Hu Jie, excavating Chinese history

Source: NYT (6/28/20)
Excavating Chinese History, One Harrowing Film at a Time
The work of Hu Jie, who has made more than 30 movies, is little known even in China. The release of “Spark” and “The Observer” should make him better known abroad.
By Ian Johnson

The filmmaker Hu Jie in “The Observer,” a documentary about Hu, directed by Rita Andreetti. Credit…Icarus Films

For more than 20 years, the filmmaker Hu Jie has been trawling the deep waters of Chinese history to create a series of harrowing documentaries about the early years of Communist Party rule.

Though Hu is largely unknown outside Chinese intellectual and foreign academic circles, two films, to be released on June 30, should increase the visibility of his work and help make it accessible to outsiders. “Spark” — a film that has undergone many iterations, alternations and expansions — reconstructs the fate of a group of young people who started an underground journal 60 years ago. And “The Observer,” a documentary about Hu by the Italian director Rita Andreetti, is at once a sympathetic portrait of the filmmaker and an introduction to his films.

Both are being distributed by Icarus Films as part of dGenerate Films’ collection of independent Chinese movies, curated by the American film producer Karin Chien. Their release — along with three other important Hu works that Icarus has released — makes it possible for audiences to see the sweep of his body of work. Continue reading

Eclipse film review

Source: Taipei Times (6/25/20)
Movie Review: Eclipse
A 45-second classic television commercial is turned into a gripping and entertaining 83-minute thriller that addresses current social issues such as abuse in the military and transitional justice
By Han Cheung / Staff reporter

Kai Hsieh, left, and Kelvin Chi star in Eclipse. Photo courtesy of

It’s hard to know what to expect from a film that takes a popular 1990s “Iron Ox” (鐵牛運功散) herbal remedy television commercial and expands it to 83 minutes. There’s infinite room for imagination, as the commercial basically consists of a young military conscript calling his mother and telling her how effective the remedy is.

“Mom, it’s A-jung!” (媽! 我阿榮啦) he exclaims into the old-school payphone, the catchphrase serving as the Chinese title of Eclipse. He enthusiastically describes the medicine’s benefits, after which his father takes the phone and asks him to come home soon. The ad is still shown on television every now and then, giving rise to the running joke that A-jung is still stuck in military service over 20 years later and still hasn’t returned home. Continue reading

On the 9th Reel China Biennial

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Homecoming, Postsocialist Memory, and Subjects: On the 9th Reel China Biennial,” by Qi Wang. The essay, an overview of films screened at the 9th Reel China Biennial, held at NYU in November of 2019, can be read in its entirety at: Find a teaser below.

Kirk Denton, editor

Homecoming, Postsocialist Memory, and Subjects:
On the 9th Reel China Biennial

By Qi Wang

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June 2020)

The Reel China Biennial is an independent Chinese film and documentary screening series that was inaugurated in 2001. In November 2019, New York University hosted its 9th edition, co-curated by NYU professors Zhang Zhen (张真) and Angela Zito (司徒安) along with Wang Xiaolu (王小鲁), a leading critic of independent film in China (fig. 1).[1] As in the past, this most recent program is fresh and comprehensive. It showcases twelve films created after 2015. Among those, nine are from 2018, and six are of feature length, going over ninety minutes each.

24th Street (24号大街, dir. Pan Zhiqi 潘志琪, 2018), a nominee for the Best Documentary at the 55th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, observes the vagabond life of Su and Qin, a couple nearing retirement age who have lived together out of wedlock for over two decades (fig. 2). The two make a living by running makeshift restaurants to feed fellow migrant workers on construction sites, the latter a common sight in and near cities such as Hangzhou, where the first part of the film is set, due to the massive urbanization unfolding in China. Without a license and at the mercy of shifting conditions that range from weather and location to the police, the hardworking Su and Qin know distress and failure only too well. With their investment turning fruitless once again, they decide to return to their native Guizhou province and perhaps settle down there. . .  [read the whole essay]

Chinese Film Classics update

Here’s an update on Christopher Rea’s project Chinese Film Classics.–Kirk

A free YouTube playlist of early Chinese films with English subtitles
Translated by Christopher Rea (
List of films current as of June 12, 2020


Laborer’s Love (1922): The earliest surviving complete Chinese film. In this short slapstick comedy, a carpenter-turned-fruit seller is in love with a doctor’s daughter and uses the tricks of his former trade to win her father’s approval. Features special effects and original Chinese-English intertitles. Draws a laugh from kids and grown-ups alike.

Playthings (1933): Ruan Lingyu and Li Lili star as mother and daughter, artisan toymakers whose livelihood is being ruined by mass-produced foreign imports. After her son is kidnapped, Sister Ye leads the community in supporting soldiers defending Shanghai against the Japanese invasion of 1932. Director Sun Yu harnesses the charisma of two screen goddesses in this parable about China’s urgent need for military and economic self-strengthening. Ruan’s final scene is a tour de force. Continue reading

Animation in the Sinosphere

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay,” by Evelyn Shih. The essay reviews two recent publications on animation in China and Taiwan. The review appears below, and at its online home: My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay

Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan, by Teri Silvio
Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation, 1940s-1970s, by Daisy Yan Du

Reviewed by Evelyn Shih
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2020)

Teri Silvio, Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 290 pages. ISBN: 9780824881160 (Paper); 9780824876623 (Hardcover).

Daisy Yan Du, Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 276 pages. ISBN: 9780824877644 (Paper); 9780824872106 (Hardcover).

Has the age of animation begun? And if it has, to whom does it belong? Two new books on Chinese and Taiwanese animation bring these questions into focus using materials that have thus far received scant attention in English-language scholarship. In global animation studies, by far the dominant loci for animation have been America and Japan—the former beginning with the worldwide stardom of Mickey Mouse, and the latter beginning with the post-WWII boom of anime, which subsequently drew interest to earlier animation and related media. The modes of animation that emerged from these locations have come to define the paradigms through which most scholars approach animation, and included among these framing paradigms is the specter of national cinema. While both Teri Silvio’s Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan and Daisy Yan Du’s Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation engage with that framework, they also work to push the model forward with new perspectives.

Silvio challenges “Japanamerica” through the lens of post-colonialism, taking as her case study a past colony of Japan and a neo-colonial client state of the US: Taiwan.[1] More importantly, however, she broadens the field of animation studies by finding an interdisciplinary interface with anthropology and religious studies—that is, she engages seriously with media studies, especially areas such as fan and reception studies, film analysis, and production studies, but her strength is in cultural theory. The “age of animation” that she proposes in her title is not just an acknowledgement of increasingly sophisticated digital technologies and virtual realities reaching a new level of omnipresence in contemporary life; it also redefines animation as a mode of post-humanism. As she puts it, “animation in the narrow sense (a kind of cinema or video) is popular because animation in the broad sense (giving objects lives of their own) is good to think with—specifically, to think through what is happening right now in the intersections of technology and capitalism, of the global and the local, of the human and the nonhuman” (3). In one deft move, Silvio provincializes Japanese and American animation, which is after all just “a kind of cinema or video,” and finds a larger question that puts a relatively marginal mode of Taiwanese puppet animation at the center. Puppets, after all, are objects that exist precisely to have a “life of their own.” Continue reading

An Interview with Wang Jiuliang

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Jin Liu’s “A Cinematic Presentation of Trash: An Interview with Wang Jiuliang.” The interview appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Jin Liu for sharing this piece with the MCLC community.

Kirk Denton, editor

A Cinematic Presentation of Trash:
An Interview with Wang Jiuliang

By Jin Liu

Interview conducted in Chinese, translated by Jin Liu

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May 2020)

Wang Jiuliang’s 王久良 documentary Plastic China 塑料王国 (2016; 82 min.) follows the members of two families who spend their lives sorting and recycling plastic waste imported from the United States, Europe, and Asia. Yijie, an eleven-year-old girl, works alongside her migrant parents from Sichuan in a recycling plant in Shandong while yearning to return home and attend school. Kun, the facility’s boss, aspires to buy a new car and to secure a better life for his family. Through the story of these two families, this poignant film explores not only waste recycling, but also social and gender inequality, urbanization, consumerism, and globalization. It won the Special Jury Award at the 2016 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the prize for Best Film on Sustainable Development at the 2017 Millennium International Documentary Film Festival in Belgium, and was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2017 Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan. Continue reading

HK Film Awards 2020

Source: SCMP (5/6/20)
Hong Kong Film Awards 2020 winners: Better Days takes eight prizes, including best picture, director, screenplay and actress
Better Days, Derek Tsang’s second solo outing as director, triumphs in the delayed awards, after being denied the chance to compete at two film festivals. Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee rewarded for gritty performances in Tsang’s film; Tai Bo wins best actor for his role as an elderly gay man in heartbreaking Suk Suk.
By Edmund Lee

Jackson Yee, who won best new performer in the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards, and Zhou Dongyu, who won best actress, in a still from Better Days. Derek Tsang’s poignant film about school bullying in China also won best picture, best director, best screenplay and three other awards.

Jackson Yee, who won best new performer in the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards, and Zhou Dongyu, who won best actress, in a still from Better Days. Derek Tsang’s poignant film about school bullying in China also won best picture, best director, best screenplay and three other awards.

China-set bullying drama Better Days dominated the 2020 Hong Kong Film Awards. Emerging director Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung’s film won in three of the top four categories and bagged a total of eight prizes.

The winners were announced in a live stream on social media channels on Wednesday, organisers having been forced by the coronavirus pandemic to scrap the usual star-studded awards ceremony for the first time in the competition’s 39-year history. The awards are usually announced in April.

It took Hong Kong Film Awards chairman Derek Yee Tung-sing, dressed in a tuxedo, a mere 11 minutes to name the winners in 19 categories. Continue reading

Chinese Film Classics

I hope list members are keeping well. I am writing to share English-subtitled versions of twelve early Chinese films, which I have made available open-access on the YouTube channel “Chinese Film Classics”:

The films currently available are: 

  1. Laborer’s Love 勞工之愛情 (Zhang Shichuan, dir., 1922)
  2. Daybreak 天明 (Sun Yu, dir., 1933)
  3. Goddess 神女 (Wu Yonggang, dir., 1934)
  4. Sports Queen 體育皇后 (Sun Yu, dir., 1934)
  5. The Great Road 大路 (Sun Yu, dir., 1934 [released 1935])
  6. New Women 新女性 (Cai Chusheng, dir., 1935) (translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow)
  7. Street Angels 馬路天使 (Yuan Muzhi, dir., 1937)
  8. Song at Midnight 夜半歌聲 (Ma-Xu Weibang, dir., 1937)
  9. Long Live the Missus! 太太萬歲 (Sang Hu, dir., 1947) (also available with filmscript and stills on MCLC Publications:
  10. Spring in a Small Town 小城之春 (Fei Mu, dir. 1948)
  11. Wanderings of Three-Hairs the Orphan 三毛流浪記 (Zhao Ming and Yan Gong, dirs., 1949)
  12. Crows and Sparrows 烏鴉與麻雀 (Zheng Junli, dir., 1949 [released 1950]) (also available with filmscript and stills on MCLC Publications:

Continue reading

Crows and Sparrows

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Christopher Rea’s translation of the script Crows and Sparrows (烏鴉與麻雀), the 1949 film directed by Zheng Junli 鄭君里. The translation includes many stills and an embedded version of the film that includes Rea’s subtitles. The translation’s can be read at:

Our thanks to Christopher Rea for sharing his work with the MCLC community.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

HK Cinema MOOC


Hello from Hong Kong! We’ve been thinking about teaching across distances and disciplines for some time now and in these challenging times we are keen to offer you material and a little morale boost.

To accommodate your needs, and expand your menu of online teaching and learning options, we are offering Hong Kong Cinema through a Global Lens, the first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Hong Kong cinema to be produced anywhere in the world, as a learner-paced course.  That means all six units open simultaneously on April 1, 2020.

Feel free to enjoy the entire course or pick and choose lessons to fit your own individual needs. Continue reading

Spaces of Encounter (JCC) special issue–cfp

Call for Paper: Spaces of Encounter
Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Special Issue 2021

This special issue seeks innovative research that explores the many spaces in which cinema (broadly defined) is exhibited and encountered in China and the Sinophone world from the late nineteenth century to the present.

Where do we encounter cinema? As digital technologies transform the ways in which moving images are produced and consumed, they also call attention to the extent to which cinema has previously been defined and theorized through a specific exhibition space, namely, the movie theater. American film historian William Paul, for example, asks “if movies are no longer inescapably an art of the theater, have we lost an understanding of the art form that seemed self-evident to past audiences?” But in China and the Sinophone world, cinema was never bound up with the movie theater. From its first appearance in luxurious hotels and tea gardens, cinema has been exhibited in many venues alongside the commercial movie theater, such as classrooms, village squares, workers’ clubs, video halls (luxiang ting), museums, long-distance buses, and the living room. In addition, theme parks and tourist sites offer entry into filmed worlds through characters and landscapes. Large urban screens and personal mobile devices turn sidewalks, malls, and public transit into potential screening spaces (or what Francesco Casetti calls hypertopias). New digital spaces of exhibition afford users novel ways of interaction and performance, such as danmaku/danmu commentaries and the ability to easily create gifs from the video browser. Continue reading

Pedagogy of Chinese Film–cfp

In recent years, the humanities and social sciences have witnessed a fast-growing presence of pedagogical practices with moving images across a wide range of fields. Along with the ever-changing film studies curriculum, films have been used in diverse ways to, among other purposes, increase learning motivation and engagement; provide cognitive facilities for theoretical concepts; present complex and subtle information as analytical materials; and simulate an experience with unfamiliar, underrepresented, or difficult-to-reach subjects. At the same time, there are scholars and instructors who caution against using film for teaching, especially when the subject is projected as an “other” on screen, because they are concerned about its potential to create negative emotional tension; blur the boundary between reality and representation; and generate false, distorted, or simplistic understanding of real-world complexity. Continue reading

Jia Zhangke on Swimming

Source: SCMP (2/25/20)
‘My gift’: Chinese director Jia Zhangke on using China’s most influential writers to paint a subtle portrait of country’s history since 1949
One of China’s so-called ‘sixth generation’ of filmmakers, Jia’s Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue brings to an end his trilogy about the arts in China. Focus here is on the written word, with three distinguished Chinese writers – Jia Pingwa, Yu Hua and Liang Hong – giving their insights
By James Mottram

Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s latest documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue brings to a conclusion his trilogy about the arts in China. Photo: AFP

Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s latest documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue brings to a conclusion his trilogy about the arts in China. Photo: AFP

Sitting quietly in Berlin’s Hyatt Hotel for this interview, Jia Zhangke is a long way from home – a subject that must be on his mind right now.

One of the pre-eminent figures in China’s so-called “sixth generation” of filmmakers, famed for such films as A Touch of Sin, the Venice-winning Still Life and Ash Is Purest White, he is here at the Berlinale to present Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue.

Jia’s first documentary since 2011’s I Wish I Knew, this non-fiction odyssey also takes him back to his native Fenyang in Shanxi Province, the setting for a number of his films including Platform and Mountains May Depart. Continue reading

Swimming Out Till the Seat Turns Blue review

Source: The Film Stage (2/22/20)
Berlin Review: Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue Finds Jia Zhangke Returning to the Waves of Time
Rory O’Connor

Still from the film.

Of all the monumental parts that tend to constitute the films of Jia Zhangke–the shifting socio-economic landscapes; the departing mountains; Zhao Tao–none has been as prevalent or essential as time. He is a director with one eye on the then and one eye on the now (and occasionally one on the future).

Time is once again key to his latest work, a documentary titled Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, in which Jia uses both the writings of Ma Feng and a series of interviews with celebrated authors from his native Shanxi to cast an eye over China’s shift from rural to urban living; the implications of that change if not the more state-censorship-sensitive aspects. The mood, as ever, is one of reminiscence. Continue reading

Sensible Politics

William A. Callahan, Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2020).
Discount code ASFLYQ6: so paperback is $19.57

Book abstract:

Visual images are everywhere in international politics. But how are we to understand them? In Sensible Politics, William A. Callahan uses his expertise in theory and filmmaking to explore not only what visuals mean, but also how visuals can viscerally move and connect us in “affective communities of sense.”

The book’s rich analysis of visual images (photographs, film, art) and visual artifacts (maps, veils, walls, gardens, cyberspace) shows how critical scholarship needs to push beyond issues of identity and security to appreciate the creative politics of social-ordering and world-ordering. Continue reading