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.

I've written about the U.S. distributor dGenerate Films a few times - you can read my interview with the company's Kevin Lee here. dGenerate specialise in providing independent Chinese content to educational institutions and the like, but a number of their titles are now available for private online rental. I've written about many of the films in their ever-expanding catalogue, which you can check out here.

Another place where you can watch numerous Chinese documentaries online for free is the China Independent Documentary Film Archive. Most of the titles on the site are lesser known works by lesser known directors, but there are a couple of key titles by Wu Wenguang, widely regarded as the first independent documentary maker in China. Among other Wu titles, the film that kicked off the whole independent doco movement in 1990, Bumming in Beijing, is available to watch, as is Wu's extraordinary auto-critique of China's documentary world, Fuck Cinema (2005). Hu Xinyu's The Man, which I wrote about here, is also available to view. Although the site is free, users are required to register before viewing the films.

Recently I was happy to see that Chinese director Zhao Dayong and his producer David Bandurski have released consumer DVDs of all Zhao’s titles, available for online purchase from their Lantern Films website. Regular readers of Screening China will know I’m a big fan of Zhao Dayong’s work - you can read a series of short interviews I did with the director here.

As well as the acclaimed documentary Ghost Town (which I wrote about for RealTime), last year Zhao directed his first drama, The High Life, which I reviewed here. Both Ghost Town and The High Life are now available from the Lantern Films site, as well as Zhao’s excellent earlier documentary Street Life, about the homeless community around Shanghai’s famous Nanjing Lu shopping strip. The DVDs are very reasonably priced between US$20-12, and it appears they will ship to any country. It would be great to see more independent filmmakers in China making their work available in this way.

Finally, France's Institut national de l'audiovisuel (or National Audiovisual Institute, aka INA) has released an excellent boxed set of Zhao Liang's work with English and French subtitles. The package includes Zhao's three key documentaries, Petition, Crime and Punishment, and Paper Airplane, as well as a selection of his short video works. The package costs 30 euros and INA will ship to any country, although their online shop is unfortunately only in French. So either find a French-speaking friend, or else do what I did and order using Google Translate. You can order the Zhao Liang boxed set here.

If readers have any other tips please feel free to post them as comments.


  1. Great info! Thanks!

  2. Hi- please clarify about Zhao Liang's DVDs: site says this was released last year, and in the list of contents at the site linked to I'm not seeing the "selection of his short video works" you're referring to. Is there a different edition? Thanks!

  3. Hi,

    Yes, the boxed set was released last year, but the work included is from various periods.

    If you click on the "Plus de Details" ("More Details") tab you'll see the three video works listed. They are: "Jerks Don't Say Fuck", "Bored Youth" and "City Scene."

    I have this boxed set myself, so I can confirm it contains the three full-length documentaries with English subtitles, the three short video works, and a short subtitled interview with Zhao Liang.

    Hope that helps.



  4. Really helpful info - thanks very much for taking the time to post it!

  5. The Zhao Liang boxed set is now available on Amazon, which is an easier option if you don't speak French...

  6. Hello, do you happen to know if Zhao Liang's "Together" has been released on DVD or is streaming anywhere?