Posts Tagged ‘yang heng’

Shelly on Film: The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema, Part Two

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

By Shelly Kraicer

This is the conclusion of Shelly Kraicer’s essay “The Use and Abuse of Chinese Cinema (in the West).” Click here for the introduction and first half of the essay.


Oxhide 2 (dir. Liu Jiayin)

4. Exemplary Asian independent art cinema. This misreading has something in common with Number 1 (“Exotic, colorful diversion”) , but in a more rarified, sophisticated form. It also contradicts (but exists in a weird sort of symbiosis with) Number 5 below. There is supposed to be something essentially “Asian” (meaning usually East Asian) about the predominant mode of contemporary art cinema now celebrated in festivals worldwide. Films that convey China’s backwardness (see Number 6 below) often employ a Andre Bazin-influenced mise en scène that is post-realist in its effect. Long takes, a demandingly slow pace, opaque storytelling, a distant motionless camera, inexpressive, non-professional actors, lots and lots of visual and narrative blankness, emptiness, stillness. Examples abound, the best recent exponents being Yang Heng (Betelnut, Sun Spots), Yang Rui (Crossing the Mountain), and in her own inimitable way, Liu Jiayin (Oxhide and Oxhide 2).

This analysis reduces an often surprising diversity of film styles into something that is assumed to spring, essentially and almost automatically, from a specific historical and cultural background, with local visual and pictorial traditions transmuted directly into their filmic correlatives. This in a sense over-simplifies and over-particularizes Chinese filmmakers who are utterly fluent (more than most of us) in the world-cinema image market (you can easily find films from everywhere, from every era, in China’s wonderfully eclectic bootleg DVD shops). By insisting on the “Chinese-ness” of these films, a special understanding, a privileged access to the films’ “essences,” may reserved for Sinological experts.

5. International art cinema master(s’) works. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to abuse Chinese cinema as some sort of proof that master directors work in a universal style recognizalbe to experts, critics, professionals, and well-trained festival audiences. In absolute contradistinction to Number 4 above, this attitude says “you don’t need to know anything about China and its specific cultural history to appreciate these films. They are great cinema, full stop”. This can be a branding exercise, like Number 2 (“Commercial entertainment”), but one for a more discriminating audience who needs to be reassured that she or he will be able to enjoy the latest Chinese masterpiece without unduly stressing over its foreignness. This is global art, i.e. It belongs to “Us,” not to its incidentally “Other” creators. Hegemony reasserts itself as art / film criticism, denaturing a film for our appropriation and viewing pleasure (with emphasis on the pleasure). This tendency can be seen in the flattering (for a forty-year-old director) inclusion of the latest Jia Zhangke film I Wish I Knew in the “Masters” section of the Toronto International Film Festival programme.


Indie Filmmakers Featured in Time Out Shanghai

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The newest issue of Time Out Shanghai (English edition) has a five-page cover feature spotlighting the new generation of independent digital filmmakers. The article singles out seven “directors to watch” whom the magazine playfully dubs “The Magnificent Seven:” Ying Liang, Yang Heng, Zhao Liang, Zhao Ye, Zhao Dayong, Liu Jiayin and Wei Tie. All seven are interviewed, as is dGenerate Films’ president Karin Chien.

The feature is not available online, but we’ve secured permission to make it available as a downloadable .pdf on the dGenerate website. You can download the feature here. Thanks to Nicola Davison at Time Out Shanghai.

dGenerate Films is the proud distributor of films from five of the “Magnificent Seven.” Learn more about their films by clicking on the following titles:

Liu Jiayin: Oxhide

Ying Liang: Taking Father Home; The Other Half

Yang Heng: Betelnut

Zhao Liang: Crime and Punishment

Zhao Dayong: Ghost Town

Asia Society Film Recap: Betelnut

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)

“China’s Past, Present and Future on Film,” the recently concluded film series at the Asia Society, yielded positive coverage from a number of reviewers. We’ve already linked to Andrew Chan’s piece on the series in The Auteurs. But we’ve also come across reviews of individual dGenerate titles that screened in the series.

For example, here are a couple of reviews of Yang Heng’s award-winning debut Betelnut. This first excerpt is from an online review by Joe Bendel:

Yang is definitely a director who believes in holding a good shot. Indeed, many of his tableaus are quite striking. While he patiently allows scenes to develop in their own good time, Yang often allows Betelnut to slow to a languorous pace, even compared to the impressionistic films of Jia Zhangke and his contemporaries of the so-called “Sixth Generation.” Yet, despite the film’s stillness, the promise of heat induced violence always feels palpable…

The uncompromisingly naturalistic Betelnut is one of the more demanding films of the Asia Society’s current independent Chinese film series. However, almost every frame is obviously painstakingly crafted by a keen visual stylist. Definitely a film for connoisseurs.

Critic and blogger Christopher Bourne offers his own praise for the film:

“Life seems so cheap sometimes.” This statement by a girl succinctly expresses the philosophy of the aimless characters of Yang Heng’s debut feature Betelnut, a quietly stunning film that finds great beauty in its stillness and austerity, rendering the actions of its characters within a rich musique concrete-like sound design and an intricately arranged visual field that makes us pay attention to the tiniest detail of its images. Yang often has major events of the film occur in extreme long-shot, obscured behind objects, or otherwise somewhere other than in the foreground. This serves to paint a compelling portrait of the restless youths in the film, who while away a hot, lazy summer by drifting on boats, voice chatting and playing video games at internet cafes, smoking, chewing betelnut, and having the occasional drunken binge in a karaoke bar. This all occurs in the ultimate dead-end town: there seem to be few opportunities or job prospects, no school, adults, or controlling authority, and the boys indulge in petty crime and thuggery. One of the characters manages to escape this place at the conclusion (although it’s hard to say for how long), while the others remain trapped in this endless, nothing existence.

Find out more about Betelnut.

Three dGenerate Directors Win at Hong Kong Film Festival

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Awards ceremony at Hong Kong International Film Festival (photo courtesy Lantern Films)

The Hong Kong International Film Festival gave out its awards Tuesday night, and to our delight, four of the nine awards were given to filmmakers repped by dGenerate. Yang Heng (director of Betelnut) took home the Golden Digital Award in the Asian Digital Competition for his new film Sun Spots, while Zhao Liang (Crime and Punishment) won the Humanitarian Award for his stunning documentary Petition. But the night belonged to Zhao Dayong (Ghost Town, Street Life), whose new film The High Life nabbed two awards – the FIRPRESCI Critics’ Jury Prize and the Silver Award in the Asian Digital Competition.

Full coverage of the awards can be found at The Hollywood Reporter.

See if you can catch Zhao Dayong’s previous feature Ghost Town, which is touring the US through April at these venues. Read some reviews of this film.

Yang Heng’s previous feature Betelnut is available at dGenerate Films. Find out more about his prizewinning debut.

Zhao Liang’s eye-opening documentary Crime and Punishment is currently available for non-theatrical exhibition, and will be available on DVD in the summer.

Check out the Award-Winning Betelnut This Friday at Asia Society!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Yang Heng’s Betelnut, winner of the Best First Feature at the Pusan Film Festival and the Critics’ Jury Prize at the Hong Kong Film Festival, will make its New York debut at the Asia Society as part of the series “China’s Past , Present and Future on Film.” You can use discount code asia725 to buy tickets at the $7 member rate. Tickets can be purchased at the Asia Society website or at the Asia Society box office.

Betelnut (Bing Lang)
YANG Heng. China. 2005. 112 min. Narrative. Digibeta.
Friday, March 26, 6:45 pm

Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021

View a clip from the film below. Further details about the film can be found here, and after the break.


Reviews from Rotterdam: Oxhide II and Sun Spots

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Oxhide II (dir. Liu Jiayin)

The International Film Festival Rotterdam concluded this past weekend; this year’s edition was of special interest to us, what with eighteen films by Chinese directors or with a Chinese theme. Two indie films in particular drew critical attention, much of which is summarized below.


18 Chinese Films at Rotterdam Film Festival

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Sun Spots (dir. Yang Heng)

18 films by Chinese directors or with a Chinese theme will be presented at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, which runs from January 27 to February 7. Among these films include Oxhide II, Liu Jiayin‘s follow up to her debut feature Oxhide (recently voted one of the top ten Chinese films of the past decade). Sun Spots, the second feature by Yang Heng (whose debut Betelnut is a dGenerate Films ttle) will be in competition for the VPRO Tiger Award.

City of Life and Death, Lu Chuan‘s controversial big-budget feature depicting the Nanjing Massacre, has inspired a sidebar of related films, several of which date back to the time of the historic tragedy.

The full lineup of films can be found after the break. (more…)

Best Chinese-Language Films of the 2000s: One Voter’s Thoughtful Ballot

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)

In conducting the one-of-a-kind poll of the Best Chinese-Language Films of the 2000s, we received ballots from nearly 50 participants from around the world, including filmmakers, programmers, critics and other experts. One of our participants, Peter Rist, who teaches at the School of Cinema in Concordia University, sent a particularly lengthy account of his rationale for his selections, which we felt deserve an entry of their own. We’re also pleased that he considered both Betelnut by Yang Heng and Oxhide II by Liu Jiayin worthy of his final ten, since dGenerate distributes both Betelnut and the first Oxhide film and consider Yang Heng and Liu Jiayin among the most exceptional young talents working anywhere today.

Here is Peter’s list – his commentary follows after the break, as well as a list of his best films of the decade from around the world.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the full results of the poll, compiled from all of our participants!


Zhantai (Platform), Jia Zhangke (P.R. China/Hong Kong/France/Japan)
Suzhou he (Suzhou River), Lou Ye (China/Germany)
Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love), Wong Kar-wai (Hong Kong/France)
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, Wang Bing (China), documentary, digital
Cha ma gu dao xi lie (Delamu), Tian Zhuangzhuang (China/Japan), digital, doc.
McDull, Prince de la Bun, Toe Yuen (Hong Kong), animation
Zui hao de shi guang (Three Times), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan/France)
Hei yan quan (I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone), Tsai Ming-liang
Binglang (Betelnut), Yang Heng (China), digital
Niu pi er (Oxhide II), Liu Jiayin (China), digital


dGenerate Directors Applauded by David Bordwell

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Observations on Film Art” is a blog run by prominent film scholars David Bordwell (author of numerous books including Poetics of Cinema, The Way Hollywood Tells It, and Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema) and Kristin Thompson. In Bordwell’s recent review of the Vancouver International Film Festival (October 1-16), humorously entitled “Wantons and Wontons,” dGenerate director Liu Jiayin’s new film Oxhide II won his high compliment.

Naming the film “the most exciting Asian film I saw at VIFF,” Bordwell considers the 132-minute film about a family making dumplings as “a demonstration of how a simple form, patiently pursued, can yield unpredictable rewards.” This sequel to Oxhide further explores the themes of family dynamics and economic hardship, and Liu displays her mastery in handling the tension between a quasi-documentary aspect and self-conscious artistry even better. As Bordwell notes: “[A]lthough everything looks spontaneous, it was all completely staged – written out in detail, rehearsed over months, reworked in test footage, and eventually played out in ‘real time.'”


Shelly on Film: Pushing Beyond Indie Conventions

Monday, October 12th, 2009
by Shelly Kraicer
Betelnut  (dir. Yang Heng)

Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)

Perhaps I’ve been spending just a bit too much time watching movies in China? I have this recurring daydream, most often when I’m watching a new Chinese film that some enterprising young director has sent me. I always watch every independent film that I receive. You never know what gems might appear unsolicited in the mail. And, even if the film isn’t so terrific, it will still be a useful index of all sorts of interesting trends: it might reveal what young filmmakers in China are filming, how they are looking at the world around them, or, at least, what they think people like me want to see.

The daydream, or perhaps it’s a fantasy, is this. There exists, down some dusty grey hutong alleyway of Beijing, a Chinese Indie Director’s Discount Emporium. You want to make a film? Step right in and assemble your movie at bargain prices. The shelving on the left is stocked with cast members: long-haired village boys, out of school, drifting aimlessly. At the back is a set of grainy, dusty, brown-grey village-scapes, ready to be populated by said drifters. To the right, useful equipment. Some tripods, but with a restriction: they must be set up at least 50 metres from the subjects being filmed. Right beside is a very long long shelf, holding 3 minute, 10 minute, even 20 minute-long takes, offered for a steal at family-sized package prices. Alternatively, you could go for deep discount on little DV cams, with the proviso that, held close to the subjects, they be shaken as vigorously as possible. The dialogue shelves in the centre are threadbare: screenplays for rent are all dialogue-light. And, off in a corner, is a shelf labelled “Prostitutes”. It’s over-loaded, with a three-for-the-price-of-one sale.

This may seem a bit mean. But the people I’m making fun of here, in fact, are international film programmers like me (I select Chinese language films for the Vancouver International Film Festival), not the filmmakers themselves. It seems that many of us (my colleagues from other film festivals, and wouldn’t exclude myself) sometimes seem to select films armed with a checklist of “East Asian art film attributes”, the things that populate the shelves of our hutong indie shop. Who can blame a young director from China, who, with little or no chance of gaining any return on his or her investment within his own country, tries to design a film to suit those foreigners who pay the bills, fund post production, and just might offer an overseas distribution deal?