Posts Tagged ‘zhou hao’

Review: The Transition Period shows the true power center of Chinese government

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

"The Transition Period" shows the inner workings of local politics in China

U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke’s recent arrival in Beijing generated intense discussions among Chinese nationals about how Chinese civil servants compare unfavorably to their American counterparts. As reported in a September 20th article in The Wall Street Journal’s blog “China Real Time Report,” the central government and its affiliated media bodies such as the Guangming Daily and the Xinhua News Agency tried to cast aspersions over the political motives behind the U.S. government’s choice of a Chinese-American ambassador. But Chinese online netizens focused on something entirely different. After seeing photos of Locke buying his own coffee and carrying his own bags, and learning that he flew coach to China, Chinese web commentators assailed their civil servants for squandering taxpayers’ money on ridiculously extravagant meals, cars, and the like, and for shirking physical work and other chores that they consider to be below their dignity.

Zhou Hao’s 2011 documentary The Transition Period, which will be playing next Monday in Chicago’s Doc Films series on Chinese independent cinema, looks at the working life of one typical Chinese civil servant by the name of Guo Yongchang before his transfer to a new post within the Chinese government. Shot over the last three months of Guo working as the party secretary of the Committee of the Communist Party of Gushi County in Xinyang Municipality of Henan Province, this documentary presents different facets of Guo’s work as a medium- to low-level Chinese civil servant in a leading position. This article aims at laying out some groundwork in China’s political system and its political environment for first-time viewers of the documentary, as sometimes the stories in the documentary are more complicated than their presentations. (Spoilers may follow.)


Chinese Directors Win at HK Documentary Fest, Say They Enjoy Freedom

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

By Kevin Lee

Zhou Hao presents his film "The Transition Period" at the China Documentary Festival in Hong Kong (photo: Associated Press)

The 2011 Chinese Documentary Festival in Hong Kong concluded earlier this month with awards given to The Transition Period by Zhou Hao and One Day in May by Ma Zhandong. The Transition Period will be distributed later this year by dGenerate, which already distributes one of Zhou’s earlier films, Using.

In a report on the festival for the Associated Press, Min Lee describes The Transition Period as “a rare, fascinating look at how the Chinese government operates:”

Guo Yongchang, who is currently serving a seven-year prison term for accepting bribes of 2 million Chinese yuan ($310,000), is shown discussing how to split tax revenue with lower-level officials, meeting with constituents as well as smearing birthday cake onto the face of an American businessman and wining and dining with Taiwanese businessmen in another drunken episode. A secretly recorded sound section shows Guo ordering an aide to return certain bribes.

Zhou said he met Guo at a dinner and the former official quickly agreed to be filmed. He said he got full access – although avoided shooting Guo’s family life. Guo has seen the documentary – minus the secretly taped section – and didn’t object, Zhou said.

When asked if he worried if such a film could cause trouble for him with the authorities, Zhou responded: “my understanding is that you can basically film everything you want to film. The key question is whether you want to shoot something. If you want to shoot something, you can definitely do it.”


Who’s Using Who? Zhou Hao’s Hall of Mirrors

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

By Dan Edwards

Using (dir. Zhou Hao)

Southern Metropolis Daily has a proud reputation as one of the very few newspapers in mainland China with real teeth, so it’s perhaps not surprising the paper’s ranks have also produced such sharp-eyed documentarian as Zhou Hao. Zhou’s stories focus on minor, charismatic players in contemporary Chinese society, honing in on small stories to make broader points about various social milieux, from the world of heroin addition in Using (2008) to small town politics in The Transition Period (2009). More intriguingly, Zhou’s films also highlight the uncertain, often fraught relationship between documentary makers and their subjects.


Using opens among a group of emaciated junkies living under a highway overpass, a concrete island home in a sea of traffic. The casual presence of death is immediately apparent as we see Ah Long, a man in his 30s, chatting on the phone with a family member of an ailing addict. “He won’t last long,” Ah Long states bluntly. “I’m saying you should come to see him… You can come and have a last look…”


China Independent Film Festival Reviewed by Electric Sheep

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Perfect Life (2009, dir. Emily Tang)

In the online film journal Electric Sheep, John Berra reports on the China Independent Film Festival held last October in Nanjing. He describes the festival, now in its seventh year, as a semi-secret state of affairs:

As not every film in the line-up has received the stamp of approval from the Film Bureau of the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), this celebration of Chinese cinema occurs under the political radar, and the lack of the promotion means that many students of Nanjing University are not aware that an important film festival is taking place on their campus until a few banners appear in the days leading up to the event. However, the festival organisers somehow manage to make this ‘invisible’ festival sufficiently noticeable and 2010 screenings were well-attended, leading to a series of productive Q&A sessions with the filmmakers in attendance and valuable networking events.

Berra singles out several films for praise, starting with Perfect Life, directed by Emily Tang and executive produced by Jia Zhangke:


Zhou Hao Interviewed – Films screening at UCCA Beijing

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Using (dir. Zhou Hao)

Chris Hawke profiles documentary filmmaker Zhou Hao in the Global Times. In the past, Zhou’s probing work has screened on CCTV and other Chinese mainstream broadcast outlets, but his three most recent documentaries “on drug users, policemen, and a cadre accused of corruption” have been off-limits as of yet. Zhou maintains that his purpose in filmmaking is not politically motivated: “My films have no political purpose. I observe people, I don’t judge them.”

Zhou’s films Using, The Transition Period and Cop Shop screen this weekend at the UCCA Contemporary Art Center in Beijing.

Using is part of the dGenerate Films catalog.

Documentaries by Zhou Hao screening at UCCA Beijing

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Using (dir. Zhou Hao)

A former Xinhua News Agency and Southern Weekly photographer, Zhou Hao began making independent films in 2002. Among his perceptive and socially-conscious documentaries are Houjie Township (2003), about migrant workers in a Chinese export-processing zone; Senior Year (2005), about high school students preparing for the gaokao, college entrance exams; Using (2008), about a couple struggling with heroin addiction; The Transition Period (2009), about an outgoing county party secretary; and Cop Shop (2010), about a small police station next to the Guangzhou Railway Station. Zhou Hao’s films have been screened at film festivals in Amsterdam, Paris, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Yunnan, Chicago and other cities, as well as at the 2004 Shanghai Biennial and 2005 Guangzhou Triennial.

This weekend from October 29-31 the UCCA will present Zhou’s films Using, The Transition Period, and Cop Shop, with the director present to discuss his work.

Film Schedules
Friday, Oct.29
19:00 Using,104 min + director Q&A
Saturday, Oct.30
18:00 Cop Shop,67 min + director Q&A
Sunday, Oct.31
16:00-18:30 The Transition Period,114 min + Indie Film Forum Discussion
Moderator: Liu Shu (indie workshop)
Guests: Zhou Hao (director); Professor Cui Weiping (Beijing Film Academy)

Details can be found at the UCCA website.

Using is distributed in North America by dGenerate Films.

Films on Crime in China Now Available: Crime and Punishment and Using

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

dGenerate Films is proud to announce that Crime and Punishment by Zhao Liang and Using by Zhou Hao, two important works from China’s contemporary independent documentary scene,are now available for institutional purchase in the US as part of the dGenerate Films catalog. Together, these two films offer a candid, revealing look at two facets of crime and law enforcement in China: the interrogation tactics of military police in Northeast China, and the lives of drug addicts in Guangzhou.

Crime and Punishment (Zui Yu Fa), directed by Zhao Liang

Crime and Punishment (dir. Zhao Liang)

Amidst the barren wintry landscape of Northeast China, Chinese military police officers rigidly enforce law and order in an impoverished mountain town. They raid a private residence to bust an illegal mahjong game, casually abuse a pickpocket accused of throwing away evidence, and berate a confession out of a scrap collector working without a permit. The police switch between precise investigative procedure, explosions of violent fury, and moments of comic ineptitude, all captured incredibly before the camera.

A prime example of how independent documentaries are on the vanguard of Chinese cinema, Crime and Punishment is an unprecedented look at the everyday workings of law enforcement in the world’s largest authoritarian society. With penetrating camerawork, Zhao Liang (Petition, 2009 Cannes Film Festival) patiently reveals the methods police use to interrogate and coerce suspects to confess crimes – and the consequences when such techniques backfire. With a cold, objective eye that depicts reality in great detail while withholding judgment, “Zhao’s artistry is instantly apparent.” (Robert Koehler, Variety)

In the January 2010 issue of China Perspectives, Jie Li of Harvard University has a lengthy appreciation of Zhao Liang’s documentaries Crime and Punishment and Petition. Here is an excerpt on Crime and Punishment:

With patient long takes and an ambivalent gaze that is in turn complicit, compassionate, or critical, Crime and Punishment shows us the human beings in military uniforms – their capacity for rage, sympathy, and fear – as well as how the power authorised by these uniforms might dehumanise – through violence and humiliation – not only those suspected to be criminals but also the police officers themselves. Apart from discipline and punishment, much police power resides with surveillance, but a sustained look at the other can also generate empathetic recognition, and returning the gaze may well be the first step for the powerless to empower themselves.

Film Clip:

Using (Long Ge), directed by Zhou Hao

Using (dir. Zhou Hao)

For three years, filmmaker Zhou Hao chronicled the lives of Long and Jun, a couple struggling with heroin addiction in Guangzhou. Zhou captures Chinese junkie subculture, its members languishing in a slum flophouse, the equivalent of a modern day opium den. When Long is hospitalized after a failed robbery, Zhou speaks out from behind the camera to intervene. Still, Long and Jun persist, soon dealing drugs full-time to make ends meet. As the couple increasingly offers lies for answers, Zhou must confront his ethical responsibilities to them, as a friend and a documentarian.

Using probes a dark, cruel reality of contemporary Chinese society that has rarely been seen by any audience. Addicts disclose techniques for dealing with police, confronting sham suppliers and staying high throughout the day. Zhou’s unflinching depiction of his friends’ repeated attempts to quit blurs the line between filmmaker and subject, and raises provocative questions about the ways in which each uses the other.

Film Clips:

Zhang Xianmin on six recent Chinese documentaries

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Zhang Xianmin (photo courtesy China Independent Film Festival)

One of our key partners in China is Zhang Xianmin, who is a leading figure of the independent film scene. Film producer, writer, programmer: these are just a few of his credentials. And now, Zhang will be contributing a series of articles for our website, offering his own perspective on Chinese indie cinema.

To kick things off, here are his thoughts on six recent Chinese independent documentaries, offering his own insights into the background on the films and filmmakers. A couple titles happen to be dGenerate titles.