between Crows Zero, Cromartie High and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, but still comes out its very own thing. The typical Japanese school gangs combined with the comic book aesthetic and the geeky comedy are a triple first for Chinese cinema.
Visually there's a lot happening here and most of it is pretty neat. Even the less-accomplished CG shots carry a clear aesthetic and add to the overall atmosphere of the film. The comic book effects are very cool, the camera work is fun and creative and the use of color is bold and extravagant.
The first half of Fist & Faith is pretty casual. Bits of comedy, comic book silliness and romance brighten up a pretty simple plot. Halfway through it turns dark though and the second half of the film is a lot harsher. Things escalate quickly and characters end up dead, yet somehow the film manages to maintain its air of entertainment.

Full review for Jiang Zhuoyuan's Fist & Faith >>

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#90

Post by Onderhond » December 6th, 2018, 6:19 am

26. Reign of Assassins [Jianyu] by Chao-bin Su & John Woo - Action [2010/117 mins]

(270 checks | 1 official list) - Sources: IMDb - ICM

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Sometimes cited as a pure John Woo flick, but his name is there more as mentor than actual director. It's not uncommon in Hong Kong that senior directors launch younger names like this, I guess they flew over Woo to raise the level of martial arts cinema in China.

It's not a wildly original or surprising film, but if you love martial arts cinema it's a must see. Michelle Yeoh is outstanding, the film looks absolutely gorgeous and the fight sequences are riveting. I was a bit surprising I was able to add it to this list here, I figured this was a film that could've crossed that 275 barrier with its eyes closed.

a prime example of wuxia wizardry with a serious injection of old-fashioned martial arts genre fun. The result is a nice blend of old and modern which looks stunning and doesn't leave you any chance to become bored.
All the fight scenes are a joy to behold and even the more toned-down and dramatic scenes are exquisitely photographed.
I couldn't help but feel a little awed by Michelle Yeoh's performance. She's almost 50 but still kicks serious ass on screen. Her performance is elegant, powerful and stoic, but her moves are still fluent and agile.

Full review for Su & Woo's Reign of Assassins >>

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#91

Post by Onderhond » December 7th, 2018, 8:22 am

25. Monk Comes Down the Mountain [Dao Shi Xia Shan] by Kaige Chen - Comedy/Action [2015/123 mins]

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Kaige Chen is a big name. He's one of the old Chinese crew, though unlike Zhang he had some trouble reinventing himself. He kind of killed his international career when he released The Promise, which is a shame because nowadays he's doing a lot better.

Monk Comes Down the Mountain is a smug, fun and pleasant film. It's definitely more on the commercial side of things, but when these big-name directors can play around with big budgets you at least know your eyes will have plenty to feast on. Probably a little too self-aware for some, but comedy/martial arts fans will find plenty to enjoy here.

It's not quite 90s martial arts, not quite 00s martial arts, not quite traditional action film. It's a strange mix of influences that presents itself with a rather smug smile on its face. As if the movie itself is in on the joke, seemingly uncaring of its silly posterior, but at the same time doing its utmost best to be as cool, awesome and rewarding as possible.
The film looks absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. The martial arts sequences are stylish, the setting looks warm, inviting and colorful and the décors are lush and detailed.
A lot of the film's weight lies on the shoulders of Baoqiang Wang. Not because he has such a complex character, Anxia is little more than an excuse to set some gears in motion, but because he somewhat represents the smugness of the film. Wang plays the gullible fool, balancing his character between cutely endearing and impossibly annoying.

Full review for Kaige Chen's Monk Comes Down the Mountain >>

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#92

Post by Onderhond » December 8th, 2018, 7:54 am

24. Crosscurrent [Chang Jiang Tu] by Yang Chao - Drama [2016/116 mins]

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

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A former Un Certain Regard winner. Even that isn't enough to get people to take notice it seems. The film made some waves upon release but it's been quiet since. A shame because there's a strong arthouse vibe here that might make it in fact easier for a film like this to get noticed internationally.

It's a borderline entry for the list, but the strong focus on styling and atmosphere is what pulled me over the line. If you feel this list is too occupied with romances, action films and comedies, this might be the one you'd want to try.

The opening credits of Crosscurrent start with a total of 25 (!) producers, divided into executive, associate, co and plain categories, not something you see very often when watching an arthouse film. Don't worry though, these producers are just there for financial and/or prestigious reasons, butting in and demanding something commercially viable clearly wasn't on their agenda.
Chao aims for a moody, poetic yet downbeat atmosphere. Symbolism and poetry take center stage, with the Yangtze river forming the perfect setting for a sullen trip into the very heart of China. Chao still finds a lot beauty in all of it though, so it's anything but a depressive journey, just not a very merry one.
As the film progresses and Chun travels deeper inland, the film becomes weirder and more abstract. If you're trying to cling to a narrative this will become a problem, since you'll be increasingly grasping at straws. If you manage to let yourself be swept away by the film's atmospheric tides though, it feels like the film could just go on forever.

Full review for Yang Chao's Crosscurrent >>

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#93

Post by Onderhond » December 9th, 2018, 8:41 am

23. Timeless Love [Shi Guang Lian Ren] by Shen Dong - Romance/Fantasy [2013/89 mins]

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Another one of those crazy films that is a little hard to explain. It's a mix of styles, genres and influences that are thrown together without any regard for subtlety. It's a bit of a mess, but a great mess that feels like something novel. Hard to get your hands on though.

Story-wise it's a tribute to Hollywood's Somewhere in Time. Meanwhile the film is executed like a classic Chinese crime/drama (think Zi Hudie, Feng Sheng or Qiu Xi) and mixed together like a modern Chinese romance. Due to this clash of classical and modern elements it's probably not all that weird that Baz Luhrmann's name flashed through my mind more than once.
The combination of drama, fantasy and romance is hardly subtle, but Dong compensates with a self-assured air that rubs off on everything he touches. You can call it kitsch if you want (and it would be hard to contest), but at least this is kitsch done right (again, the Luhrmann flashbacks)
Dong makes no effort whatsoever to balance the different genres and styles to create a homogeneous package, instead he sets out to make every aspect of the film the best in its kind.

Full review for Shen Dong's Timeless Love >>

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#94

Post by Onderhond » December 10th, 2018, 6:27 am

22. The Continent [Hou Hui Wu Qi] by Han Han - Comedy/Drama [2014/105 mins]

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A nice blend of drama, road movie and some darker comedy. Han Han is one of those people who likes to do everything himself and clearly he has the talent to pull it off. The Continent has a slightly more Taiwanese vibe going for it, so if you like Taiwan cinema and are looking for a way to break into China, this is a pretty good bet.

Han Han is somewhat of a renaissance man. He's only 35 years old, but he's already writing, acting and directing. That is, besides being a novelist, rally driver and singer. His collected body of (film-related) work isn't very comprehensive yet, but he's only been at it for 3 years and within that time he proved himself a man of many talents who is willing to invest in all of them. For The Continent, he wrote the screenplay, wrote the lyrics for one of the songs on the soundtrack and helmed the film as a director. That's quite a lot of responsibility for a youngster. Then again, if it turns out as well as this film did, you instantly leave a mark.
At the core of the film lies a simply road movie, following two lifelong friends driving from the east to the west of China. It's a classic setup, somewhat episodic with characters joining and leaving again at regular intervals. What sets The Continent apart from similar films is its dry and deadpan sense of humor. It's not even all that subtle, deep or highbrow, but there's a slightly darkish layer or comedy here that you don't find that often in Chinese cinema. It's not quite Solondz or Payne, but it resides in that same corner.
Fans will be happy to hear that Zhangke Jia picked up a small role too. Seeing Jia act is rare, so don't miss the opportunity.

Full review for Han Han's The Continent >>

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#95

Post by Onderhond » December 11th, 2018, 6:28 am

21. One Night Only [Tian Liang Zhi Qian] by Matt Chung-tien Wu - Crime/Romance [2016/90 mins]

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

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We've had a couple of Hong Kong - China crossovers already, this time we see someone from Taiwan making the move to the Mainland. Matt Wu is a young Chinese talent who started out as an actor, but is also willing to prove himself behind the camera. And with a little help from his friends (Leste Chen is producing and Charlie Lam handled cinematography) that turned out pretty great.

It's not the most focused film, somewhat crudely crossing through several genres, but that's part of the charm of a young director. What this film lacks in balance, it gives back in sheer enthusiasm and vigor.

he got a little help from seasoned Taiwanese director Leste Chen (who took on the role of producer for One Night Only), but the film bears all the signs of a young, talented director eager to leave behind something he can call his own.
The only thing One Night Only lacks is focus, but that's somewhat characteristic for a film made by an eager, first-time director. It's almost impossible to pin a genre on One Night Only, with influences ranging from Hong Kong crime cinema to Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 to a million things in between. You may be put off by this, but it does give the film a certain vitality that is difficult to find in the films of seasoned directors.
Cinematographer Charlie Lam did a terrific job, using extremely vibrant colors, graceful camera work and some amazing settings to give the film heaps of flair. The film is visually intense, not a single moment goes by without something cinematographically interesting happening on screen.

Full review for Matt Chung-tien Wu's One Night Only >>

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#96

Post by Onderhond » December 12th, 2018, 6:21 am

20. The Chrysalis by Chu-ji Qiu - Mystery/Thriller [2012/94 mins]

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

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Top 20! While traditionally reserved for less obscure film, we won't be having none of that. 3 checks and the next one will be even worse. The Chrysalis is a simple genre film, but executed to perfection. If all you care about is plot and originality this probably won't be for you, but if you can enjoy the finer details of genre cinema then there's a lot to love here. It's also a nice introduction to Sandrine Pinna, a French/Taiwanese actress that deserves better than just local stardom.

A mystery like this traditionally relies on strong audiovisual impulses to get its atmosphere across and Chu-ji Qiu has his bases covered. The Chrysalis successfully blends more traditional shots with modern editing and some great visual touch-ups. The film looks beautiful throughout, sporting amazing imagery and superb settings
The second part of the film is reserved for twists and revelations and while they are skillfully executed (warning: go in fresh and don't let yourself be spoiled by trailers) they become a bit too explanatory. By the end of the film there is no stone left unturned, with all the mystery gone from the film.
The Chrysalis is pure genre cinema. It operates on textbook mechanics and follows an all too familiar path, but the execution is flawless while Chu-ji Qiu demonstrates his skills as a director. The result is a tense, mysterious and stunning looking film that may reveal a few too many of its secrets, but does so in a very slick and stylish way.

Full review for Chu-ji Qiu's The Chrysalis >>

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#97

Post by Onderhond » December 13th, 2018, 8:07 am

19. Lips and Soul [Chun Chun Yu Dong] by Su Lun - Comedy [2013/90 mins]

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

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Lips and Souls plays a bit like Tetsuya Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls. A fun, quirky and lighthearted comedy that stands out with its bright and colorful visuals. Apparently it's problematic that it's not a Japanese film though, because while Nakashima turned out to become a niche favorite, Su Lun's Lips and Soul got stuck on 2 measily checks.

The whole setup of Lips and Soul is quite similar to Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls, with two very different girls hooking up to share the rent of an apartment. One girl is the sweet and caring lolita type, the other one is rawer, edgier and more rebellious.
Some extra drama is added in the form of dying grandmothers, annoying boyfriends and bad parent relationships. But nothing too depressing or serious, the light-hearted atmosphere prevails and Lun keeps the film wilfully entertaining.
Lips and Soul is an extremely visual experience. Lun makes use of every trick up his sleeve, relying on slick editing, agile camera work, great use of color and meticulously styled and detailed settings to create a warm, cosy and pleasant atmosphere.

Full review for Su Lun's Lips and Soul >>

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#98

Post by Onderhond » December 14th, 2018, 8:34 am

18. No Man's Land [Wu Ren Qu] by Hao Ning - Thriller/Comedy [2013/118 mins]

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The Chinese desert film, it's a bit like the Japanese island film. A geographical niche that resides within a country and draws from its setting. While China is a big country, you don't see too many Chinese films set in the desert. Probably because it's not the easiest place to shoot films.

Rundown vehicles and town strong winds and a rugged landscape are the ideal ingredients for a film that holds the middle between the Coens and Stone's U-Turn. A fun, grittly little film that starts off as a dark comedy and turns thriller around the halfway point.

The first half of No Man's Land reminded me a lot of Oliver Stone's U Turn. A young, dapper-looking guy enters a desert, meets up with a bunch of local weirdos and gets beaten up every turn he takes. Pan Xiao's transformation between the beginning and ending of the film is pretty drastic, but where U Turn is a fully fledged dark comedy, the atmosphere in No Man's Land becomes a bit grimmer halfway through
The work of cinematographer Jie Du should not be underestimated. Sharp contrast, a dirty sepia filter and superb camera angles combine into a visually lush film.
There's a whole lot of U Turn in here, a bit of Coens maybe, a dash of Western flavour and topped off with plenty of Chinese touches. It may sound like a weird mix, but Hao Ning proves himself a great director able to come up with a delightful and superbly executed genre film

Full review for Hao Ning's No Man's Land >>

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#99

Post by Onderhond » December 15th, 2018, 8:58 am

17. Tai Chi Zero by Stephen Fung - Action/Steampunk [2012/98 mins]

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If you've been paying attention, you knew this one was coming. Fung's martial arts/steampunk blend is a match made in heaven, sadly the trilogy never truly materialized and we're stuck with just two episodes. The first one is the most novel, but that's normal when wanting to do three films in a row. If you love yourself some martial arts, you can do little wrong with this one.

Tai Chi Zero combines the lighthearted banter of the popular 90s martial arts films (Green Snake) with a more modern video game/comic aesthetic and a lovely injection of steampunk.
The film assembles an interesting mix of well-known actors and trained athletes to bring the story to life. Between names like Tony Leung Ka Fai and Angelababy in the bigger parts and Andrew Lau and Shu Qi in quick cameos, Fung still finds plenty of room to cast some true medal-winning martial artists
Maybe even more notable are the game and comic book-like additions that pop up left and right. Health meters, location indicators, KO signs, special move trackers ... add some animated sequences, mini biographies whenever a cameo flashes by and some slick and modern camera work and you have a film that plays like a visual rush.


Full review for Stephen Fung's Tai Chi Zero >>

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#100

Post by Onderhond » December 16th, 2018, 10:15 am

16. Love Speaks [Yi Wai De Lian Ai Shi Guang] by Li Zhi - Romance [2013/95 mins]

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Jaycee Chan, Jackie's son, is actually a pretty good indication of quality. Not the best actor around, but he definitely knows to pick his projects. Love Speaks is a very simple romance film, but executed to perfection. It does help that Amber Kuo is there opposite of Chan of course. Not a film that's going to convince people who dislike romances, but otherwise a very sweet and warm film.

A little warning upfront: Love Speaks is a pretty straight-up romance film. There is no surprise ending, no genre benders, no robots or zombies to hide behind when you admit to liking this film. Instead it's strung together by a bunch of genre clichés and conventions. Like any good genre film though, it's not about originality or surprise, but about the way it is executed.
Once Zhi sends his duo out into the countryside the atmosphere makes a complete u-turn. Sunny blues and green wash over the film, creating an almost paradise-like setting for love to flourish. Beautiful composition, superb use of lightening and absolutely stunning locations do the rest.
Zhi manages to keep his ending rather tight, he doesn't dwell too long on sentimentality and delivers a warm, heartfelt and surprisingly down to earth finale. Mission accomplished.

Full review for Li Zhi's Love Speaks >>

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#101

Post by Onderhond » December 17th, 2018, 6:16 am

15. The Go Master [Wu Qingyuan] by Zhuangzhuang Tian - Drama [2006/104 mins]

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

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And we have another official check! Not too surprising since this was directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian and falls into the more arthouse-leaning portion of the list. Even then, it's a check from the Asian Cinema Guide, a list not of merrit but merely one of name calling.

It's a shame people forgot about Tian though, his work is pretty unique and Wu Qingyuan isn't any different. Go isn't the most popular sport in the West of course, but that shouldn't hold people back from watching this one.

Go isn't the most exciting of games, but it is a perfect embodiment of some very typical Asian mental models and ideals. There's the obvious contrast between the simplicity of the rules and the complexity of the actual game (it is said that no two games of Go have ever been the same), then there is the tranquil, almost spiritual disposition of its players, almost in trance and sometimes stretching out a game over multiple days.
There's quite some jumping around in time, but that's to be expected from a biopic. Those expecting a rare insight in Qingyuan's private life will be left disappointed though, as the film's subject remains quite vague and enigmatic throughout.
Zhuangzhuang Tian may not have made the most coherent biopic here, but when it comes to capturing a person as a whole he did a splendid job. The Go Master is a rather slow and moody film, but there's beauty pouring from its seams.

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#102

Post by Onderhond » December 18th, 2018, 6:28 am

14. Springtime in a Small Town [Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun] by Zhuangzhuang Tian - Drama [2002/116 mins]

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

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3 official lists, that's definitely a high score. Not just any random list either, Rosenbaum vouched for this one, so you know you're really deep into arthouse territory. I probably shouldn't have included this, but because the film has such a beautiful way of handling sound I figured it wouldn't hurt too much. With a strong focus on style and stylistically induced atmosphere, I feel this is different enough from the typical Chinese arthouse scene to have earned its place here.

I feel Springtime in a Small Town is the type of film that reflects what you (as a viewer) bring into it. While checking out online reviews I've seen many people refer to it as a depressing and frustrating experience. Even though personally I can't relate, it's not too hard to see where this critique is coming from.
At first glance there's only a pretty simple yet beautiful combination of ambient piano music running underneath the entire film. But if you check back you'll notice many scenes don't feature any actual music at all. Still, the soundtrack lingers and seems to sustain itself even during the scenes that have no additional musical support. Strange indeed, but very entrancing and absolutely magical.
It's quite long for such a slow-paced film, but the sublime soundtrack and the elegant visuals are more than enough to entrance you into the simple dilemma that lies at the core. Springtime in a Small Town is a stunning, subtle and elegant experience that serves as a perfect introduction to Tian's body of work.
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#103

Post by Lonewolf2003 » December 18th, 2018, 4:15 pm

Is that a remake of the Chinese classic?

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#104

Post by Onderhond » December 18th, 2018, 4:18 pm

Lonewolf2003 wrote:
December 18th, 2018, 4:15 pm
Is that a remake of the Chinese classic?
Yups, though I can't imagine the two being too similar (beyond plot/characters maybe). The subtlety on display here is something I haven't seen in classic cinema yet (scores in particular).

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#105

Post by Onderhond » December 19th, 2018, 6:36 am

13. Spring Subway [Kaiwang Chuntian De Ditie] by Yibai Zhang - Drama/Romance [2002/93 mins]

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

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Yibai Zhang's first film and by far his best one. It's a little painful to see how underseen a film like this is, because making a modern romance/drama like this in China back in 2002 was something quite novel. It's not as grand as Kar-Wai Wong's films, but fans of his work probably should give this one a chance.

Spring Subway is a film floating in between the realms of arthouse and mainstream cinema. It's also nested somewhere between Chinese and HK cinema, so maybe it's this duality that's keeping the film from finding its target audience.
Slowly though, the relationship between the two changes. Lies enter their relationship, and even though they are always just inches away from clearing the skies between them, small and insignificant details prevent them from levelling with each other. Small things grow bigger and slowly the gap becomes hard to bridge. These key moments are often shown through daydream-like sequences or voice-overs, underlining the difference between what is being said, what is thought and how that affects their relationship.
The camera work itself is impeccable, stylish and almost dreamy. The score is equally nice, with traditional Chinese sounds and instruments mixed in with a more contemporary sound, yet still in line with the romantic atmosphere of the film. It's not a score that begs for attention, but it surfaces at just the right times in just the right places.

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#106

Post by Onderhond » December 20th, 2018, 6:33 am

12. First Time [Di Yi Ci] by Yan Han - Romance/Drama [2012/102 mins]

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

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Yan Han's first film was quite the success. Together with cinematographer Charlie Lam and lead actress Angelababy (not the most catchy pseudonym, but with looks like that it doesn't really matter) he made a fine blend of drama and romance. A perfect fit for this list, a film that I feel would probably appeal to people who like Crazy Rich Asians (though I still need to see that one) even though it lacks the obvious "Americans made this film with Chinese people" factor.

If you know that the cinematography is handled by Charlie Lam (Isabella) you know that you can expect a looker, but Lam really outdid himself with this film. The attention to detail is stupendous. The warmth and vibrancy of the colors is absolutely stunning, the camera work equally wonderful and the overall effect is just baffling. Add to that some lovely visual effects (a lot of hand-drawn animations are blended into the live-action footage, to great effect) and you have one of the best-looking films of 2012.
If you think the first half hour is a little too sentimental to your taste, persevere for a little while longer and you'll find out that not everything is as it seems. While seen in its entirety First Time is clearly a full-blown romance film, but it also has a more dramatic edge to it than you might suspect at first.
First Time is a superb example of how to do romance right, without necessarily ending up in arthouse territory. Yan made a very sweet film, added the right amount of drama and made sure that the visuals alone could carry the film. While a very close neighbor to the current Taiwanese wave, First Time is a typical mainland China film that could do a lot of good to the image of Chinese cinema for a broader range of film fans.

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#107

Post by Lonewolf2003 » December 20th, 2018, 3:32 pm

The amount of romance movies on this list might have been the biggest surprise. I have to adjust my image of you ;)

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#108

Post by Onderhond » December 20th, 2018, 7:27 pm

Don't forget that Hong Kong's biggest and most well-regarded film is a romance (In the Mood for Love). I probably could've disguised some as drama, but didn't feel like upholding any kind of image. It is what it is :)

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#109

Post by Onderhond » December 21st, 2018, 8:05 am

11. Legend of the Demon Cat [Kukai] by Kaige Chen - Fantasy/Mystery [2017/129 mins]

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

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Kaige Chen's latest feels a bit like revenge. Revenge for The Promise, which totally tanked and left him behind while other older Chinese directors were making a solid transition to epic commercial cinema. Legend of the Demon Cat is the film The Promise should've been ... and then some.

It's very much a genre effort though, so people expecting something with a little depth or meaning are out of luck. This film is all about the majestic settings, lush cinematography and wild fantasy. I easily prefer this Chen over the old one.

A lot has changed since Kaige Chen's first couple of films. Depending on who you talk to, he either worked himself up from the ground to become one of the biggest names in Chinese cinema, or he slipped from critical arthouse darling to soulless, commercial apostate. I'm firmly in the first camp, then again I'm not a very big fan of 80s and early 90s Chinese cinema. Ever since Chen turned full-on genre though, I've found his films a lot easier to stomach and a lot more enjoyable than before.
There's still a bunch here, but in comparison with other modern Chinese blockbusters the film is basically CG-free. A lot of it is done using more traditional techniques and it looks almost incomprehensibly lush from start to finish. The camera floats through the sets, the colors just burst from the screen, the framing is absolutely exquisite. It's been a while since I've seen a Chinese film this stunning and it's a great reminder of how capable they actually are if they stay away from the pixels.
While Legend of the Demon Cat is set up as a murder mystery, the film isn't all that occupied with building up the mystery and tension. The story acts more like a simple framework that guides the characters from one lush set piece to the other. It's hardly a spoiler that once again the big reveal centers around a couple of tragic lovers, so it's best not to go in expecting lots of sidelining manoeuvres and major plot twists. Instead plan for a historic drama with some fantastical touches, embedded in mountains of eye candy.

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#110

Post by Onderhond » December 22nd, 2018, 8:15 am

10. The Warrior and the Wolf [Lang Zai Ji] by Zhuangzhuang Tian - Action/Comedy [2009/89 mins]

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

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The most genre-influenced of the Tian films in the list, ironically also one of the most inaccessible. It's probably a bit too dark and slow for genre fans, a little too genre-dependent for arthouse lovers. For me though, that's a clear sweet spot. Jo Odagiri in the lead also helps, still one of Japan's finer actors.

Oh, and a mere 18 checks for a film opening the Top 10. If you'd hoped for a bunch of bigger names near the end of the list, it's going to be a pretty disappointing countdown!

Those expecting another straight-forward genre piece, be warned. Tian may be treading in this particular territory, that doesn't mean he simply changed his style accordingly. There is not much action and even less heroism to be found in his film. Where films like this are usually about heroics, victory and conquering armies, Tian's film is about loss, pain and bewilderment.
The soundtrack is pretty awesome, working with modernized interpretations of traditional Chinese music. Tian's use of music is as subtle as ever, especially considering the genre he's operating in. It's not as refined as in his earlier films, but it works miracles with the visuals.
Tian's vision of epic period pieces is one that is dark, gritty and unpleasant. The mythology is fascinating, raw and as pure as the cruel surroundings the characters reside in. The result something that compares difficult to other films in the genre, but stands proud on its own to feet.

Full review for Zhuangzhuang Tian's The Warrior and the Wolf >>

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#111

Post by Onderhond » December 23rd, 2018, 11:56 am

09. Design of Death [Sha Sheng] by Hu Guan - Comedy/Drama [2012/109 mins]

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

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For those who loved Cow, Hu Guan returns with an even better version of his trademark modernized rural comedy. It's a bit of a divisive film, mainly because the characters can be downright bitchy and annoying, but it's all part of the game.

Design Of Death is the story of Niu Jie Shi, a young boy growing up in a secluded mountain village. While Niu has a certain charm, he is also one hell of bastard, constantly annoying the villagers with his nasty little tricks. Niu wasn't born in the village which immediately creates a natural schism between him and the villagers, further driven to extremes by Niu's bratty behavior. When Niu finally crosses the line of the acceptable, the villagers come together and devise a plan to get rid of Niu.
It's safe to say that Design Of Death looks truly spectacular. From the inventive camera angles and beautiful use of color to the mad and manic camera work and editing, this film is a real sight to behold. The visual clash of the run-down village with Guan's contemporary film techniques is pretty interesting as it creates a unique and distinct atmosphere.
It's definitely not the easiest of films, the first hour is filled with unsympathetic characters doing ugly things to each other. But the actors carry a disarming charm, the humor is actually funny and the film as a whole is a worthwhile audiovisual experience. Add to that an interesting plot and a superb finale and I can only conclude that Hu Guan outdid himself with this film.

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#112

Post by Onderhond » December 24th, 2018, 9:44 am

08. Big Fish and Begonia [Dayu Haitang] by Xuan Liang & Chun Zhang - Fantasy [2016/100 mins]

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

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China's first big, successful animation project. It takes some hints from Miyazaki, but pushes it in a decidedly more Chinese direction. It's a sprawling blend of fantasy and local folklore, beautifully rendered and animated. Probably a good recommend to everyone who likes himself a little Ghibli, but isn't married to their Japaneseness.

Big Fish and Begonia isn't China's first ever animation film of course, but earlier projects never managed to showcase the scale and skill on display here. Dante Lam tried it a couple of times, Tsui Hark had a go at it, but these are live action directors crossing over into a field that isn't really their own. Still, people like Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang didn't just arrive out of nowhere. For years now, Japan has been outsourcing some of its animation work to countries like China and South-Korea, so even though they've lacked the directors so far, they were still able to master the techniques.
While watching Big Fish and Begonia, I was often reminded of Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Not so much because it's a blatant Ghibli copy or it contains any direct references to Miyazaki's work, but because it has a very similar balance of local folklore and fantasy elements that fortify each other and combine into rich and elaborate lore that propels the film forward.
There's a strong anime vibe present, though it clearly leans towards the more serious art styles. There is some Ghilbi, some Shinkai, but ultimately it's very much its own thing. Gobsmackinly beautiful backgrounds, rendered with lush detail, set the stage and paint a fantastical setting, while the clean character designs and rich animation add to the finesse and create a vibrant animated world.

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#113

Post by Onderhond » December 25th, 2018, 10:13 am

07. The Banquet [Ye Yan] by Xiaogang Feng - Action/Drama [2006/131 mins]

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

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It would be unfair to have a list of 60+ modern Chinese films and not have a Xiaogang Feng film present. I'm not the biggest fan of his work, but his influence on modern Chinese cinema is impossible to gloss over. He's one of the first Hollywood-like directors to have emerged out of China. This film is also one of the reason why I put my limit on 275 checks for this list, would've been a shame to lose it because it barely crossed the 250 check mark.

The Banquet is by far my favorite Feng, a film that even outclasses efforts like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Not as action-centered, but the fight choreography is otherworldly and truly looks like dance translated into action.

A small word of warning is needed when recommending The Banquet, as it is not a true action film. Many people often refer to the action sequences in this type of film as ballet-like, The Banquet actually treats them (quite literally) as dances. It makes for some extremely refined fight sequences, but it does take away from the action itself.
The Banquet is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Ibsen's Ghosts, but since I'm not familiar with either of them I can't really judge how close Feng stayed to the source material. The story is a rather compact and highly theatrical throne room drama, where deceit, betrayal and romance all end up in an accelerating spiral towards a tragic ending.
The film's settings are beautiful beyond description, from the scenery to the interior decorations and the costumes of the actors. The camera work is stylish and controlled, the slow-motion sequences some of the most impressive I've ever seen. There is not a single scene or even shot in the film that doesn't know to wow.

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#114

Post by Onderhond » December 26th, 2018, 6:27 am

06. See You Tomorrow [Bai Du Ren] by Jiajia Zhang - Comedy [2016/128 mins]

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

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Comedy is one of the genres that has the hardest time traveling. Chinese comedy is ... different, especially if you're not used to it. It's overstated, borderline slapstick even. It took me a while to get used to it, then again, this film has more to offer than just a couple of laughs.

Made in celebration of Jet Tone 25th birthday, it's a Wong Kar Wai backed film that looks as if he made a comedy himself. Lush from start to finish, it's a bright, fun, memorable affaire that should appeal to everyone who can live on visuals alone. If you end up laughing a couple of times along the time, that's just a plus.

This is a Wong Kar-wai backed film made to celebrate the 25th birthday of Wong's Jet Tone production company. A lush and lavish project that aims to wow and spares no effort in doing so. Wong Kar-wai may never direct a comedy of his own, but if you ever wondered what that would look like, look no further.
See You Tomorrow is by and large a comedy, but it's far from a simple genre effort. It's as much an ode to classic Hong Kong comedy (with extreme over-acting and overly cheesy effects) as it is a modern comedy about more contemporary problems. There are some funny pop references (hello King of Fighters), but also nods to some of the films Jet Tone produced along the way.
Wong is renowned for his visual finesse and boy did he coach Zhang. The film is one big explosion of color, not a single frame looks dull or lifeless, everything from camera work to editing and lighting is leveraged to make the film look as dashing and alive as possible. It's a true visual spectacle, but only if you can handle its overly polished look. The film eschews any form of natural flair, going for a crafted and manufactured look instead.

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#115

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

05. Let the Bullets Fly [Rang Zi Dan Fei] by Wen Jiang - Action/Comedy [2010/132 mins]

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

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I will admit that I love this film just a little bit more because it is so hated by some. I appreciate it when a director like Jiang changes course so deliberately and noticeable, alienating the fandom he built for himself. If you came for the poverty porn and got stuck with an action/comedy like this, than you've become part of the joke somehow.

Let the Bullets Fly is all entertainment, though Jiang can't hide that he's better than your average blockbuster director. It lands the film in a perfect sweet spot. Even though it's a bit long, the film just flies by.

Let The Bullets Fly is Jiang's first outspoken comedy. The Sun Also Rises contained its fair share of humorous moments, but still featured strong dramatic undertones. These are all gone here, leaving the viewer with a simple and rather frivolous tale of rivalry, following the battle of wit between two infamous criminals.
Great use of color, neat editing, great visual pacing and some very well-planned shots. There is some sub-par use of CG, especially near the beginning and ending of the film, but it's all functional and doesn't really detract from the experience.
If you want to understand Jiang's sense of humor it suffices to observe the way he portrays his character here. Seeing him act in Let The Bullets Fly, I was very much reminded of Takeshi Kitano. Jiang blasts through his own film with that same hint of a smug smile, perfectly aware of the nonsense he is shouting but still putting 200% effort into his role to reach maximum effect.

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#116

Post by Onderhond » December 28th, 2018, 5:57 am

04. The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman [Dao Jian Xiao] by Wuershan - Action/Comedy [2011/118 mins]

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

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Sadly my predictions about Wuershan's future were quite accurate back then, but at least he left us this film. A strange international production helmed by a first-time director. It's a martial arts comedy, but it's not like anything the genre ever saw before. It reminded me a lot of Taylor & Neveldine, but I'm sure most people here will cringe thinking about their films.

Still, if you want to see something crazy, colorful, something that's all over the place and packs quite a few surprises, this is a pretty safe bet.

The Butcher, The Chef And The Swordsman is very typical for a film coming from a first-time director. Wuershan clearly grabbed this opportunity to show the world his skills and vision. The result is an overload of style and visual flash, which I can only applaud. Each segment and flashback has its own very distinctive, in-your-face look, all of them are interesting in their own way. From over-saturated and colorful set pieces to black and white with red highlights, from childish animation to old-style CG models, it's all here and executed with great skill.
There isn't much depth to be found in the different storylines or characters, but as this is a full-blown comedy that was to be expected. A bigger problem is the continuous onslaught of style and energy, which makes this film a pretty tiring experience, especially for those expecting a laid-back no-brainer.
Up front I really didn't expect too much from this film, but the result is flashy, funny, weird and in-your-face. I'm an instant Wuershan fan and hope he'll keep doing stuff like this before slowly fading away doing big budget stuff with little of his own input left in the end product. Good stuff and definitely recommended for those who appreciate a fair amount of ADHD weirdness.

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#117

Post by Straka » December 28th, 2018, 8:43 am

Onderhond wrote:
December 27th, 2018, 6:28 am
If you came for the poverty porn and got stuck with an action/comedy like this, than you've become part of the joke somehow.
Wen Jiang and poverty porn? Please explain.

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#118

Post by Onderhond » December 28th, 2018, 11:25 am

Straka wrote:
December 28th, 2018, 8:43 am
Wen Jiang and poverty porn? Please explain.
Well, he is often grouped as one of the "Sixth Generation" and the settings of his earlier films aren't exactly flashy or wealthy. 70s Beijing is quite shabby, 30s rural village isn't exactly the height of progress either. And even The Sun Also Rises still mixed in part of that 90s feel. I still need to see his first two films either, but trailers and discussions never gave me the idea that he was a major outlier.

I agree that it's not as outspoken or overbearing as with other Chinese directors from that time though, but it's definitely part of the reason why he rose to fame.

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#119

Post by Straka » December 28th, 2018, 12:30 pm

I think his first two films are different from what you think they are, in no way a guarantee that you will like them, but for sure not that kind of standard drama.

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#120

Post by Onderhond » December 28th, 2018, 12:34 pm

We'll see soon enough, I have Devil on the Doorstep ready :)

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