China unveils its Oscar nominee

September 30, 2010

Aftershock, d. Feng Xiaogang, 2010

China has named its candidate film for the foreign-language Oscar competition. Aftershock (唐山大地震), directed by Feng Xiaogang (馮小剛), will represent mainland China, the Film Bureau confirmed.

Aftershock is the biggest grossing Chinese language film of all time and is a touching melodrama about the separation of families following the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. The other shortlisted film was Zhang Yimou’s (張藝謀) recent Under The Hawthorn Tree (山楂樹之戀).

By Patrick Frater, Film Business Asia, 30 September 2010.


Review of Street Angel (马路天使; China, 1937)

September 21, 2010

Review of Street Angel (马路天使;China, 1937), A Star (Mingxing) Film Company production, distributed in the United States by Cinema Epoch (DVD).

Director: Yuan Muzhi
Screenwriter: Yuan Muzhi
Music: He Lüting
Cinematographer: Wu Yinxian
Cast: Zhou Xuan, Zhao Huishen, Zhao Dan
Running time: 87 MIN.

Reviewed by USC (Univ. of Southern California) Student Micah Worsham

Street Angel (1937), directed by YUAN Muzhi, a leftist classic.

Street Angel features the darker side of life in the slums of Shanghai, depicting the story of a small group of friends who have been brought together by their close proximity.  As another leftist film, much like The Goddess (d. Wu Yonggang, 1934), various techniques were employed to convey messages criticizing the faults in society and forcing the audience to consider the problems themselves.  At the very start of the film, the audience sees a montage of images varying from bustling city life to overlays of various monuments shot at different angles, giving an impression of destruction or chaos.  After this, we see an image of a nice, western-looking establishment overlaid with a shot of falling money, as if accentuating the affluence of this capitalistic place before cutting to shots of the lions commonly seen in front of banks taken at ominous angles, almost warning the audience not to even dream of trying to gain that wealth.

After the moving shot down the length of a Shanghai skyscraper, bringing the audience’s focus onto the streets/slums of Shanghai, the film begins with various shots of a parade taking place in the city streets as onlookers gaze at the ceremony and its participants in admiration.  The main character is introduced by a comical release of liquid as he tries to blow his trumpet, soon after which we see him falling into a palanquin as his friend, Master Wang, steps on his shoes.  As he peeks through the curtain, he sees the palanquin’s occupant: a young lady with her eyes crossed, and his eyes become crossed as a result.  This seems to be a criticism of wealth and high society, hinting through comedy that members of this tier of society are backwards and cannot see clearly.

The major difference between this film and The Goddess is the availability of sound as a medium with which to convey messages for the director and writers.  Following their rather ironic stroll down “Peaceful Lane,” the audience watches as Xiao Chen and his group, including the newspaper salesman Wang, the street vendor Ah Bing, the barber, and the stutterer, rather satirically struggle to write the word “hardship,” which the Wang remedies by finding a newspaper clipping with a title describing the hardships of China, a clever allusion on the part of the leftists to the war with Japan.  The director also utilizes song to convey messages as each song Xiaohong sings seems both to apply to the situation in the film while simultaneously hinting at the current crisis in China.  The “Four Seasons Song” includes lines such as “suddenly a heartless blow splits the [mandarin] ducks in two” and “the maiden has been blown south of the river / the scenery’s lovely all over the land / but how can it compare to the green gauzy sorghum at home?” hinting at the attack by the Japanese in the north, where sorghum is known to grow, and forcing the girl to move south of the Yangtze River to Shanghai.

Perhaps the most important character is Xiaohong’s “elder sister,” Xiaoyun, for her role as the character that brings the audience back to reality and provides the main handle of criticism in the film with her death.  For the first half of the film, Xiaoyun remains silent, though it becomes clear that she is a prostitute who is interested in Chen and is jealous of Xiaohong as a result.  However, as it becomes clear that their current benefactors, the erhu players and the gambling mistress, plan to sell Xiaohong to Mr. Gu, Xiaoyun presents Xiaohong with a suitcase and says “You don’t belong here.  Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you. They hate me.”  With this display of kindness as well as her apparent relationship with Wang, who seems very fond of her, Xiaoyun is brought closer to the audience.  Xiaoyun is later forced to seek shelter with Chen, who is still disgusted with her despite her relationship to Xiaohong, because a policeman on the street caught her out at night.  As she takes up residence with the group, she is soon compelled to protect Xiaohong as Mr. Gu and the erhu player find their residence and inquire about Xiaohong.  Xiaoyun gives Xiaohong time to run away as she confronts the erhu player who heartlessly calls her a slut and throws her against the wall, to which she responds by throwing a knife at him.  The knife misses and he picks it up and throws it at her instead, hitting her in the chest and dealing a fatal blow.  The film ends following Xiaoyun’s death and shot from outside the window of their little apartment, later moving back up the skyscraper as if saying this was just a glimpse into the lives of one small group of people suffering in the slums of Shanghai.  With her death, the satire and other comedic moments in the film are made clear and the audience is forced into a serious state of mind as they consider all that has transpired.

Street Angel utilizes clever satire as well as tragedy in its story along with various camera and sound techniques to convey a critical message to an audience that is both entertained and left wondering about what exactly they saw: I know I was.

Roger Garcia to head HKIFF

September 14, 2010

Here is a piece of good news, at least for Chinese cinema in general and Hong Kong cinema in particular: my friend and collaborator, veteran film producer and critic Roger Garcia is heading back to the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), a festival that urgently needs a person like Roger to redefine itself. I worked with Roger several years ago, writing an essay on Chinese musicals for his program at the Far East Films. This year I am working with him again, writing on Chinese comic films. Congratulations, Roger!

Here is the link to my article on Chinese musicals. chinese musical

“Garcia to head Hong Kong fest: Exec will handle film awards and financing forum”


Roger Garcia, film producer, critic, and curator

HONG KONG — Producer, critic, curator and scribe Roger Garcia has been named as the exec director of the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival Society.

The multihyphenate will handle the group’s three main events — the Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival, Asian Film Awards and the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum.

The Hong Kong-born Garcia’s cinema pedigree in his home town is impeccable. He was director of the HKIFF soon after it began in the late 1970s when he consolidated its programming of contemporary and classic Hong Kong cinema and developed its bi-lingual publications that helped introduce Hong Kong cinema to the world.

Garcia also pioneered the HKIFF’s specific focus on Asian cinema that became a model for many subsequent fests. He has been a HKIFF and AFA jury member, an adviser to Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and a HKIFF program consultant.

“My film career basically began with the HKIFF,” Garcia said in a statement. “It was the first international film festival in Asia and over the years its programs of discovery and revelation have had much to do with the acceptance of Asian and Hong Kong cinema around the world. I have much affection and personal connection to the festival and it’s an honor to come on board again, and help to steer it to new horizons.”

As a producer, Garcia has worked on both studio pictures and indie films, while as a critic, the Hong Kong-born Garcia’s work has appeared in Variety, as well as in Asiaweek, Cahiers du Cinema, Far East Economic Review and Film Comment.

He has also lectured at Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley on Asian cinema and was the first Director of the Filmmakers’ Development Lab (FDL) for the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) from 2005-2008.

“He (Garcia) brings a deep understanding of the HKIFF brand and culture, the needs of the changing film economy and is the ideal successor to continue the recognition and growth of Asia’s leading film events,” said Wilfred Wong, chairman of HKIFFS, to whom Garcia will report.

(Variety, Sept. 2, 2010)

Zhang Yimou’s “Noodle Shop” Opens in North America

September 7, 2010

Zhang Yimou’s slapstick comedy A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop (remake of Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple) was released in North America by Sony Pictures Classics on Sept. 3, 2010. In his lengthy review/interview of the filmmaker, Chris Lee of The Los Angeles Times calls the film “visually lush”, “goofy”, and “somewhat baffling to many non-Chinese viewers”; it nevertheless “highlights a certain coming of age for Chinese cinema” (Aug. 29, 2010). Lee also quotes the film’s producer as saying that Zhang’s remake “may have unintentionally opened the door to a kind of cross-cultural movie exchange program”, as the Coen Brothers indicated that “they are going to make a remake of Raise the Red Lantern“.

"A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop" (2009), Zhang Yimou's take on Coen Brothers' debut "Blood Simple" (1984)

The film is given a limited release, playing in 5 theaters in Los Angeles and New York. According to boxofficemojo, it earned $27,300 in its opening weekend (Sept 3-5), or $5,460 average per screen. As of Sept. 6, 2010, Zhang’s “Noodle Shop” raked in a total of $36,300 at the North American box office.

Photo at NETPAC 20 (con.)

September 5, 2010

"Imaging Asia" Conference at NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) 20: Aug. 17-22, 2010, Delhi, India. With (from the left) Ms. Marjan Riahi from Iran, Founder and Manager of Short Film News; Mark Schilling, reviewer for The Japan Times and reporter for Screen International & Variety on Japanese Cinema; and Raman Chawla, conference coordinator, at Hotel Janpath, New Delhi, India.

Photo at NETPAC 20

September 2, 2010

"Imaging Asia" Conference at NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) 20: Aug. 17-22, 2010, Delhi, India (left: Dr. Tilman Baumgartel, Professor at the Royal Univ. of Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Right: Dr. Rashmi Doraiswamy, Professor at the Academy of Third World Studies, National Islamic University, India)