Posts Tagged ‘dong’

PBS “POV” Lists Essential Documentaries About China

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Disorder (dir. Huang Weikai) tied for most mentions in PBS' poll of essential documentaries about China

Last month the acclaimed documentary Last Train Home, about migrant laborers in China, made its US television premiere as part of the POV series on PBS. As part of the film’s online promotional efforts, POV polled several filmmakers and experts in Chinese cinema to recommend top documentaries and features about China. We were pleased to see that Disorder tied for most mentions among all films, including a recommendation by Last Train Home director Fan Lixin. Fan writes of Disorder: “A powerful and utterly honest mishmash of the most bizarre images from contemporary Chinese society, with an almost cynical sarcasm. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!”

Other documentaries receiving multiple recommendations: Petition by Zhao Liang, whose Crime and Punishment is distributed by dGenerate, and Up the Yangtze by Yung Chang (who also took part in the poll). Strangely, Blind Shaft also tied for most mentions in this “documentary” poll, even though it is a narrative feature.

Not surprisingly, Jia Zhangke was the most recommended filmmaker, with six mentions spread across five titles. His documentary Dong is distributed by dGenerate.

All the recommendations can be found at the POV website on PBS.

CinemaTalk: Interview with Professor Eugene Wang on Chinese Art and Film

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

By Michael Chenkin

Professor Eugene Wang

Eugene Yuejin Wang is Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. We recently spoke with Professor Wang about his interests in Chinese art and Chinese film, the areas of intersection between these two fields, and his interest in painter Liu Xiaodong, who is the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Dong will screen Monday 9/26 as the opening film of the 11-film series on Chinese independent film at Doc Films in Chicago. In this conversation Professor Wang reflects at length on the way Liu and other artists work in relation to the idea of nationhood, especially in regards to national disasters such as the 2008 Beichuan earthquake in Sichuan. Wang pays particular attention to Liu’s 2010 work “Getting Out of Beichuan,” which Wang considers “marks a new stage and possibly a new turning point in the contemporary Chinese art scene.”

A native of Jiangsu, China, Wang studied at Fudan University in Shanghai (B.A. 1983; M.A. 1986), and subsequently at Harvard University (A.M. 1990; Ph.D. 1997). He was the Ittleson Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Visual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1995-96) before joining the art history faculty at the University of Chicago in 1996. His teaching appointment at Harvard University began in 1997, and he became the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art in 2005.

He has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and postdoctoral and research grants from the Getty Foundation.

His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005) has received the Academic Achievement Award in memory of the late Professor Nichijin Sakamoto, Rissho University, Japan. He is the art history associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (New York, 2004).


dGF: I understand that a lot of your past research focused on Medieval Buddhist art and visual culture. Recently you have been researching Chinese film. Where did these interests arise? In addition, is there any synergy between inquiries into Buddhist art and Chinese film?

Eugene Wang: Before I started researching medieval art, I was deeply engaged in Chinese film. I actually wrote a script and published a few essays. Film has always been one of my side interests. I’m always intrigued by how people screen disparate images together. You have a set of images. They may or may not have a relationship with one another. Somehow you string them together and you have an image flow. In cinematic terms it would be called montage. If these images are on a wall, such as in Buddhist caves and wall paintings, then you have an iconographic program. There is something very interesting about the visual logic underlying this flow of images.

11 Chinese Independent Films Screening this Fall in Chicago – Starts Monday

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

This will be the largest series of Chinese cinema in Chicago this year. The series is listed online at: (note that the opening night screening is not listed).

A Selection of Chinese Independent Cinema

Mondays, September 26 – November 28, 2011
Doc Films, University of Chicago
Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall
The University of Chicago
1212 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL

Tickets $5, free with DocFilms season pass ($30)

Few national cinemas are as vibrant as that of contemporary China. Similarly, there are few places in the world today where art and media practice share such an important role in addressing national memory and societal issues. For these and other reasons, some of the most important work being made in China today is made by independent artists, with techniques that challenge the conventions and boundaries of both documentary and fiction film.

dGenerate Films ( stands as an important cultural pipeline, distributing independent cinema from mainland China within North America and Europe. This program intends to offer a sampling of the dGenerate catalogue, which contains many of the most important films produced in China within the last decade. These films reflect Chinese independent cinema in its broad diversity, social urgency, and creative innovation.

Full schedule after the break. (more…)

Artist Yang Weidong’s New Project Asks What Chinese Really Need

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Yang Weidong interviews a subject for his documentary project "Signal" (Photo: Yang Weidong)

A work in progress by Beijing artist Yang Weidong was recently shown in Hong Kong. Named “Xu Yao” or “Need” in Chinese and “Signal” in English, the documentary comprises of roughly 20 minutes of edited video interviews that Yang conducted with 237 notable Chinese subjects over the past three years. Yang asked each person the same question: “What do Chinese people need most today?” Among the interviewees were director Jia Zhangke and contemporary oil painter Liu Xiaodong, who appears as himself in Jia’s documentary Dong.

The premiere of Yang’s unfinished film project coincided with the publication of the first book in a series, also by him, named Li Ci Cun Zhao: 500 Wei Zhong Guo Ren De Xin Ling Ji Lu (Di Yi Juan) [For the Record: 500 Chinese People’s Inner Thoughts (Volume I)]. On July 22, 2011, he was invited to hold a press release for the book at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was also the venue for the first public screening of “Need.” This event has been recorded in full by the Social Record Association (aka SocREC) of Hong Kong.

The concept for Yang’s project can be traced in the Chinese documentary tradition. Back in 2000, independent filmmaker Ju Anqi made There’s a Strong Wind in Beijing, in which he and his crew famously confronted people in both public and private space in Beijing with the same question of whether they thought that the wind in Beijing was strong. Though absurd, this question sometimes opened up the conversations, tricking people to divulge what was really on their mind. Compared to Ju’s film, which is certainly more spontaneous and experimental in nature, Yang’s “Need” is more serious and urgent in tone, and the reason must be traced to Yang’s initial motivation for the project.


The New Yorker’s Richard Brody on Zhao Liang, Jia Zhangke, Ai Weiwei

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

by Kevin B. Lee

Zhao Liang confronted by Ai Weiwei on camera

In his blog on the New Yorker website, critic Richard Brody responds to last weeks’ New York Times cover feature on Zhao Liang, director of Crime and Punishment (distributed by dGenerate) and Petition (which Brody deems “the fiercest and most confrontational film regarding the Chinese government’s suppression of dissent that I’ve seen”). Brody summarizes the article’s charting of the tensions that arose between Zhao Liang and activist/artist Ai Weiwei following Zhao’s following Jia Zhangke’s lead to withdraw their films from the 2009 Melbourne Film Festival in light of political tensions between the festival and Chinese authorities.

Brody focuses on a video of Ai’s on-camera challenge to Zhao for giving in to the government’s demands. Ai also insinuates that Jia withdrew from the festival so as to ensure good standing with the Chinese government in order to produce a government-approved film made for the Shanghai Expo, I Wish I Knew. Brody counters criticism that the film is a feature length promotional video for Shanghai compromised by the constraints of government approval:

If so, the government didn’t get its money’s worth: the film (which I reviewed when it was shown here earlier this year) is an audacious recuperation of ways of life and thought from pre-Communist China, an embrace of Taiwan and Hong Kong, a poignant lament for victims of the Cultural Revolution, and a depiction of the Expo as an alienating, inhuman monstrosity. (He did something similar when making his first officially approved film, “The World,” at Beijing’s World Park.) Jia’s symbolic art, like that of Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch under the Hays Code, is ingeniously conceived to say exactly what’s on his mind regardless of external constraints.

He also tries to broker a conciliatory stance between Ai’s righteous indignation and Zhao’s pragmatic compromise:

Ai’s fury is entirely justified – he has endured, and continues to endure, horrific ordeals in order to live freely under a tyrannical regime, and he is entitled to view those who make common cause with it, of any sort, as being on the wrong side of morality. But only he and others who have endured similar persecution are entitled to say so. Heroism can’t be undertaken prescriptively, and those of us who write and make art without fear of arrest should pause before accusing Zhao of collaboration or cowardice.

Read Brody’s full article.

Jia Zhangke’s Dong and Zhao Liang’s Crime and Punishment are available on Amazon

Childhood Friends, Now Major Artists: Liu Xiaodong and Wang Xiaoshuai

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

By Kevin B. Lee

”]China Daily reports on a recent public reunion between two high school buddies, international award-winning director Wang Xiaoshuai and acclaimed oil painter Liu Xiaodong, that took place at the Shanghai Museum:

When Wang Xiaoshuai realized he could never paint as finely as his high school pal Liu Xiaodong, he gave up painting and turned to filmmaking.

Liu was one of the few students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts to have a solo exhibition right after graduation. Wang, however, went through some years in low tide working in Fujian Film Studio in the early 1990s.

Since then, Wang has won many international awards for his movie productions, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. His latest project, Chongqing Blues, competed for the Golden Palm at last year’s Cannes International Film Festival.

Liu himself is no stranger to film, having worked as an artistic collaborator with independent Sixth Generation filmmakers in the 90s, and later serving as the subject of Jia Zhangke’s documentary Dong. Recently, he is the subject of another documentary, this time by Hou Hsiao-hsien, that follows Liu as he returns to his hometown in northeast China.

At the talk Liu addressed criticism that his work takes advantage of his subjects, making millions of dollars from painting portraits of the poor and exploited. “This is hardly avoidable as we live in a commercial age,” Liu said. “Society commercializes a person incredibly quickly. As an artist, I have to be alert about being commercialized too.”

Dong is available as part of the dGenerate catalog.

Jia Zhangke Speaks Out Against Censorship

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Jia Zhangke speaks out at a forum held at the 2011 Shanghai International Film Festival (photo:

Originally published in The Guardian, June 16 2011

He had to abandon one film lest it broke anti-pornography laws. Then he ditched a spy movie rather than fill it with Communist party “superheroes”.

The frustration of making films in a country with “cultural over-cleanliness” has led an internationally acclaimed Chinese director to lash out at its censors, a state news site has reported.

Jia Zhangke won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2006 – apparently earning the approval of China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who is expected to become president next year.

But he began his career as an “underground” film-maker – directing movies that were praised abroad but never saw official release in China– and he complained of ongoing battles with censors as he addressed a cultural forum in Shanghai. Unusually, his remarks were reported by an official news site,

“The only reason that we cannot make genre movies is the barrier that censorship sets,” Jia said.


Jia Zhangke’s “Dong” Reviewed at Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Dong (dir. Jia Zhangke)

By Ariella Tai

As part of a larger feature on the films of director Jia Zhangke at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith focuses on “Jia’s first documentary proper;” Dongavailable for purchase or rental through the dGenerate catalog. Goldsmith discusses the ways in which this multilayered documentary meditates on the shifting landscapes of China, both literal and economic, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the artist in these times. Goldsmith observes that Dong is,

partly about the effect the [Three Gorges Dam Project] has had on the people of the region. … Fengjie, home to the Qutang Gorge, is captured by Jia’s films as it vanishes: landscapes seem to dematerialize in the distant fog while, in the foreground, buildings are ripped apart by the hands of dozens of shirtless laborers.

The film is also, in large part, about artist Liu Xiaodong as he paints the day laborers in Fenjie and eventually travels to Thailand to complete portraits of young sex workers in Bangkok. The role that he occupies as an artist in contemporary China is as important to the film as the physical sites he visits:


“Urgent Problems” Facing the Three Gorges Dam

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

By Ariella Tai

Water being released from the Three Gorges Dam in central China's Hubei province. The state council has admitted the dam is creating a legacy of major environmental and social problems. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Last week, both The Guardian and The New York Times reported on a statement released by the Chinese government, and approved by prime minister Wen Jiabao, that acknowledged “urgent problems” facing the Three Gorges Dam project.

Started in 1992, the construction of the world’s biggest hydropower plant has necessitated the relocation of 1.4 million citizens and the destruction of over 1,000 towns and villages. Victims of the massive flooding include the cites of 1,000 year old Fengjie and 1,700 year old Gong Tan, the last months of which are chronicled in the landmark documentaries Before the Flood and Before the Flood II, directed by Li Yifan and Yan Yu.

Filmed in cinema-verite style, these documentaries do the work of recording the breathtaking natural beauty of these historic cities that will soon be wiped away. The filmmakers also document the struggles of the town’s residents as they are forced out of the homes that they have built and held for generations and asked to relocate to smaller residences where they face the possibilities of unemployment and deeper poverty. These citizens stand against government bureaucrats to protest their mistreatment and organize as a community to protect their homes, livelihood and history.


Jia Zhangke’s Useless screening Saturday at 92Y Tribeca

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

By Kevin B. Lee

This Saturday evening at the 92Y Tribeca, there is a rare screening of Useless, a grossly underrated documentary by Jia Zhangke that rightly should be considered one of his most sublime and unexpectedly personal works. By exploring three aspects of the clothing industry in China, Jia subtly explores the economic and creative options of not just factory workers, tailors and clothing designers, but his own issues as an independent filmmaker contending with the often competing realms of art, commerce, national duty and personal expression.

These concerns were especially poignant at a time when Jia was fast becoming a fixture in the glamorous world film festival circuit (a predicament somewhat akin to the life of one of his subjects, designer Ma Ke, whose life he depicts as a Felliniesque carnival more than a little removed from the realities of most Chinese people), at risk of losing sight of the more humble grassroots milieu from which he emerged (which he revisits in the film’s poignant last act, involving a village tailor who’s been forced to abandon his insolvent trade to become a coal miner). His unique approach of documentary as refracted self-portrait can also be seen in another film from around the same time, Dong, available at dGenerate’s catalog.

The screening is part of the series Not Coming to a Theater Near You, presented by the film blog of the same name, which is currently featuring a series of reviews spotlighting Jia’s oeuvre. Details after the break.