Michelle Yeoh and Simu Liu in a scene from “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Credit…Marvel Studios/Disney-Marvel Studios, via Associated Press
Marvel released “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” with China in mind. Simu Liu, the film’s Canadian lead actor, was born in China. Much of its dialogue is in Mandarin. The cast includes Tony Leung, one of the biggest Chinese-speaking movie stars in history.
The studio’s first Asian superhero movie is a hit, drawing praise and ticket sales in East Asia and other global markets. Perhaps the only place where the movie has not been well received — in fact, it has not been received there at all — is mainland China.
Disney, which owns Marvel, has yet to receive clearance from Beijing’s regulators to show the film in the vast but heavily censored movie market. While the reasons aren’t clear, “Shang-Chi” may be a victim of the low point in U.S.-China relations.
China is also pushing back against Western influence, with increasingly vocal nationalists denouncing foreign books and movies and the teaching of English. They have even criticized Mr. Liu for his previous comments about China, which he left in the mid-1990s, when he was a small child. Continue reading →
A shot from the Hong Kong protest documentary “Revolution of Our Times”: The film’s director says no cinema in the city will be willing to show it. (Image courtesy of “Revolution of Our Times” team)
HONG KONG — A film censorship amendment due for debate in Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday is poised to further squeeze local artists already feeling the pressure from the Beijing-imposed national security law.
The bill, submitted by the government, would alter the existing film censorship law to establish a new mechanism to prohibit films “that would be contrary to the interests of national security,” according to the legislation’s preamble. Its passage would continue rolling back freedoms that once helped the city earn the nickname “Hollywood of the Far East,” creating a censorship environment ever closer to that on the mainland.
As it is, many Hong Kong filmmakers are simply giving up on screening movies with controversial themes.
Mok Kwan-ling, a director and video journalist, told Nikkei Asia that she has no chance of publicly showing her latest film featuring a young couple who met during the protests that swept the city in 2019. She rejected the government censor’s demands in June to make 14 cuts as well as change the title “Jap-uk” — which literally means to “tidy up the house” in Cantonese. The name comes from a scene where the girl rushes to her boyfriend’s house to clean up after he is arrested, before the police can search his room. The official English title is “Far From Home.” Continue reading →
Since making mainland China’s first lesbian-themed movie Fish and Elephant (今年夏天 jīnnián xiàtiān) (2001), director Lǐ Yù 李玉 has established herself as one of the country’s best-known female filmmakers. Although her work has gotten bigger and conventional, like the recent comedy caper Tiger Robbers (阳光劫匪 yángguāng jié fěi), Li started with documentaries and arthouse fare that frequently upset censors. The LGBTQ romance Fish and Elephant was confined to foreign film festivals. Li’s follow-up, Dam Street (红颜 hóngyán) (2005), about a teenager who has to give up her child in the 1980s, was doomed to the same fate. Lost in Beijing (苹果 píngguǒ) (2007) hardly fared better: its four-person love affair set in the underground of Beijing was eviscerated with cuts before it was banned outright. Continue reading →
A plumber drills a hole between the basement of one apartment and the ceiling of another as a strange disease that causes people to act like cockroaches sweeps over Taiwan at the turn of the millennium. A depressed homeless man, desperate to provide for his family but invisible to the people who drive past his roadside advertising sign, violently mauls the cabbage that his young daughter has adopted as a friend. A Taipei cinema screens King Hu’s “Dragon Inn” during a torrential downpour on its final night in business as various patrons shuffle around inside the theater, each of them looking for a connection that seems to be flickering away forever before our eyes.
While Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang has long been associated with slow cinema, the non-linear deceleration of his style has been interjected with soaring dreamscapes, electric moments of self-reflexivity, and even a handful of sexually charged musical numbers. The pace of his films is perhaps their most immediate signature, but it’s also considerably less consistent than the social anxieties shared between them. From his debut feature (1992’s “Rebels of the Neon God”) to the installation pieces that he’s been making with muse Lee Kang-sheng in the years since his soft retirement in 2013, Tsai’s work has reliably probed the psychic dislocation of modern life, and it’s done so with a roiling fury that belies his arthouse poise. Continue reading →
Call for Chapters: Contemporary Chinese Art Cinema
A book edited by Flora Lichaa (Université libre de Bruxelles), Ma Ran (Nagoya University), and Seio Nakajima (Waseda University).
This edited volume, to be published in the Routledge Contemporary Asian Societies collection, follows a research workshop on contemporary Chinese art cinema held in May 2021 (see the program here). From this workshop emerged the conclusion that delineating the borders between Chinese films that should be considered art films and those that should not is extremely challenging given the variety of styles, forms, economic and industrial contexts of contemporary Chinese films that are labelled as such by both the international and domestic industries, audiences, and critics. This diversity is evident in the variety of terms that have been used to refer to Chinese art film, in both English (art, art-house, auteur cinema) and Chinese (wenyi, yishu, tansuo, zuozhe dianying).
Because of the contingency and ambiguity of these definition, existing research has mainly considered Chinese art films as those labelled by European and North American film festival programmers and critics. In this sense, the first Chinese films to be “qualified” as such appeared in the context of China’s opening-up and economic reforms in the mid-1980s. Spearheaded by Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth being awarded at Locarno Film Festival in 1985, it also included a series of films that were later known as the Fifth-Generation films (Signer 2017). To name just a few, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Horse Thief was awarded at Fribourg International Film Festival in 1988, Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum at Berlinale in 1988 and Qiu Ju at Venice International Film Festival in 1992, Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine at Cannes Festival in 1993. Continue reading →
You are welcome to join the book launch zoom meeting on 10 September 2021 at 1100 Hrs (+8 GMT) Hong Kong and Singapore time. Thank you for your attention (and attendance)! Please go to this registration link.
“Confucius never talked about strange phenomena, physical violence, social chaos, or spirits” (子不語怪力亂神). In the 1930s the Nationalist government implemented film censorship which resonated with the Confucian teachings intended to maintain social harmony and political stability. Cantonese pictures, ghost and fantasy genres, racy and racially insulting Hollywood images were baleful weeds that threatened to disrupt national security. After 1949, British officials in Hong Kong exercised clandestine measures to quarantine Communist movies, pro-Taiwan pictures, and politically provocative Hollywood productions to stabilize colonial rule; meanwhile the mainland Communist authorities continued to exorcise the demonic and undesirable spirits from their state-owned screens. Continue reading →
The Chinese Film Classics project is delighted to announce the publication of three new translations of Chinese silent films, including the first-ever translations of two partially-extant action films:
In this partially extant silent action film, Bai Suying, a talented athlete from a women’s sports academy, gives a stand-out performance at a school demonstration and is awarded “the outfit of a heroine.” Donning the swashbuckling costume, and pasting on a moustache, she hones her talents at archery and swordplay. Soon, a summons addressed to “my son Tiemin” arrives from her father, asking for help in reclaiming the Gongbao Herding Ground, which has been seized by the gang of Pan Debiao. En route home disguised as Tiemin, she and family servant You San encounter the warrior Wu Zhiyuan, who has been studying swordplay at Black Cloud Cave. The crisis deepens when Pan informs Old Mr Su that he plans to sell the hunting grounds to foreigners. At home, White Rose bests her father’s men, who doubted the ability of this slight figure, and is duly elected leader of the rescue squad. After several triumphant battles against multiple opponents, they tie up Pan and his gang and send them packing. Then dad suggests that You San accompany “the young master” for a bath… Continue reading →
Street Angels, the most celebrated Chinese musical of the 1930s, was released in Shanghai in July 1937 just as full-scale war broke out with Japan in northern China. Its themes—sexual and economic exploitation offset by fun and camaraderie—were at once shocking and entertaining. Set in the slums of Shanghai in 1935, the film presents the precarious lives of the urban lower classes in a tragicomic mode. War looms in the background of this story of a refugee singer. The Japanese army was soon to invade Shanghai, but, to accommodate China’s censors, the film never mentions the enemy by name.
Synopsis: Teenaged songstress Zhou Xuan sings two hit songs in director Yuan Muzhi’s masterpiece. At the center of these “street angels” is a young woman who has fled fighting in the Northeast only to find herself threatened again in Shanghai. She seeks refuge from her abusers with her lover across the alley, played by heartthrob Zhao Dan, and other downtrodden friends. But will Xiao Hong and her sister, who has been forced into prostitution, be able to escape?
The film showcases the popularity of film musicals, the charm and charisma of its “golden voice” star, the multiple influences of Hollywood on the Chinese talkies, and the violent realities of 1930s China. In Mandarin, with English subtitles.
Berlin-based film director Popo Fan (pictured here with Matthias Delvaux) has been a curating member of the Beijing Queer Film Festival since 2013. Photo: Yuan Yuan
“In China everybody told me that if you want to realise your queer projects you should go to Berlin. But I was hesitant to leave,” reflects film director Popo Fan. Born in 1985 in the Shanghai area, Fan has been part of China’s queer artistic community since studying film in the mid 2000s, and has been a curating member of the Beijing Queer Film Festival since 2013. While he is now based in the German capital, for this script writer, actor and director, moving here wasn’t an easy decision. “I didn’t want to give in to the notion that you can only do queer, sex positive art in Europe.”
Fan was first introduced to the Beijing Queer Film Festival by a keen film studies professor. Now he has been helping manage the festival – which is China’s oldest, having launched in 2001 – for more than a decade. But in a country where portraying homosexual relationships in a positive way is banned, circumventing censorship means taking risks. Fan himself has experienced this pressure: venue owners who host film screenings are harassed by the police and universities are told to not host Fan’s events. In 2013, Fan and his colleagues screened the festival’s films in a bus because they weren’t able to find a location willing to host them. “The following year, the bus company was told not to rent their buses to the festival makers,” he says. Continue reading →
Filmmaker Kiwi Chow says he will not leave Hong Kong in spite of security law risks after his film was screened at Cannes. Photo: Reuters
The Hong Kong director of a protest documentary screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday has sold the copyright of the film to protect himself from legal repercussions, but has decided to stay in the city, saying he does not want to be ruled by fear of the national security law.
Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai, an award-winning local director, surprised the Hong Kong film industry on Friday by having Revolution of Our Times, a 2½-hour documentary about the city’s anti-government protests in 2019, featured at the internationally renowned cinema showcase in France.
But Chow, 42, told the Post he no longer legally owned the film after handing it off to a distributor in Europe, noting he had also taken the step of deleting all the footage in his possession.
“I sold my copyright too,” he said. “You can say it’s a kind of risk assessment. In Hong Kong, I did not do any distribution of the film and I don’t have any clips with me.” Continue reading →
A display for “Hi, Mom” outside a cinema in Beijing. It is the top-grossing film in China this year.Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Two of the biggest films in China this year were neither chest-thumping odes to patriotism nor slapstick buddy comedies. They featured no superheroes or intricately choreographed car chase scenes.
Instead, they were thoughtful explorations of issues that are familiar to millions of women in China today, like the constant struggle between family obligations and career ambitions or the complicated bond between a mother and a daughter.
The two films, “Hi, Mom” and “Sister,” are part of a wave of movies made by female directors that are challenging the notion of what it takes to conquer China’s vaunted film market — now the world’s largest. And while each film is distinct, together they stand out for what they represent: a rejection of the one-dimensional female roles often seen in commercial Chinese movies, like the lovelorn maiden or the “flower vase,” a derogatory Chinese term for a pretty face.
“The new breed of women’s films are more subtle, nuanced, and realistic,” said Ying Zhu, a scholar of Chinese film and author of the forthcoming book “Hollywood in China: Behind the Scenes of the World’s Largest Market.”
In film sound, noise is usually what needs to be reduced to create a more nuanced and realistic sound design, what needs to be eliminated to leave behind a clean and immersive audioscape. But what happens when we begin with noise as its own generative and creative force? The cacophony of the modern city, for example, can be read as noise pollution, or festive renao 熱鬧 that forms the identity of that particular space. Perhaps our ears are attuned to the music of the streets and theaters; but our bodies receive the noise around it, its constant hum and tangible, material presence. In fact, without noise, you might argue that there is no signal. Mass communication systems from the very beginning have been built around the interplay of noise and redundancy. With the digital turn, analog noise has become the vanishing horizon that not only artists, but music consumers chase and attempt to reproduce. Hence it behooves us to consider noise as a force within media aesthetics, media affect, and the history of media technology.
The Journal of Chinese Cinemas invites papers for a special issue that considers noise in terms of its environmental and musical dimensions, sound theory, and media materiality and aesthetics. We are hoping to assemble a group of articles with broad historical and geographic spread–work on all Chinese-speaking media cultures is welcome. Abstracts for the issue will be due by August 16th; decisions will be announced in early September with an anticipated deadline for full drafts (6,000 and 8,000 words) on December 31, 2021. Please limit your abstracts to 250-300 words and include a brief author biography with your submission, sent to email@example.com.
The Inaugural Conference of the Association for Chinese Animation Studies was originally held online between March 1 and May 12, 2021 (Hong Kong time). We had 70 speakers and 553 public registrants from 32 countries and regions. Here is the trailer for the conference:
The rescreening will take place between July 12 and August 4, 2021 (Hong Kong time). Each panel will be rescreened at two different time slots on that day: 9am-12noon and 16:00pm-19:00pm, Hong Kong time. Each time slot will have a designated Zoom ID. Please use the same Zoom ID at the designated time slot for all panels.
The animation industry is always in crisis in China. Every so often an article appears bemoaning the state of Chinese animation (this one also looks like a promotion for a new department– another important factor in Chinese animation, educational institutions promoting media programs meant to feed the domestic animation industry). The message is generally the same. Once upon a time there was a Golden Age, now things are more dispersed, audiences in China are critical of domestic animation, and the movie isn’t a blockbuster like a film by Disney or Studio Ghibli.
The Golden Age is often represented by Havoc in Heaven aka Uproar in Heaven: “[w]ith its stunning visuals and beautiful music inspired by Peking Opera, [the film] received numerous awards, as well as widespread domestic and international recognition.”
Sure. Once the country opened up and sent the film abroad in the late 1970s and viewers could watch the film abroad and in China, everyone loved Uproar, until they kept playing it on TV over and over and even the kids got sick of it. Uproar was produced in two parts in 1961 & 1964 (Olga Bobrowska* does an excellent reading of the films as such). The first part was well received, the second part not so much. Might have had something to do with the Red Guards appropriating the public domain Monkey King for their own revolutionary activities.
Can animators in China learn anything from Uproar, DIsney, and Studio Ghibli? Will the most recent animation studio/institution create that ever illusive recipe to become the next global blockbuster?
*See Olga Bobrowska, “Maoist Remoulding of the Legend of Monkey King, or Analyzing Ideological Implications of Wan Laiming’s Havoc in Heaven,” in Twisted Dreams of History,V4 Perspective on Propaganda, Ideology, and Animation, Kraków: Wydawnictwa AGH (AGH University of Science and Technology Press, 2019): 83-104.
Nearly 60 years after the release of “Havoc in Heaven,” the Chinese animation industry is now struggling to generate revenues at home while trying to expand its presence in the global marketplace. What went wrong? This article is brought to you by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, a leading international joint venture university based in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.
When the lights went down for the first screenings of Princess Iron Fan 铁扇公主 across war-torn China in 1941, audiences were merely eager to see how the country’s first full-length animated feature had turned out. But the film proved to be nothing short of spectacular, heralding the start of a golden era for Chinese animation and laying the groundwork for what would eventually become Havoc in Heaven 大闹天宫 (also translated as Uproar in Heaven), an indisputable classic that has influenced a generation of filmmakers and animators, both in China and overseas.
But this golden age didn’t last. Nearly 60 years after the release of Havoc in Heaven, the Chinese animation industry is now struggling to generate revenues at home while trying to expand its presence in the global marketplace. To understand the current challenges facing Chinese animators, it is critical to recognize the history of how a once-prosperous industry fell behind its American, European, and Japanese counterparts and strived to regain its footing with radical adjustments.
The Wan brothers: Purveyors of early animation
To talk about the beginnings of Chinese animation is to talk about the life stories of the Wan brothers — Chaochen 超塵, Dihuan 滌寰, Guchan 古蟾, and Laiming 籁鸣. Growing up in a family with no artistic background — their father was a businessman in Nanjing and their mother was a stay-at-home mother — the four brothers were mad about painting and shadow puppetry when they were boys, with American cartoon series like Popeye the Sailor Man and Betty Boop being the backdrop of their childhood. Continue reading →