Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

Iron Monkey (19930 | **** Bluray release

Dir: Yuen Woo-ping | Action drama | China | 90′

Yuen Woo-ping’s kung-fu classic is a breathtaking action adventure from perhaps the greatest action choreographer of all time, Yuen Woo-ping’s Iron Monkey combines innovative special effects and remarkable fight choreography with a classic story of courage, honour and sacrifice, all doused in deliciously dark humour.

Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen; Ip Man, Rogue One), a physician and martial artist, is mistaken for a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey (Yu Rong-kwong); a Robin Hood style hero who has been robbing the wealthy local officials in order to provide medical treatment for the poor. The two men must team up to defeat a corrupt political regime, and protect the lives of the people whose cause they champion.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 18 JUNE 2018

Ash is Purest White (2018) *** Cannes film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA. 

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance. 

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION

 

 

Ash is Purest White (2018) ****

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA.

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance.

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26th APRIL 2019

 

Legend of the Mountain (1979) **** | Eureka bluray release

Dir/Writer/Costume Designer: King Hu | Cast: Chun Shih, Feng Hsu, Sylvia Chang, Lin Tung, Feng Tien, Ng Ming Tsui, Hui Lou Chen, Rainbow Hsu | China | Drama | 192′

Born in Beijing in 1931, actor, writer and director King Hu left the mainland for Hong Kong in 1949 where he worked with the Shaw Brothers, later pioneering early wuxia fare such as Cannes winner A Touch of Zen, and this lesser known but bewitching fantasy ghost story.

After a coy start Legend of the Mountain is soon all over you like a slinky cheongsam if you surrender to its seductive charms and over-indulgent running time where the director’s slack editing often emphasises atmosphere and scenery over plot. But this stunning fantasy epic does have moments of palpable tension – such as the impressive drumming scene. Hu’s cypher-like characters also leave us intrigued and bemused rather than engaged in their eventual plight in the mysterious often perilous garden of Eden. The evergreen allegory for good and evil echoes the tradition of Japanese ghost stories like Ugetsu. Luminous set pieces and glowing imagery provide a magnificent backdrop to the feisty performances from duplicitous characters, led by Taiwanese actor Chun Shih (The Assassin) as naive scholar Qingyun who heads off to a remote mountain retreat on a mission to copy an ancient religious document (a sutra) for some Buddhist monks. This sutra has the redemptive power to release lost souls of the dead, but Qingyun is unaware of its intrinsic value, and how he is about to be manipulated.

After a long journey (30 minutes of the film’s 191′ running time), he eventually meets his host, Tsui (Lin Tung), in a vast abandoned fortress where things are clearly not what they seem: distant figures loom and disappear in the misty hilltops. The lulling effects of the mountain idyll are soon punctured by a brusque outburst from a sinister occupant, the forthright harridan Madam Wang (Rainbow Hsu) who browbeats Qingyun into tutoring her daughter Melody (Feng Hsu), soon after his arrival.  Clearly the pair have a hidden agenda, and during a home-cooked supper and cocktails Qingyun is regaled by Melody’s musical talents – she specialises in ‘percussion’ and magically mesmerises him into a dreamlike state, awaking the next morning to discover he is under the siren’s spell and betrothed to be married. But marriage is not the only thing on Madam Fang’s mind. Switching between charm and deceit Rainbow and Feng make for a unsettling pairing in Paradise but Qingyun has some protection through his sacred prayer beads. Good is represented in the final hour by his meeting with Cloud (Sylvia Chang) as his struggle with evil forces. Magic and deceit are cleverly expressed through the medium of musical instruments, as opposed to today’s ubiquitous use of tawdry CGI. Fascinating to watch Legend remains an epic visual spectacle, along the lines of traditional Chinese Opera, or Xiqu, dating back over more than a thousand years, incorporating music, song and martial arts, and where the legendary characters are household names in China, MT

OUT ON BLURAY | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 19 MARCH 2018

 

 

Ash (2017) | Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero

Director: Li Xiaofeng | Cast: Luo Jin, Xin Peng, Nie Yuan, Jiang Peiyao, Huang Jue, Yang Yiwei, Sun Hao,

Director and co-writer Li Xiaofeng improves on his thoughtful but flawed debut Nezha with this sinuous and sumptuously cinematic modern morality thriller the explores through a fractured narrative the simple premise: a choice of redemption or recidivism for two young killers.

Elegant and intriguing, ASH has echoes of Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin in its reflection on good and evil in contemporary China where a young detective Chen Weikun (Nie Yuan), is tasked with investigating the brutal murder of an ordinary  man Ma Xudong (Yang Yiwei), in a local cinema. He draws a blank with the victim’s family but pursues a shady suspect who is seen loitering in the shadows. Flipping toward a decade, we then meet surgeon Wang Dong (Luo Jin),who is celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife, Xuan Hui (Jiang Peiyao) and it soon emerges that the two men are strangely linked. The tension mounts as the mist gradually clears on the fulll story involving a long-standing pact forged between Xu and Wang after their crimes which continue to haunt them, as Chen doggedly probes the past.

With its universal theme, cast of subtly instinctual newcomers whose personalities contrast to great effect, and pristine technical craftmanship from Dutch DoP Joewi Verhoeven, ASH makes for an absorbing and provocative watch. Simon John Fisher Turner’s atmospheric score creates just the right mood for this first class, if overlong Chinese thriller. MT

PINGYAO INTERNARIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 Ocotber – 4 November 2017

 

 

Our Time Will Come (2017) | BFI London Film Festival 2017

Dir. Ann Hui. HK | Historial Drama |  130′

Best known for her noble drama A Simple Life, Ann Hui rose to fame with her Japanese occupation-themed dramas, Love in a Fallen City (1984) and Song of the Exile (199. She returns to the era with her latest: OUR TIME WILL COME a languorously-paced and lushly-crafted snapshot of WWII occupation which explores the bitterly poignant experiences of a young woman who becomes a resistance fighter. Hong-Kong’s struggle for freedom is resurfacing again today, over seventy years later.

In 1942, serious-minded school teacher, Fang Lan (Zhou Xun) is living with her mother (Deannie Ip) when her boyfriend Wing (Wallace Huo) leaves to work for the Japanese. Fang is inspired by seeing how a local intellectual goes underground with the help of Dongjiang resistance guerrillas and decides to join their forces under the auspices of their suave leader (Eddie Peng Yuyan), eventually rising up through the ranks.

The undercover operations are stunningly captured in vibrantly elaborate images on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, often echoing French classic Army of Shadows (currently at the BFI Melville retrospective). The unobtrusive classic score adds a certain gravitas and Zhou Xun is the standout in an absolutely brilliant performance of elegant dignity as Fang, slowly gaining stature into her resistance role.

The film also stars the wonderful Tony Leung who plays a war veteran, now taxi driver, in a recurring black and white vignette set in comtemporary Hong Kong. In the black and white opening scene, and again half way through, he recalls the fond memories of the bravery of resistance leaders he once knew including Fang Lan.

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017

China Craft| What to see this Winter | Film | Dance | Art | from China

London plays host to some of the most exciting Chinese art, dance and cinema, both from mainland China, and its edgy sister Taiwan. Here’s a selection of the best offerings for the Winter season. The common thread throughout is master-craftmanshp: a mind-numbing attention to detail that is intoxicatingly beautiful and unique in its creativity and inventiveness

IMG_3323AI WEI WEI until 13 December 2015 | RA London W1

Major artist and cultural phenomenon Ai Weiwei is known for his powerful, provocative and visionary works and is now one of China’s most influential artists and drawing international attention to the Chinese government’s limitations on individual freedom.

Ai became widely known in Britain after his sunflower seeds installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2010 but the RA is now showcasing the first major exhibition in the UK, bridging over two decades of an extraordinary career highlighting Weiwei’s formal attention to detail and to realism, and the calculated whimsy of his creative vision.

Among his newest works are a number of large-scale installations, as well as works in mixed media from marble and steel to tea and glass. With typical boldness, the chosen works explore a multitude of challenging themes, drawing on his own experience to comment on creative freedom, censorship and human rights, as well as examining contemporary Chinese art and society. What emerges here is not only meticulous and mind-numbing attention to detail – Wei Wei’a art also require a dedicated troupe of highly skilled artisans in its painstaking execution. The centrepiece of utter brilliance is a series of limited addition chrysanthemums: delicately rendering in ice-blue, snow-white and shell pink. The refined exquisiteness of these ethereal baubles justifies their price tag of £14,000 per piece.

CHINA NATIONAL OPERA | SADLERS WELLS Theatre | until 22 November 2015

《杨门女将》朱虹饰穆桂英 copyThe hot ticket of the decade is CHINA PEKING OPERAs visit to the UK this November – The Peking Opera is a unique art form that requires the highest level of performing skill; demanding  lifelong dedication to practising its artistry. In this dance and musical extravaganza, each performer trains from a very tender age at opera school before being an apprentice and learning from the masters. With  spectacular costumes, face painting make-up and stunning stage craft, Peking Opera represents the essence of tradition Chinese values – achievements come through sweat and tears and resistance to material temptation. If there is an identity and unifying force for Chinese nationals, whether from the mainland, Taiwan or Hong Kong; it is the Peking Opera.

In FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (ticket details) Zhu Hong gives a unique performance as the lover of the Overlord of Chu, Xiang Yu, who is fighting to save the Qin Dynasty. Floating like an exotic flower, her role culminates in a magnificent sword dance that leaves her as composed as a water lily on a tranquil pond. This combination of controlled emotion and highly complex choreography, echoing Wuxia epics such as The Grandmaster and House of Flying Daggers, is what makes this spectacular an unforgettable experience.

The troupe also perform WARRIOR WOMEN OF YANG, a story set during the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD) when the Emperor of Mercy, General Yang Zongbao, leads the Song army against the Western Xia and is victorious thanks to his fierce and loyal female soldiers.

In the climate of a largely westernised China, there are still artists who are passionate about the traditional form of Chinese artistic heritage and devote their lives to preserving the century old form of art. It is a dream kept alive by the National Peking Opera Company who continue to pursuit their dream of keeping this ancient Chinese art form alive and sharing its beauty and stagecraft with the world.

Differing only slightly in costume and makeup, all traditional opera forms, including Peking opera, are, strictly speaking, “regional,” in that each is based on the music and dialect of a specific area. Peking opera assumed its present form about two hundred years ago in Beijing, then the capital of the Qing Dynasty, it is usually regarded as a national art form combining singing, dancing and martial arts. Peking opera is the most representative of all Chinese traditional dramatic art forms.

《杨门女将》探谷-4 copyThe music of Peking opera is mainly orchestral music and percussion instruments provide a strongly rhythmical accompaniment. The main percussion instruments are gongs and drums of various sizes and shapes. There are also clappers made of hardwood or bamboo. The main stringed instrument is jinghu (Beijing fiddle), supported by erhu (second fiddle). Plucked stringed instruments include yueqin (moonshaped mandolin), pipa (four-stringed lute) and xianzi (three-stringed lute). Occasionally, suona horn and Chinese flute are also used. The orchestra is led by a drummer, who uses bamboo sticks to create very powerful sounds — sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes strong and exciting, sometimes faint and sentimental — and bring out the emotions of the characters in coordination with the acting of the performers.

The vocal part of Peking opera is both spoken and sung. Spoken dialogue is divided into yunbai (recitative) and jingbai (Beijing colloquial speech), the former employed by serious characters and the latter by young females and clowns. The vocal music consists mainly of erhuang (adapted from folk tunes of Anhui and Hubei) and xipi (from Shaanxi tunes). In addition, Peking opera assimilates the tunes of the much older kunqu opera of the south and some folk arias popular in the north.

The character roles in Peking opera are finely and strictly differentiated into fixed types. Female roles are generally known as dan and male roles as sheng, but male clowns are known as chou. A chou, depicted by a patch of white on the face, is a humorous character. Male characters who are frank and open-minded but rough or those who are crafty and dangerous are known as jing or hualian (painted faces). Peking opera roles are further classified according to the age and personality of the characters. Each different role type has a style and rules of its own. What makes this “opera” unique, is this exotic combination of movement, dance, singing and music that makes it feel literally ‘out of this world’.

CHINESE CINEMA | THE ASSASSIN

ASSASSIN_THE_trees_green copy

Peking opera and its stylistic devices have appeared in many Chinese films. It often was used to signify a unique “Chineseness” in contrast to sense of culture being presented in Japanese films. Fei Mu, a director of the pre-Communist era, used Peking opera in a number of plays, sometimes within “Westernized”, realistic plots. King Hu, a later Chinese film director, used many of the formal norms of Peking opera in his films, such as the parallelism between music, voice, and gesture. In the 1993 film Farewell My Concubine, by Chen Kaige, Peking opera serves as the object of pursuit for the protagonists and a backdrop for their romance. Chen returned to the subject again in 2008 with the Mei Lanfang biopic FOREVER ENTHRALLED. Peking opera is also featured in Peking Opera Blues by Tsui Hark.

Three_Times_9 copyHou Hsiao-Hsien’s sumptuous films epitomise Chinese cinematic artistry and attention to detail. Fabulously meticulous both in execution and narrative, his award-winning dramas are amongst the most beautiful ever committed to celluloid. Born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947, Hou and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan the following year where he studied at the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts.

Internationally Hou is known for his austere and aesthetically rigorous dramas dealing with the upheavals of Taiwanese (and occasionally larger Chinese) history of the past century seen through the experience of individuals or small groups of characters. A City of Sadness (1989), features a family caught in conflict between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist government after the Second World War. Groundbreaking for tackling the controversial February 28 Incident and ensuing White Terror, the film became a major critical and commercial success, winning the Golden Lion at Venice in 1989, making it the first Taiwanese film to win the top prize at the oldest international film festival in the World.

hou1 copy copyHis narratives are elliptical and his style marked by extreme long takes with minimal camera movement but intricate choreography of actors and space within the frame. Hou uses extensive improvisation to arrive at the final shape of his scenes and the low-key, naturalistic acting of his performers. Famous for his rigorous austerity, a close collaboration with cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bin since the 1990s has brought a sensual beauty to his to his imagery and this is at its most sublime in his most recent Wuxia outing THE ASSASSIN, which won him Best Director at Cannes this year (2015). Since the 1980s, Chu Tien-Wen has been his writing partner notably on Three Times (2005), The Assassin (2015) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998).  He has also cast revered puppeteer Li Tian-lu as an actor in several outings, including The Puppetmaster (1993), based on Li’s life.

THE ASSASSIN IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 22 JANUARY 2016

THE CHINA PEKING OPERA | COURTESY OF SINOLINKPRODUCTIONS.COM | SADLERS WELLS 19 -22 NOVEMBER 2015 

AI WEI WEI AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY LONDON W1 UNTIL JANUARY 2016 

 

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