Chinese films to watch in 2014

The Chinese cinema releases worth seeing this year

All Apologies by director Emily Tang
Time Out's guide to the Chinese films worth seeing this year, whether at the cinema, or on DVD, including movies from Jia Zhangke, Zhang Yimou and Lou Ye.

All Apologies (爱的替身)

Dir Emily Tang
After a slew of arty but difficult films – Conjugation (2001) and Perfect Life (2008) – Emily Tang has created something more accessible with a subject that will resonate with a large swathe of Chinese viewers. All Apologies touches on a number of hot button social issues, such as rape and the insurmountable cost of healthcare, but the overarching narrative is concerned with the social mess created by the one-child policy. When the young son of a couple is accidentally killed by a neighbour, and it transpires that the wife has undergone a sterilisation at the behest of family planning authorities, the husband takes what he believes is the rightful compensation: another child.

Release: In cinemas, March 2014

Return (归来)

Dir Zhang Yimou
Those who sat through Flowers of War (2011) may struggle to resurrect anticipation for the next Zhang Yimou project. Indeed, much of the media are more interested in Zhang’s alleged flouting of child planning rules than in his creative work these days, but he’ll be hoping this historical epic will shift the focus.

Return is an adaptation of a Yan Geling book (as was Flowers) that spans Chinese history from the 1920s to the 1990s. It is narrated by the daughter of Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), an intellectual forced into an arranged marriage with a distant relative (played by Gong Li), who soon flees to study in America. When he returns to China he becomes a professor, only to be condemned as an anti-revolutionary and sent to a labour camp in the northwest of the country during the 1950s. Zhang’s film begins when Lu is reunited with his wife after two decades of separation.

It’s an epic story, but is rumoured to be a return to less flashy filmmaking. According to Zhang Zhao, the chief executive of Le Vision Pictures, Return’s production company, Zhang Yimou is fed up with making commercial films. ‘He wants to come back to make an arthouse film and collaborate with Gong Li,’ he told the Global Times. For years Gong was Zhang’s muse (and off-screen lover), starring in many of the films that made both of their names in the 1990s, such as Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine.

Release: In cinemas, May 2014



Massage (推拿)

Dir Lou Ye
Lou Ye is a Chinese director who has spent much of his time in France. He has twice been banned from making films in China, in 2001 and 2006, so relocated to Europe where he is a regular fixture at film festivals. His 2012 film Mystery spelled a return to Chinese cinemas after a nine-year hiatus. But still things didn’t go smoothly: Lou ended up removing his name from the credits in defiance of the cuts ordered by officials.

Massage is based on an award-winning book by Bi Feiyu. The narrative is about the daily lives of a group of blind masseurs and stars Qin Hao, the lead actor of Spring Fever, which was filmed on the sly during Lou’s filmmaking ban and won best screenplay at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. In contrast, Massage deals with a squarer subject, and Lou plans not to run afoul of the authorities this time. ‘The book won an award when it came out, so there shouldn’t be a problem,’ he told The Hollywood Reporter. ‘Well, at least that’s what I hope.’

Release: In cinemas, 2014

Til Madness Do Us Part (疯爱)

Dir Wang Bing
Maverick documentarian Wang Bing isn’t known for his compact editing. West of the Tracks – which New Yorker film critic Richard Brody called ‘extraordinary’ – is nine hours long. And while some of Wang’s films in recent years have been more palatable (2012’s Three Sisters, 2007’s Fengming, a Chinese Memoir), ’Til Madness Do Us Part is set to be a formidable 228 minutes.

The film is an unflinching portrait of patients at a squalid mental asylum in southwest China. Wang’s immersive camerawork reproduces the desolation and tedium of the men’s lives where, abandoned by their families, they now sleep four in one room and treat the grimy corridors as a public toilet.

The people of Wang’s films are always victims of their social circumstances and the filmmaker goes to lengths to restore dignity to those in the most wretched of situations. This film continues that tradition.

Release: Independent film festivals, on DVD, online

Till_madness_do_us_part-fil


A Touch of Sin (天注定)

Dir Jia Zhangke
Waiting for the release of A Touch of Sin was one of Time Out’s least rewarding pastimes of 2013. Originally due out in early November, the weeks slid by with little word from authorities about the holdup. Still, director Jia Zhangke says he’s confident A Touch of Sin will see the light of Chinese cinemas.

‘Because this film has some breakthrough moments and challenges, it’s very normal if there is some doubt,’ Jia told local media last month. ‘For me, it is not surprising. What I can do is to communicate with [the authorities] rationally.’ The film follows four interlaced narratives where ordinary citizens are driven to acts of madcap violence. Jia had been working on a martial arts film (In The Qing Dynasty, which is also due for release in 2014) when he became transfixed by the deluge of bloody crimes committed by people driven to the edge by bleak socio-economic reality, which he read about on Sina Weibo.

Though A Touch of Sin gained approval for its premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it won best screenplay, Jia’s barbed polemic is proving too much for domestic release. Thus, we continue to wait.

Release: In cinemas, 2014



Gone With the Bullets (一步之遥)

Dir Jiang Wen
Set in 1920s Shanghai, Gone With the Bullets is based on the true story of Ma Zouri (Jiang Wen) and Xiang Feitian (Ge You) who establish a beauty pageant entitled Flowers Competition, attended by the city’s glamorous elite. When an underdog wins the competition, it triggers a number of tragic, dramatic events. Jiang’s Let the Bullets Fly (2010) was one of the highest grossing domestic releases in recent years, earning 850 million RMB at the worldwide box office. Gone With the Bullets is the second film in the Bullets trilogy, and is in 3D. It is expected to be a commercial hit of similar magnitude to the first installment.

Release: In cinemas, December 2014

When Night Falls (我还有话要说)

Dir Ying Liang
In 2008, police arrested and reportedly beat a young man called Yang Jia for riding an unlicensed bike. Yang retaliated with molotov cocktails and a stabbing rampage at a police station in Shanghai’s Zhabei district in which six policemen died. In the aftermath, rather than condemnation, Yang received widespread empathy from the public, who viewed him as a victim of police brutality, driven to an extreme.

Director Ying Liang’s telling of this story in When Night Falls focuses not on Yang, but his mother, who was detained in a mental hospital after his arrest. When she is released she attempts to assist her son, now on death row, by lobbying against the brutality of China’s judicial system.

Release: Independent film festivals, on DVD, online

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