Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

“Remarkable” Transition Period reviewed in The Economist

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Singing karaoke with Taiwanese investors, smearing birthday cake on the cheeks of an American factory owner, knocking back baijiu, a Chinese spirit, with property developers: Guo Yongchang would do anything to attract investment to Gushi, a county of 1.6m people in Henan province, where he served as party secretary. His antics are recorded in “The Transition Period”, a remarkable fly-on-the-wall documentary about his last months in office, filmed by Zhou Hao.

The Economist reviews Zhou Hao’s The Transition Period and places the film in the context of how local-level government operates, and the effect of its policies on shaping China’s economy and society:

When the government urged the banks to support its 2008 stimulus effort, local governments scrambled to claim an outsized share of the lending. The result is a local-government debt burden worth over a fifth of China’s 2011 GDP.

The worst abuses, however, involve land. Local officials can convert collectively owned rural plots into land for private development. Since farmers cannot sell their land directly to developers, they have to accept what the government is willing to pay. Often that is not very much.

The Transition Period is available as part of the dGenerate catalog.

Cinema Scope Magazine Honors Chinese Filmmakers among “50 Best Filmmakers Under 50”

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

To celebrate its 50th issue, Cinema Scope has compiled a list of fifty directors under 50 who represent “the future of cinema.” Much to the pride and delight of all those who champion Chinese voices in contemporary cinema, Cinema Scope has chosen to honor several significant Chinese filmmakers: Liu Jiayin, director of Oxhide and Oxhide II, Zhao Liang, director of Petition and Crime and Punishment, Pema Tseden the Tibetan director of Old Dog, Jia Zhangke, director of such films as Unknown Pleasures and The World, as well as the 2008 documentary Dong, and Wang Bing, director of Coal Money and Man With No Name.

Director Liu Jiayin and her parents in "Oxhide"

Profiling Liu Jiayin, Andréa Picard praises Liu and the Oxhide series, musing “Who was this filmmaker who so maturely delineated the space of her imagination, carving a humanist monument from next to nothing?”
On these remarkable films that measuredly unfold an intimate world of family minutiae, Picard discusses Liu’s “carefully calibrated yet warmly sensual sound and image construction, a droll humanism, and, ultimately, a feisty hopefulness.”


Zhao Liang

Zhao Liang, called a “poet of justice” by reviewer Albert Serra, is described as an artist who “cannot simply describe social injustices, lies, abuses of power…because as an author he’s realized that “reality” itself is unjust and abusive. And it’s absurd to find a way to fight against it because reality has as much power as the “system” does in China.” Of the careful examination of power and artistry at play in Zhao’s Crime and Punishment and Petition, as well as his dedication to pulling back the layers of the grueling injustices of Chinese beaurocracy, Serra writes: “With any other topic he could have been involuntarily serving the propaganda of what he’s criticizing, but the issue of the absence of justice turns our hearts with so much power that this is impossible.”


Review: When The Bough Breaks

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph

"When The Bough Breaks" (dir. Ji Dan)

Ji Dan‘s When The Bough Breaks, which made its North American premiere last week at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, is a documentary of uncommon scope that drives at the heart of all epic drama: it is a story of a family. Both sweeping in its vast theatrical grasp and unnervingly intimate in scale, Ji Dan’s work unfolds for two and a half hours of deep absorption into a world that, as the director remarked in her presentation of the film at MoMA, “is very different from the one we are living in now.” (more…)

Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" (dir. Alison Klayman)

The documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which was directed by Alison Klayman and won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a story about an artist and filmmaker, about a tug-of-war between an activist and his government, and a portrait of modern China – but it’s also a story about cats. In the film’s opening sequence, Ai, whose propensity to speak in metaphor is evident throughout the film, discusses the many cats he keeps milling around his home and studio. “One cat out of forty has learned to open the door,” he reports, remarking that if that one cat hadn’t succeeded in opening the door, no one would even know that cats were even capable of opening doors. A charming moment later we see this apparently exceptional cat leap up, open the studio door, and free himself. Welcome to the world of Ai Weiwei.


Review: Pema Tseden’s Old Dog

Monday, January 30th, 2012

"Old Dog" (dir. Pema Tseden)

By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph

At the Slamdance Film Festival, where Pema Tseden‘s elegiac 2010 feature Old Dog made its US premiere last week, filmmakers are asked to share their “war stories” – the trials and tribulations of producing Slamdance’s class of often low-budget, off-the-grid films. While battling budget woes and zany locations mishaps is common among Slamdance filmmakers, Old Dog arrived in Park City with a self-evident “war story,” a sense of the political and poetic enmeshed in each highly emblematic frame of this story of an aging Tibetan herder and his eponymous mastiff.


Fujian Blue Available on Comcast On-Demand in January

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

"Fujian Blue" (dir. Weng Shuoming)

dGenerate Films is pleased to announce that Robin Weng Shuoming‘s Fujian Blue will be available to rent for all Comacast Cable on-demand subscribers during the month of January.

Fujian Blue is a thrilling narrative portrayal of reckless youth, corruption, and heartache in of southern China’s most telling social environments.

A full review by Mike Fu can be found here:

“Subtropical reveries of money, sex, and power dominate the golden triangle of southern China in this gritty neorealist drama from Robin Weng (Weng Shouming). Featuring idyllic natural landscapes side by side with Fujian province’s urban sprawl, Weng’s narrative follows a group of young hoodlums circulating carefree in a vapid nightlife of karaoke bars and dance halls. By day, they pursue a more malicious endeavor to extort money from local housewives, whose husbands have made their fortunes abroad and left them floundering at home. The film opens contrasting rows of decrepit houses with breathtaking mansions, reminiscent of a southern Californian suburb, glistening beneath the sun. Already the dichotomy of contemporary Chinese society becomes apparent: the rift between haves and have-nots threatens to grow ever wider, and the stakes only become higher for a younger generation willing to risk everything.”


“Getting the Past Out Loud”: Wu Wenguang’s Memory Project and New Voices In Documentary Film at NYU

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

By Maya E. Rudolph

From L to R: Dan Streible, Angela Zito, Wu Wenguang, Zhang Zhen

“Independent film has gone from underground to come above ground.” Wu Wenguang‘s most recent project in mentorship and documentary filmmaking, which made its US premiere at NYU under the title Getting The Past Out Loud: Memory Projects with Wu Wengugang, is an exploration of individual and collective memory, of personal storytelling, and of the evolving talents of China’s newest generation of filmmakers. The event was organized by Professors Angela Zito and Zhang Zhen at the Center for Religion and Media Studies at NYU, which Zito co-directs and was co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema Studies, where Zhang is Associate Professor. The event was also made possible thanks to generous support from China House.

Wu, often extolled to as the godfather of the New Documentary Movement in Chinese independent cinema, presented two of his own projects at the weekend screening series, but emphasized the significant work of those young people involved in the Memory Project. “My generation of filmmakers often started out working within the state system, but we were dissatisfied and bored,” Wu expressed in conversation with Professors Zhang, Zito and Cinema Studies Professor Dan Streible. “Filmmaking twenty years ago was about throwing tantrums. The new generation is more introspective, they don’t need to throw tantrums. They’ve adapted a more authentic independent posture.”


CIFF Roundup: John Berra Reports on Nanjing Festival

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

CIFF Official Logo

Reporting for the Electric Sheep blog, John Berra delivers a comprehensive account of the sights and sounds of the 8th annual China Independent Film Festival. Commenting on festival highlights, Berra offers an opinion on Shu Haolun‘s No. 89 Shimin Road, a staple of the current festival circuit throughout Asia.

The turbulent political landscape of the late 1980s is filtered through a nostalgic lens in Shu Haolun’s No. 89 Shimen Road (2010), although reference to Tiananmen ensures that this engaging drama will not receive a mainland release. High school student Xiaoli lives with his strict but understanding grandfather in Shanghai following his mother’s relocation to the United States, and becomes romantically involved with two girls who represent opposing social ideologies; next-door neighbour Lanmi becomes an escort for easy money while classmate Lili is more politically motivated. Shu resorts to some coming-of-age clichés, but this is still an evocative snapshot of youthful uncertainty at a time of social instability.


Review: No. 89 Shimen Road

Monday, November 21st, 2011

"No. 89 Shimin Road" (Dir. Shu Haolun)

By Maya E. Rudolph

No. 89 Shimen Road will screen tonight in Chicago at 7pm as part of the Doc Films Monday Series: A Selection of Chinese Independent Cinema

Shu Haolun‘s 2010 coming-of-age film No. 89 Shimen Road presents an archetypical study of longings and movements, rhapsodizing the personal and political as a long form narrative reminiscence. The story unfolds in 1989 Shanghai, from the shutter of Xiaoli, a high school student and self-proclaimed aspiring Henri Cartier-Bresson. Xiaoli largely ignores the revisionist propaganda he’s fed at school, preferring to document his world – elderly “uncles” chewing over the nightmares of the recent past, daily life in the longtang where he lives with his grandfather, and his friend Lanmi, an alluring neighbor who becomes the very embodiment of his teenage lust – in black and white stills that he sends to his mother in America.


Review: Fangshan Church, an Intimate Look at Christianity in China

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

By Maya E. Rudolph

Xu Xin’s 2005 documentary Fangshan Church, an unassuming account of a Christian congregation in a somber agricultural village in northern Jiangsu Province, examines not the face of God, but those of devout followers. Xu’s unobtrusive portrait of Fangshan Church and its pious “disciples” opens with a series of plainly framed black and white close ups: elderly congregants facing a pulpit, eyes peering forward from seemingly unaffected, prodigiously wrinkled faces. This opening montage of faces committed in prayer is imbued with a certain reverence, a sense of the sacred articulated also in the hymns and hushed prayers delivering a devotional murmur to an otherwise stark and quiet landscape.