6 Chinese films to watch in 2015

This year's most anticipated Chinese releases including Wolf Totem

I Am Nobody (2015) by Dir Derek Yee
From a classic novel adaptation to new works by Wang Xiaoshuai and Chen Kaige, Time Out reveal this year’s most anticipated Chinese releases

Wolf Totem

Dir Jean-Jacques Annaud, China/France


The anticipation for Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem couldn’t be higher. The film is adapted from the eponymous novel by Lu Jiamin (pen name Jiang Rong) which has sold more than 20 million copies, making it the second most read book in China after the little red one. The film’s budget, at some 38 million USD, is huge for China. It’s also in 3D. That Annaud, a Frenchman, was invited by the Chinese state to make the film is intriguing, too. The director’s Seven Years in Tibet (1997) was banned in China and Annaud himself was barred from entering the country for a time. (The government took issue with the depiction of the People’s Liberation Army storming Tibet in 1949.) Set in 1969, the story follows student Chen Zen as he journeys from a Beijing university to the wilds of Inner Mongolia for re-education among a nomadic tribe of shepherds. Annaud has called it ‘an emotional story with the emotion of vastness’. It is a subject suited to a director whose films have the scope and ambition of Hollywood yet retain a certain arthouse sensitivity.
Release February 19

Red Amnesia

Dir Wang Xiaoshuai, China


Red Amnesia is the final film in Wang Xiaoshuai’s trilogy; the two earlier films are Shanghai Dreams (2005) and 11 Flowers (2012). Fittingly for the end of an epoch, Red Amnesia is about an elderly widow who, having lived a life of prescribed roles – worker, mother, wife – finds the breakneck free-fall of modern Chinese urbanism distressing. Deng Meijuan isn’t able to embrace the Western consumerist lifestyle of her eldest son and his wife, and is in denial about her youngest's sexuality. When she starts receiving disturbing phone calls, flashbacks reveal an episode in Guizhou from decades back. (Guizhou features in many of Wang’s films; his family was sent there in the 1960s and he grew up on the harsh Third Front, a buffer zone against a Soviet invasion that never came). Carefully observed and mysterious, Wang’s film reveals the damage borne of moral compromise.
Release Spring 2015

I Am Somebody

Dir Derek Yee, Hong Kong


Technically a Hong Kongese film from one of the territory’s most-acclaimed directors, I Am Somebody nonetheless chronicles Filma unique Mainland scenario: the lives and aspirations of the army of migrant extras at Hengdian World Studios, Zhejiang province. Derek Yee shot this on the side as he worked on Sword Master, a martial arts action film produced by Tsui Hark. Hengdian, the world’s biggest film studio complex, has attracted migrant workers from all over China hoping for a bit of fame or money – but few make it out of the dispiriting life of the perpetual extra, as savings are frittered away by boredom and inflated rent. To us, this film sounds much more interesting than the flashy wuxia (martial hero) epic.
Release May 2015

The Monk

Dir Chen Kaige, China


One of the stalwarts of Chinese cinema, Chen Kaige is of the crop of directors who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in the early 1980s renowned for their epic story-telling and visual dynamism. Chen’s Farewell My Concubine (1993) remains the only Chinese film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is placed number one in Time Out’s 100 best Chinese Mainland films of all time. Coming after 2012’s Caught in the Web – a fictional take on the disturbing real-life ‘human flesh search engine’ phenomenon – The Monk seems somewhat incongruous. But the wuxia drama is actually closer to the director’s oeuvre. It’s an adaption of a novel by Xu Haofeng set in the turmoil of the early years of the republic of China (1911-49) and is about a Taoist monk and his encounters with a curious collection of characters (ninjas, a deadly Peking Opera master, etc). The ensemble cast includes Aaron Kwok, Wang Baoqiang and Lin Chi-ling.
Release June 2015

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend

Dir Yuen Woo-Ping, China/USA


The Green Legend is hyped not just because it’s the sequel to Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is also the first film released by Netflix, the video-streaming site with over 50 million subscribers in 40 countries. Netflix has forayed into production before, with the Kevin Spacey-starring drama series House of Cards, but the release of its first feature-length film is a striking development in film production. ‘The movie-going experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement,’ Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, which is in on the deal, told the BBC. Ang Lee, though, is not returning. Chinese martial arts-choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who created fight scenes in The Matrix, will direct a cast that includes Michelle Yeoh (a former Bond girl) and Donnie Yen. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend will be released in IMAX cinemas and on Netflix to the ire of exhibitors who view digital platforms as a threat to theatrical box office returns.
Release August 2015

Big Fish and Chinese Flowering Crabapple

Dir Liang Xuan, China


‘China hasn’t produced an excellent animated feature in nearly 30 years,’ Liang Xuan, the creator of Big Fish, told Beijing Today earlier this year, ‘I hope we can create something for the next generation.’ Liang has been working on his magnum opus since 2008 and recently raised 1.6 million RMB to finish off the project from over 3,500 backers on crowd-funding website Demohour, making it the most successfully crowd-funded project in China to date. The ten-minute demo has earned the film plaudits for its blend of Hayao Miyazaki-style animation with traditional Chinese imagery.
Release November 2015