Thursday, September 27, 2012

Caged Interactions and Silent Tears – Zhao Dayong’s "Rough Poetry"

Sometimes a film that is initially underwhelming lingers in your mind, the echo of the images slowly transforming into more than they appeared in the moment of viewing. Zhao Dayong’s 50-minute Rough Poetry (2009) is, as its title implies, a unpolished experiment more than a fully fledged movie. But there is something in its meandering, apparently unscripted conversations and lingering close ups that resonated for days after I watched it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Melbourne Film Festival Pics and Coverage of China Docos Program

Dan Edwards and Ou Ning at the Melbourne International Film Festival last month (Image: Luisa Mirabilio,

As I reported extensively here at Screening China back in August, the Melbourne International Film Festival hosted a small retrospective of Chinese documentaries this year curated by myself, entitled Street Level Visions. The program attracted considerable interest, and dGenerate Films have now published a full summary of media coverage of the program, which included stories on television and radio, and in newspaper and magazines.

I’ve also got some pictures here of filmmakers Ou Ning (Meishi Street) and Wang Jiulaing (Beijing Besieged by Waste), who were in Melbourne as guests of the festival. The images are from a panel that took place in the festival bar on 14 August.

All image by Luisa Mirabilio (

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Locked Out of His Own Country – Short Interview with Ying Liang, Director of When Night Falls

Director Ying Liang, currently threatened with arrest if he returns to mainland China.

As I noted in a "Newsbites" post back in June, director Ying Liang was threatened with arrest if he set foot back in mainland China earlier this year, following the unveiling of his film When Night Falls (Wo hai you hua yao shuo) at South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival on April 28. The threat received some press back in May, but little has been reported since.

I wrote about Ying’s case in an article for Crikey last week, and interviewed the director via email about his predicament. He confirmed that the threat of arrest still stands. Ying is currently living and working in Hong Kong. I have reproduced his answers from our online chat below with his kind permission.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

“A Rare and Precious Opportunity” – La Frances Hui on the China Exposé Program in Nepal

Last month the Film Southasia festival, showcasing documentaries from around the South Asia region, took place in Kathmandu, Nepal. China Exposé, a program of six independent Chinese works, was a prominent part of this year's festival. La Frances Hui of the Asia Society, New York, curated the China Exposé program, and I interviewed her last week via email about her work and the problems documentary maker Hu Jie experienced when he tried to travel to the event.

The interview with Hui was conducted as part of my research for an article last week for Crikey about some of the problems certain Chinese filmmakers are currently experiencing. Thanks to Hui for kindly allowing me to publish her interview here at Screening China.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chinese Independent Film Culture Under Pressure - Article in

Ying Liang, director of When Night Falls, currently threatened with arrest if he returns to mainland China.

As mentioned in my “Newsbites” post yesterday China’s independent film culture has been under pressure in recent months, with documentarian Hu Jie prevented from leaving China and the Beijing Independent Film Festival opening shutdown through a power cut last month. Back in June I noted that feature film director Ying Liang had been threatened with arrest if he returns to mainland China following the debut of his film When Night Falls in South Korea in April. That threat apparently still stands.

Yesterday the Australian news site Crikey published an article by me detailing these issues. Here’s an excerpt:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Newsbites: Hu Jie Blocked from Travel, Beijing Indie Film Fest Blackout, and Painted Skin 2 Smashes Box Office Records

Screening China’s regular roundup of Chinese film news.

The environment for China’s independent film sector continues to deteriorate, even as box office records in mainstream cinemas are regularly broken. Two recent episodes have highlighted the difficulties independent filmmakers and festivals are facing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Quiet Currents of Emotion – Ann Hui’s “A Simple Life”

Andy Lau and Deanie Ip in Ann Hui's A Simple Life.

Although Hong Kong cinema is best known in the West for its kinetic, over the top action, it has an equally venerable tradition of family melodramas rife with tear-jerking tragedy. Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow is but one recent example of this long standing genre. A Simple Life (Tao Jie), the latest effort from HK legend Ann Hui, fits into this filmic lineage, but it’s at the more restrained end of the melodramatic spectrum – a brooding, melancholy take on life’s meaning rather than an unabashed weepie.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chinese Documentary Makers on Australian TV & Radio

Ou Ning, director of Meishi Street and a guest of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival. Ou appeared as part of the festival's "Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos" program.
 The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) wound up on Sunday (19 August), and with it the Street Level Visions program of independent Chinese documentaries curated by myself. The Chinese program was a great success, with many sessions sold out and a lot of audience and media interest (see the previous couple of posts).

Here’s a final round up of the media coverage of the Street Level Visions program:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chinese Documentary Directors in Melbourne

Directors Ou Ning (left) and Wang Jiuliang (right) with Street Level Visions curator Dan Edwards, at the ABC building in Melbourne, Australia.

Street Level Visions, the program of independent documentaries from China curated by myself, has been generating considerable interest in Melbourne over the past week, especially with the arrival of guest filmmakers Wang Jiuliang (Beijing Besieged by Waste) and Ou Ning (Meishi Street) last Friday.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Interview with Hu Jie, Director of "Searching for Lin Zhao's Soul"

Documentary maker Hu Jie.
The Melbourne International Film Festival is in full swing, including the program curated by myself, “Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos.” Tomorrow (Monday 6 August) at 11am, Hu Jie’s landmark work Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul will screen at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image on Federation Square as part of the program. A repeat screening will take place on Friday, August 17 at 6.30pm in the same venue.

To celebrate the screening of Hu Jie’s work, and the other titles in the "Street Level Visions" program, Art Space China has run the full text of an interview I conducted with Hu Jie in 2010.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Street Level Visions coverage in today’s Age newspaper

Zhao Liang's Crime and Punishment, one of seven titles screening at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival as part of the program "Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos."

The Melbourne International Film Festival kicked off last night to great fanfare. I’m very proud to be part of this year’s event, which includes the program “Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos," curated by myself. The Age newspaper today has an article by me about the program that you can see here.

There is also a short video interview with me on The Age website.

One of the films in Street Level Visions – The Transition Period – has already sold out, and several others are selling fast. So if you’re in Melbourne and keen to check out these films, jump online and book.

See you at the festival!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chinese Doco Special in "Senses of Cinema"

Wang Jiuliang's Beijing Besieged by Waste, one of seven independent Chinese documentaries appearing in the "Street Level Visions" program at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival.

As announced in my last post, a program of Chinese documentaries programmed by myself kicks off on 5 August as part of the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival. "Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos" is a retrospective of seven digital documentaries made over the decade or so, featuring work by Zhao Liang, Hu Jie, Ou Ning, Wang Jiuliang and Zhou Hao.

To coincide with Street Level Visions, the well known Australian film journal Senses of Cinema have run a series of articles in their new issue edited by myself and Adrian Danks focusing on independent Chinese documentaries.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos at the Melbourne International Film Festival

Zhao Liang's Petition, one of seven titles screening at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival as part of "Street Level Visions: Chinese Independent Docos," curated by Dan Edwards.

I’m very happy to announce that “Street Level Visions,” a program of independent Chinese documentaries curated by myself, will be screening next month as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

The program is a small retrospective of independent works produced in China over the past decade or so, many of which I’ve written about here at Screening China. As well as classics such as Zhao Liang’s Petition (2009) and Hu Jie’s Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, the selection includes Wang Jiuliang’s debut from last year, Beijing Besieged by Waste.

Directors Ou Ning and Wang Jiuliang will be in Melbourne as guests of the festival.

Here’s the full program – all screenings at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) on Federation Square unless otherwise indicated:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Climaxes Can’t be Judged by the Critics”: the Debate on Documentary Ethics in China

Logo for the 8th China Independent Film Festival, where controversy erupted over the issue of ethics in Chinese documentary.

Ethics in documentary making is always a loaded subject that can raise the heckles of directors, viewers and subjects alike. Documentary makers not only have to negotiate their often fraught relationships with their subjects, but also have to consider the fact that their camera-mediated interactions are going to be put on public display on cinema and TV screens across the planet. Given the explosion in independent Chinese documentary making over the past ten to fifteen years, and the fact that many of these films involve a discomforting degree of observational intimacy, it should come as no surprise that debates centred on ethics have recently come to the fore in China.

The fault lines of the debate were thrown into sharp relief at a forum at the 8th China Independent Film Festival in Nanjing late last year (28 October-1 November 2011), when a heated discussion by academics on ethical issues was denounced the following day by a group of filmmakers in a series of “big character posters” (dazibao). Public posters proclaiming social or political messages have a long tradition in China, though they are particularly associated with the early Cultural Revolution years, when highly bombastic competing dazhibao from various Red Guard factions were plastered on every wall in cities across the country. Shelly Kraicer reported on the events in Nanjing for CinemaScope soon after they occurred, while the Harvard-based Chinese scholar Ying Qian recently penned a more detailed account and discussion of the issues thrown up by the forum in China Heritage Quarterly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cycles of Familial Abuse – Ji Dan’s "When the Bough Breaks"

The sisters survey Beijing's frozen winter landscape in Ji Dan's harrowing documentary When the Bough Breaks, screened recently at the "Seeing China" workshop at the University of Technology, Sydney.

If you’ve ever found yourself trapped with someone else’s family as they experience a major emotional meltdown, you’ll have some idea what it’s like to view Ji Dan’s documentary When the Bough Breaks (2011). “It’s just like guerrilla warfare,” comments one family member early in the film, although it’s unclear whether he is referring to life inside his family or the general conditions of life for those living in the cracks of Beijing’s fractured social landscape.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Newsbites: Sheffield, Censorship, Jia Zhangke’s Beijing Cinema, and Salacious Gossip

Me, sorry? Never! The new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry has been getting the Chinese embassy in London hot under the collar.

It’s been a very long time between posts here at Screening China. Fear not, the blog is still alive – I’ve just been a little swamped by thesis and article writing, various curating duties and five weeks in China. There’s been a lot going on in Chinese film, so here’s a quick round up of news over the past month or two (apologies for the fact that some of this is quite old!)

Chinese Delegation Pulls Out of Sheffield Doc/Fest

Earlier this week the Chinese diplomatic service launched another offensive in its campaign to confirm the image of the Chinese government as repressive, censorial and generally uptight by demanding that Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the world’s best known documentary festivals, drop Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry from its program. RealScreen reports:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Quick Link: Article in "The Age" newspaper on Sam Voutas and "Red Light Revolution"

Australian filmmaker and actor Sam Voutas (left) acting on location in Eastern China during the making of the China-shot horror film Walking the Dead.
I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed with work recently, which means Screening China has been very quiet. I have a few exciting projects on the boil, some of them China related, which I’ll blog about here in the coming months. I’m also off to Beijing again shortly, so looking forward to catching up on the city’s film scene.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a piece I have in today’s Age newspaper here in Melbourne – a profile of the Australian, Beijing-based filmmaker Sam Voutas:

I reviewed Sam’s film Red Light Revolution, billed as China’s first “sex shop comedy” here.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Call for Participants in Sydney Workshop on Chinese Documentaries

Dr Jenny Chio and Professor Wanning Sun of the UTS China Research Centre in Sydney, Australia, have put out a call for participants for an exciting workshop planned for June. The organizers are looking to attract a broad range of participants, including academics from various fields, filmmakers and journalists. Guests will include Dr Yi Sicheng, the curator of China's regular Yunfest film festival in Yunnan, and Dr Luke Robinson, Lecturer in Film and Media Studies, University of Nottingham, and author of some of the best recent academic work on Chinese documentaries.

The program also includes some public screenings, which I'll provide details for when they are finalised.

The call for participants is reproduced below - contact Jenny Chio if you'd like nay more information at:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Flashback – Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Flowers of Shanghai”

Michiko Hada and Tony Leung in Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flowers of Shanghai (Taiwan, 1998).
To watch a film by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien is to partake in a hypnotic, slow motion cinematic dance. To the casual observer, nothing is happening. Relations unfold slowly, minutely, with a passing word here, a subtle glance there, weaving a web of intrigue and emotion lying taut over the seemingly placid surface of the screen. To some it’s torture, but for those able to give themselves over the Hou’s dreamlike worlds, his is a cinema that can make you see whole new dimensions in the world on screen.

I’m not as familiar with Hou’s oeuvre as I’d like to be, mainly because his early work in particular is very hard to get in the West. Recently, however, I was lucky enough to see his 1998 Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua) on the big screen, courtesy of the wonderful Melbourne cinematheque.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quick Link: Los Angeles Times Profile of Chinese Film Critic Raymond Zhou

Chinese film critic Raymond Zhou. Image LA Times.

Last weekend the Los Angeles Times carried a long profile of Chinese film critic Raymond Zhou, who I’ve quoted more than once here at Screening China. Zhou is known in China to English and Chinese-reading audiences alike, thanks to his writings for the English-language newspaper China Daily. Zhou’s reviews and commentaries make for some of the more intelligent sections of the state-owned, notoriously dull paper, although as the LA Times piece makes clear, his writing is heavily constrained by the censorship and corruption underlying all Chinese media.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Behind Shanghai’s Bright Lights: Teng Yung-Shing’s “Return Ticket”

Qin Hailu as Cai Li, one of China's internal migrants struggling to make ends meet in Teng Yung-Shing's Return Ticket.
Films about China’s vast internal migrant population are nothing new, and the country’s leading contemporary director, Jia Zhangke, has done some of the best films on the topic with The World (Shijie) in 2004 and the wonderful Still Life (Sanxia haoren) in 2006. On the other hand, films about young people (though not necessarily migrants) adrift in China’s rapidly transforming urban landscapes have also made for some of the nation’s dullest cinema. Gao Wendong’s Ant City (Mayi Cun, 2010) is one recent excruciating example that comes to mind. Teng Yung-Shing’s Return Ticket (Dao fu yang liu bai li, 2010) lies somewhere between these two poles. It’s a long way short of Jia Zhangke’s greatest work, but it features enough engaging moments to lift it above the average low-budget miserablist Chinese drama.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Newsbites – Chinese Film Wins Gong at the Berlin Film Festival and More Online Restrictions on the Way

A quick roundup of China-related film news from last few weeks, including just-announced awards from the Berlin Festival Festival.
Wang Quan'an's White Deer Plain.
Wang Quan’ans White Deer Plain Collects Berlin Award
The Berlin International Film Festival winds up today, and the festival awards have now been posted on the festival’s website. There was just one feature from mainland China in this year’s competition – Wang Quan’an’s White Deer Plain  (Bai lu yuan), described by the festival as an “epic that takes place towards the end of imperial China in a period of dramatic political and social upheaval.” White Deer Plain managed to pick up one gong – the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement, awarded to cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier for his lensing on the film.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Drunken White Men, Kindhearted Whores and Bestial Japanese: Zhang Yimou’s "The Flowers of War"

Christian Bale and Ni Ni in Zhang Yimou's latest heavy-handed effort, The Flowers of War.
Were Zhang Yimou and the folks at SARFT really surprised when Zhang’s nationalistic, overly sentimental and cliché ridden latest film failed to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film last month? Admittedly the Academy Awards are no stranger to clichés or melodramatic content, but given The Flowers of War was up against A Separation by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi – by all accounts a beautifully understated drama – Zhang’s film was always facing an uphill battle. The Flowers of War is so heavy handed, and in parts frankly laughable, that I don't think it's at all surprising that it failed to even make the Oscars shortlist.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newsbites: China Fails to Make the Oscars, Asian Film Award Nominees, and Mainland 2011 Box Office Results

Wei Te-sheng's Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale made the short-list of Oscar nominees, but failed to gain a final nomination.
It’s been a disappointing result for China in the Oscar sweepstakes this week, with no Chinese titles making the nominee list for best foreign film. The complete list of nominations was announced on Tuesday (24 January). The mainland’s hopes were pinned on Zhang Yimou’s new epic about the Nanjing massacre, The Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale. As reported in the last Newsbites post, the film was the highest grossing domestic title in China last year, but it failed to even make the short list of Oscar nominees.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, directed by rising star of the Taiwan industry Wei Te-sheng, made the shortlist but failed to gain a final nomination. You can see the complete list of Oscar nominees here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Flashback – Zhang Yuan’s "Crazy English"

Li Yang, China's most infamous English teacher, works the crowd in Zhang Yuan's 1999 documentary Crazy English.

Flashback posts look back over older titles in Chinese cinema.

Like an airforce plane coming in on a bombing run, the scream of jets builds over the opening credits until Li Yang explodes onto screen. “Crazy English! Crazy Life! Crazy Work! Crazy study! Be crazy every minute! Everywhere! I love this crazy game!”

Welcome to the crazy world of Li Yang, China’s most famous English teacher, captured at the early peak of his fame in Zhang Yuan’s 1999 documentary Crazy English (Fengkuang yingyu).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Frontline Policing in Guangzhou – Zhou Hao’s "Cop Shop" and "Cop Shop II"

Police on duty at Guangzhou Railway Station in early 2012. Image eChinacities.
Zhou Hao is one of the most prolific of China’s current crop of documentarians, having churned out six films since his debut Houjie Township in 2003. Among his recent works are Cop Shop (Chai guan, 2009) and Cop Shop II (Chai guan II, 2011), two documentaries about the daily operations of the police station at Guangzhou Railway Station, one of the busiest public transport hubs in China. Unlike Using (reviewed here), Zhou’s truth-bending 2008 film about his relationship with a Guangzhou junkie, the Cop Shop films take a straight-forward observational approach.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Putting China’s Sexual Sea Change on Screen – Interview with Sam Voutas

Sam Voutas (right) directing Red Light Revolution. Images courtesy Sam Voutas.
Last November I reviewed Sam Voutas’ Red Light Revolution, China’s first “sex shop comedy.” Shortly after I interviewed Sam for Australia’s Metro magazine and learnt that 2012 is shaping up to be a good year for the Australian writer-director-actor. Red Light is set for theatrical runs in the UK and Canada this month, and a UK DVD release in mid-February. Meanwhile, in China Toudou – the local equivalent of Youtube – is giving the film an “online release” today coincide with Chinese New Year. You can view the film – unfortunately without English subtitles – here.

On the eve of Red Light Revolution’s online release in China, and theatrical runs in Canada and the UK, I’ve selected a few choice quotes from my interview with Sam for Screening China. My full interview will be available in the February issue of Metro.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mainland Cinema Ticket Prices to be Capped?

The futuristic surrounds of Beijing's BC MOMA cinema.
Anyone who lives in mainland China will be familiar with the high cost of cinema tickets, which are particularly expensive relative to wages. Ticket prices of RMB 60-80 (that’s US$9.50-12.70, or AU$9.20-12.30) are not uncommon in Beijing. Given that the average wage is a fraction of what people earn in the West, that makes for an expensive night out. There may be some relief in sight for Chinese film fans, with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) announcing plans to cap ticket prices, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Newsbites: Flowers of War Rakes in the Cash, Content Restrictions Tighten & Ai Weiwei Speaks

Happy new year! Too many end-of-the-year deadlines and too many festivities mean Screening China has been very quiet of late. So let’s kick off 2012 with a look at the China film news.

The big event of recent weeks has been the unveiling of Zhang Yimou’s latest epic, The Flowers of War. With a budget reportedly between US$90-100 million, Zhang's film is the most expensive ever made in China. Flowers hit Chinese screens on December 16 and stars Christian Bale as a priest sheltering in a church with a group of Chinese women during the Japanese seizure of Nanjing in 1937. Predictably, the film has been criticised for its heavy nationalistic tone. It’s perhaps a measure of Bale’s naivety that when he was asked about the film’s nationalism at the premiere in Beijing, he claimed, “I hadn’t ever considered that question.” He also rather laughably claimed he thought Zhang Yimou wouldn’t have wished for the film to be taken that way either.

Christian Bale stalks through the ruins of Nanjing in Zhang Yimou's new epic The Flowers of War.