Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quick Link: Producer David Bandurski on China’s “Third Affliction”

Producer and media researcher David Bandurski.

David Bandurksi, the American Hong Kong-based producer of Chinese director Zhao Dayong, recently penned an opinion piece in the New York Times on what he calls China’s “third affliction” – the nation’s negative image in the world. The piece doesn’t contain anything revelatory for those familiar with contemporary China’s cultural and political landscape, but it’s a neat encapsulation of the schizophrenic nature of China’s cultural sector, split as it is between closely controlled, anodyne state-sanctioned product, and a vibrant unofficial sector which is at best ignored by the state, and at worst actively suppressed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Where Can Chinese Indies Be Purchased or Viewed Online?

The DVD cover for Zhao Dayong's The High Life, now available through Lantern Films.

Readers of Screening China often write to me and ask where they can obtain copies of the independent Chinese films I write about. Unfortunately it's not easy to get many of the titles, but some are now available on DVD for online purchase, or are available for viewing online, so I thought I'd do a post with a couple of tips on where these sites can be found. Please note I have no affiliations with any of the companies or websites listed and take no responsibility for their products or services. All the sites I've listed provide copies of films with English subtitles.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flashback: Air Rifles and Male Ennui - Hu Xinyu's "The Man"

In the course of researching my thesis and book on China’s independent documentary movement I’ve been watching a lot of older Chinese films. I’ve decided to blog about some of them in a series of “Flashback” posts.

First up is the domestic drama of Hu Xinyu’s documentary The Man (Nanrenmen) from 2003.

A typically lackadaisical moment from Hu Xinyu's ode to male ennui, The Man (2003).

Air Rifles and Male Ennui - Hu Xinyu's "The Man"

No matter what culture you’re in, placing members of the same sex together in close quarters for prolonged periods is always a bad idea. Yet it’s the painful dynamics of watching a trio of bored, unfulfilled men cooped up in a tiny apartment in a provincial Chinese city that makes Hu Xinyu’s film The Man such a hypnotically discomforting experience – like a slow-motion train wreck played out over two hours.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

So Long IFChina Original Studio

Jian Yi talks to a student volunteer at IFChina Original Studio in March this year.

In my “Newsbites” post of October 29, I noted that IFChina Original Studio, an initiative of Chinese filmmaker Jian Yi and his wife Eva, had been told it had to leave Jinggangshan University. Last Saturday (November 5) Jian Yi issued an official statement confirming the studio’s closure.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beijing Hua and Blow-up Sex Dolls: Sam Voutas’ "Red Light Revolution"

Shunzi (Zhao Jun) and Lili (Vivid Wang) in Sam Voutas' "sex shop comedy" shot entirely in Beijing, Red Light Revolution.

“Sex. Shagging. Making love. Whatever you want to call it, everyone does it. But no-one does it more than us Chinese…”

So begins Sam Voutas’ Red Light Revolution (Hong deng meng), billed as China’s first “sex shop comedy.” I was at The Beijinger when Sam’s film started doing the rounds in Beijing, and I have to admit I was initially a little dubious about the film. A Chinese sex comedy written and directed by a laowai? What were the chances of it being any good? Shortly before I left Beijing earlier this year I got to meet Sam – a fellow Australian – and he gave me a copy, which I perused once I was back in Melbourne. And I must concede, whatever the chances against it, Sam has produced a film that’s not only very funny, but also manages to really capture the flavour of life in China’s capital.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Newsbites: Jackie Chan's 100th Film, China's Big Presence at Venice, and the CCP's Renewed Interest in Culture

Kevin Spacey checks out Gong Beibi in his first Chinese feature, Inseparable, unveiled this month at Busan.

I’m conscious Screening China has been quiet for the past month, as I’ve been tied up with my thesis and a few other things such as the recent World Cinema Now conference at Melbourne’s Monash University, where I gave a paper on Chinese documentaries. I’ve also been busy catching up on a whole lot of older Chinese film titles which I’ll blog about in the coming weeks. But first a news round up of what’s been happening in Chinese film over the past month. You may also notice the blog has a new look, which is hopefully more reader-friendly.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zhao Liang Now “Celebrated” by the Chinese Government Claims New York Times

Zhao Liang (second from right) and Gu Changwei (far right) at a press conference about Zhao's documentary Together in Beijing earlier this year. The others pictured appear in the documentary.

Chinese documentarian Zhao Liang has been in the U.S. news recently with a somewhat critical profile of the director in the New York Times entitled, “Chinese Director’s Path From Rebel to Insider.” The long article by Edward Wong details Zhao’s supposed “evolution from a filmmaker hounded by the government to one whom it celebrates.” Zhao’s new “insider” status is said to be the result of his last documentary, Together, which was backed by China’s Ministry of Health and approved for release in Chinese cinemas.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vacant Human Shells – Li Hongqi's “Winter Vacation”

"I want to be an orphan" – the amusing child character from Li Hongqi's Winter Vacation.

Chinese cinema is no stranger to deadpan urban dramas, but few have matched the ultra-minimalism of Li Hongqi's Winter Vacation (Han jia, 2010), which I caught recently at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Set in yet another bleak northern town, Li's players depict the repetitive motions of their senseless lives as if all emotion has been sucked out of them, leaving them as vacant human shells without apparent motivation for any of their actions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Dreams in a Old Landscape – Zhang Meng's "The Piano in a Factory"

Wang Qianyuan (left) as Chen, the laid-off factory worker and musician, and Qin Hailu as his girlfriend in Zhang Meng's The Piano in a Factory.

Like so many recent Chinese dramas, Zhang Meng's The Piano in a Factory (Gang de qin, 2010) is set in China's drab northeast, where the old socialist heavy industries have been shut down and the inhabitants left unemployed. Unlike many recent Chinese features, the story forsakes a miserabilist realist aesthetic for a refreshing lightness of touch and surrealistic visual edge.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Searing Portrait of a Haunted Childhood – Chung Mong-hong's "The Fourth Portrait"

The Melbourne International Film Festival drew to a close on Sunday (7 August). Unfortunately the program was pretty light on films from China this year – perhaps a lingering affect of the festival's tiff with the Chinese government back in 2009 over the documentary 10 Conditions of Love. There were a handful of mainland titles screened, however, which I'll be reviewing in the next couple of posts. First up though is Chung Mong-hong's The Fourth Portrait (2010) from Taiwan.

A Searing Portrait of a Haunted Childhood – Chung Mong-hong's The Fourth Portrait

Bi Xiaohai as Xiang in Chung Mong-hong's wonderful second feature The Fourth Portrait.

Chung Mong-hong's extraordinary second feature The Fourth Portrait (Di si zhang hua) offers a Taiwanese tale from the wrong side of the island, eschewing the concrete jungle of Taipei for the verdant vegetation of the island's poorer rural areas. The film's heavily saturated colour palette only adds to its dream-like tropical ambience – but it's a dream in which nightmares constantly lurk at the edge of frame.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Newsbites: Founding of a Party Scams its way at the Box Office, Film Festivals in Beijing & Shanghai, and Stanley Kwan Returns

We're just in it for the suits – Wang Xinjun and Andy Lau in Founding of a Party, the Chinese Communist Party's latest love letter to itself.

It's been a while since the last Newsbites post, so here's a new roundup of China film news from around the web.

The biggest recent film news on the mainland has been the release on 15 June of Founding of a Party, the Communist Party's latest love letter to itself. This one marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Like 2009's Founding of a Republic, the new film is an all-star affair starring, among others, Andy Lau, Chow Yun-fat, Fan Bingbing and Zhou Xun. Shanghaiist has thoughtfully provided a complete who's who of the film's star studded cast.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You Can’t Build on an Emptiness – IFChina Original Studio

Earlier this year I was privileged to spend a few days staying with filmmaker Jian Yi in Ji'an, Jiangxi Province, at his IFChina Original Studio. The studio is an exciting initiative recently launched by Jian Yi and his wife Eva. The following is an article I wrote for RealTime magazine in Australia about IFChina's work.

Originally published in RealTime arts magazine.

You Can’t Build on an Emptiness – IFChina Original Studio

IFChina Original Studio founder and filmmaker Jian Yi, outside the studio on the campus of Jinggangshan University. Photo: Dan Edwards

Ji’an doesn’t look like the most auspicious place for a groundbreaking experiment in China’s budding civil society. The town doesn’t appear in any English language guidebooks, the local station platform is just a low-slung slab of concrete and, in early spring when I visited, a bone chilling mist hung over the town. Yet this minor Chinese city is home to IFChina original studio, a bold attempt to generate community participation in the arts and oral history in the heart of one of China’s poorest regions.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Xu Tong's Relentless Gaze – Shattered

This is the last of my posts reviewing Chinese work from this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival - apologies that it has taken so long to get all of these up online.

Old Tang and his daughter Tang Caifeng, in Xu Tong's latest documentary Shattered.

Independent Chinese documentaries are not known for their easy, upbeat tone, and few present a more confronting vision of China's lower depths than director Xu Tong. Last October I wrote about his Fortune Teller, a grueling look at the life of a crippled itinerant fortune teller and his deaf, mute, mentally impaired wife as they wandered around China's north. Among that film's cast of characters was a tough brothel owner named Tang Caifeng, who disappeared at the end of the film following her arrest during a crackdown on the sex trade. Fortune Teller's sequel, Shattered, which premiered at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, catches up with Tang Caifeng a year later, as she returns to her father's home in China's far northeast.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jia Zhangke's Yulu – Striding confidently forward, but into what?

Folk singer Zhou Yunpeng, one of the personalities profiled in the Jia Zhangke-produced documentary Yulu.

As I sat watching the world premiere of Yulu – produced and partly directed by Jia Zhangke – at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, I kept thinking of a conversation I'd had in Beijing a few weeks earlier. During a rather heated post-lunch discussion about China's politics and film industry, a friend who is a scriptwriter for Chinese television declared that local filmmakers face two choices: they can remain “independent” and financially insecure or they can do the Communist Party's bidding and enjoy a comfortable future. He didn't believe there was any middle ground.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei Released on Bail

Ai Weiwei out on bail - seen here at the door of his home in Beijing last night. Image David Gray/Reuters via The Guardian.

Good news today, with media outlets reporting Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei was finally released last night on bail. The Wall Street Journal has posted a short video of Ai's arrival at his home in northeast Beijing. Although Ai looked tired and appears to have lost a lot of weight, he basically appeared to be in good health. He reportedly said he was unable to offer any comment to the media other than expressing happiness at being back home.

A Blank Slate for Our Own Thoughts and Prejudices – Wang Bing's Man With No Name

The man with no name in his subterranean dwelling, a scene from Wang Bing's eponymous documentary.

Wang Bing's new documentary Man With No Name is an intriguing companion piece to his recent debut drama The Ditch, so it's fitting that the two films screened alongside each other at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival. Both works depict the lives of marginalised men living in the ruggedly parched landscape of China's northwest, but where The Ditch dramatises events from sixty years ago, Man With No Name is an observational documentary set in the present.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Corrosive Obsession – Yu Guangyi's Bachelor Mountain

San Liangzi in Yu Guangyi's quietly moving documentary Bachelor Mountain, screened at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Yu Guangyi's documentary Bachelor Mountain – caught at this year's Hong Kong Film Festival – beautifully captures the space where individual temperament and social circumstances intercept, forging a documentary that is both subtle in its social critique and moving in its portrayal of unrequited love.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hong Kong From the Bottom of a Glass – Freddie Wong's The Drunkard

Freddie Wong's debut The Drunkard, seen at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival.

The image of the dissolute artist pursuing a bohemian lifestyle and resisting the allure of the market may not have much credence in today's rampantly commercialised culture. But if the novel The Drunkard is anything to go by, the tension between art and commerce was very real for Shanghai-born novelist Liu Yichang. His autobiographical stream-of-consciousness work tells the story of a writer living in the squalor of early 60s Hong Kong, balancing serious literary ambitions with the need to write pulp fiction and soft porn to earn a living. For not the first time a local director has produced a screen adaptation of Liu's book, which appeared at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Horror of History – Wang Bing's The Ditch

Prisoners in Wang Bing's The Ditch.

Bedraggled men sit in a seemingly empty desert landscape, the bareness of their surrounds strangely beautiful on screen. We see the group from a distance, as if the desert itself is a brooding presence observing these puny beings on its surface. The men are allocated numbers and descend into caves dug into the desert floor, where earthen “beds” carved out of the wall await them. Welcome to the world of Wang Bing's The Ditch, surely one of the most stark depictions of the deprivations of the Maoist era ever committed to celluloid.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Newsbites: Lu Qing Sees Ai Weiwei, Documentary Festival Cancelled & No Tang Wei for Mao

Ai Weiwei missing poster. Photo: stunned

This relocation business takes a lot of time! But I'm pleased to report I'm now reasonably settled in Melbourne and getting stuck in to my doctorate on China's independent documentary movement. Which means I can finally get back to some blogging. I'll shortly start rolling out some reviews of what I saw at the Hong Kong Film Festival back in March, but first a quick news update.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

News Bites: No Word From Ai Weiwei, Hong Kong Festival Awards, & 3D Porn

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has not been heard from since he was arrested in Beijing on Sunday, April 3. Image the Guardian

Last week I posted about the arrest of China's most prominent contemporary artist (and documentary filmmaker) Ai Weiwei. There has been no word of Ai's current whereabouts since then, and yesterday afternoon the Guardian reported that Ai's driver Zhang Jingsong and his accountant Ms Hu are also now missing. Ai Weiwei's friend Wen Tao has not been heard from since he was arrested the same day as the artist.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ai Weiwei Detained: “They can’t take different viewpoints”

Chinese artist, writer and documentary filmmaker Ai Weiwei - detained in Beijing on Sunday while trying to leave for Hong Kong.

It's been a long time since I've posted as I've been in the midst of a move from China back to my home in Australia. Before the big move I spent several weeks traveling around China, including meetings with several filmmakers and a stop at the Hong Kong Film Festival. More on all that in coming posts. Right now here's some news that can't wait.

On Sunday, April 3 prominent artist, filmmaker and outspoken critic of the Chinese government Ai Weiwei “was taken from Beijing’s airport by security agents as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong” reports the Washington Post. “Police later raided his studio” according to the same report. It seems eight of Ai's assistants and his wife Lu Qing were detained after the studio raid.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Camera is a Weapon: Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Ou Ning

Artist, curator, writer and documentary filmmaker Ou Ning.

In addition to being an artist, curator, writer, and director of the Shao Foundation, China's cultural renaissance man Ou Ning is also an acclaimed documentary filmmaker. After making the experimental San Yuan Li 2003 with Cao Fei and other members of the U-theque collective in Guangzhou, Ou Ning relocated to China's capital, where he made Meishi St (2006) about the demolition of one of Beijing's oldest areas in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. Both films are now part of the dGenerate Films catalogue.

In March 2010 I interviewed Ou Ning in Beijing about his filmmaking career for an article I was writing on China's independent documentary sector for RealTime arts magazine in Australia. Only a few select quotes appeared in that piece, but the complete interview contains a wealth of fascinating material not only on Ou's background, but also the rise of China's “digital” documentary generation. Late week dgenerate published the entire interview – you can read the full text below or click here to see it on the dgenerate site complete with clips from Ou Ning's films.

Thanks to Ou Ning for his time and for speaking so openly about some controversial matters. The interview was conducted mostly in English.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Zhao Liang's "Together" Featured on China Radio International

Earlier this week I noted Zhao Liang's documentary on HIV in China, Together, screened recently at the Berlin International Film Festival. I'm pleased to say that as a result the film is getting some coverage here in China. On Wednesday China Radio International interviewed me about the film for a brief segment which also includes an interview with Zhao himself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who's Using Who? Zhou Hao's Hall of Mirrors

Towards the end of 2010 I was able to catch two documentaries by Guangzhou-based filmmaker Zhou Hao at Beijing's Ullen's Center for Contemporary Art. Both Using and The Transition period were fascinating peeks into rarely seen sections of Chinese society. dgenerate Films distribute Using in the US, and they recently published an essay by me on Zhou's work. You can read the complete text below or go to the dgenerate site to see the article with video excerpts from Using.

Monday, February 21, 2011

News Bites: Chinese Films in Europe & Speculation on the Loosening of Foreign Film Imports

Screening China's regular wrap up of Chinese film related news from around the web.

As noted in my last post, Zhao Liang’s latest documentary Together was programmed for the Berlin International Film Festival this year. According to a report in Chinese newspaper Global Times on Friday, February 18, the film won “a rapturous reception” at the festival, and “moved many in the audience to tears.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

News Bites: Changes Afoot for Screening China & Zhao Liang's Together Selected for Berlin

Xin nian kuai le – or happy new year! Just got back from a week in China's far west visiting my wife's hometown for the festival of fireworks, food and crappy television galas that is Chunjie, or Chinese New Year. And with the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit some changes are afoot for Screening China.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let the Bullets Fly Takes China’s Domestic Box Office Crown

The dirty three: Ge You, Chow Yun-Fat and Jiang Wen star in Jiang's new "Eastern Western" Let the Bullets Fly.

A quick news bite and reason to celebrate – Jiang Wen’s visually stunning Leone-influenced “Eastern Western” Let the Bullets Fly recently became China’s biggest domestically-produced box office hit according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2010: Chinese Cinema in Review

Documentary maker Ai Xiaoming filming in the studio of painter Yan Zhengxue in Beijing, September 2008. Image Dan Edwards.

While 2010 is rapidly receding into the past, earlier this week dGenerate Films paused for a moment to look back over the past year with a compilation of comments and “best of” lists from a range of filmmakers, critics and academics. Although I was on holiday in Australia when they were compiling contributions, I managed to knock  together a quick entry comprising titles, moments and events that sprung to mind when I thought about the past twelve months. It's been a busy year!

Other contributors include the dGenerate team, academic Michael Berry, Beijing-based festival programmer Shelley Kraicer, and filmmakers Xu Tong, Hu Jie and Huang Weikai. My effort is reproduced below – you can click here for the complete entry on the dGenerate Films site.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fear, Loathing and HIV: Zhao Liang's Together

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a good Christmas break. I'm back in Beijing after a glorious couple of weeks back home in Australia. It was a warm 28 degrees when I left Sydney (that's Celsius for US readers - or 82 degrees Fahrenheit) and -11 when I touched down in Beijing (12 degrees Fahrenheit). All the more reason to stay inside watching films I suppose!

Towards the end of last year I published a short email exchange I had with documentary maker Zhao Liang about his new film Together. That exchange was background for an article I was writing for the January issue of the The Beijinger magazine, which came out while I was away. Readers in Beijing can pick up a copy from many cafes, galleries and bookshops around town – for everyone else I've reproduced the article below.