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.