Posts tagged "China"

Gone with the Bullets (Review)

Gone with the Bullets

aka 一步之遙 aka Yi Bu Zhi Yao aka 隨子彈飛 aka One Step Away
Gone with the Bullets
2014
Written by Jiang Wen, Wang Shuo, Guo Jun-Li, and Shu Ping
Directed by Jiang Wen

Gone with the Bullets
Jiang Wen’s followup to Let the Bullets Fly goes in a completely different direction, a period satire of the entertainment industry, a scandalous crime, and a China carved up by colonial forces. Basically they gave Jiang Wen a dump truck full of money and he made the most ridiculous razzle-dazzle he could craft that also spent a good portion of the film mocking the very razzle-dazzle it celebrated. Yet the whole thing is hard to engage with, not even bothering to spend time to keep the audience and just flies off in whatever direction it feels like as the story rumbles along. It is certainly a spectacle, but the whole thing just isn’t my cup of tea.

Jiang Wen is Ma Zouri, a local scam artist who is so good at self-promotion that a warlord’s son comes to him for advice in an effort to switch from new money to old money to impress foreign women. Ma Zouri and his partner in crime Xiang Feitian (Ge You) see this as the perfect opportunity to fleece this guy out of all his money while simultaneously putting on the biggest talent show for ladies of the night in the history of the world, which will put Shanghai on the map. The pageant for President of Escort Nation features women from across the globe and is a huge production with multiple numbers, but in the end Wanyan Yin (Shu Qi) emerges victorious. She’s a former flame of Ma Zouri as they were growing up together, and soon the pair are racing around town high on opium until Wanyan Yin is dead in a car accident and Ma Zouri is on the run, assumed to be her killer.
Gone with the Bullets
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - July 3, 2017 at 7:55 am

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Life After Life (Review)

Life After Life

aka 枝繁叶茂 aka Zhi Fan Ye Mao
Life After Life
2016
Written and directed by Zhang Hanyi
Life After Life
In a desolate landscape wracked by the cruelty of winter, a dying community slated for removal for industrialization is the site of a haunting ghost story. Life After Life presents a world where a wife returns from beyond the grave for a mission of moving a tree that will help guide her soul into her next life. To do so she possesses the body of her young son, and her husband must then embark on her quest.

Life After Life is slow and methodical. The scenes are long takes, the characters pause for long beats between line deliveries, and even the plot takes a while to get going thanks to a series of setbacks and side quests. Ming Chun (Zhang Mingjun) is basically a lost family provider, what is left of his ancestral community is being relocated, his daughter has already moved away to the big city, and his son is frustrated and eager to run off himself. Ming Chun seems like he’s wandering alone, but soon the spirit of his late wife possesses his son, and finally he has a purpose even if her return doesn’t magically turn him energetic.

Son Leilie’s (Zhang Li) entire body language changes when he’s possessed by the spirit of Xiuying. He goes from a confident and angry young make to a soft-spoken and slumped figure, completely transforming into a new character. It’s also obvious as to why Xiuying and Ming Chun were perfect for each other, they both have the same slow personality that gels well. Xiuying needs a tree that they planted as newlyweds moved so it will help her spirit in the afterlife, as strange trees that don’t know you well enough run the risk of assigning you a less ideal new life. Leilie being possessed by Xiuying is accepted without question by everyone they encounter, which helped speed up scenes without reconvincing everyone. Ming Chung and Xiuying even visit Ming Chun’s parents in their next lives, his father is now a dog while his mother is a bird.

The crumbling cave house structures of the old community work with the bleak winter landscape to help strip all color from the frames, only the clothes worn by Leilie seem to have any sort of pop. The community is already the walking dead, but the countryside has preceded it (it’s implied the orchards were poisoned by industrial pollutants). Despite the dawdling pace, there are bits of life and whimsy. We see a giant rock wiggling down the side of the mountain, but it’s not until our heroes drive by it that we see it is because several workers are working the rock downhill via wiggling it with ropes. Later we see Ming Chun and Xiuying moving the tree by a similar method, both bringing to mind mythological tales.
Life After Life
Zhang Hanyi’s debut isn’t for everyone, it’s definitively art house. But it’s really good at doing what it wants to do, capture an eerie landscape and story with echoes of the industrialization of China with the old clashing with the new, presented from a rural slow-paced direction. And as one of our criteria is judging films on if they do what they want to do, Life After Life knocks that out of the park. As much fun as all the slow paced styling is, by the time they were getting around to moving the tree I was already fine with the town being bulldozed over. Life has already passed them by, maybe the moved tree can help the community find their way in the big city, or at least stop pausing for 30 seconds after every sentence. The low energy scenes were in complete contrast with the film I saw directly afterwards at SFIFF, The Incredible Jessica James, which was so full of energy and color and life that it was like cinematic whiplash! But that’s another review…

(I’ll also put in a warning that they show real animals being killed as a goat is killed for dinner, so be warned if you are like me and not into that stuff! Yep, the first two films I saw at SFIFF had dead animals in them, lucky me!)

SFIFF 2017

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - April 27, 2017 at 9:43 am

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The Assassin (Review)

The Assassin

aka 刺客聶隱娘 aka Nie yin niang
Assassin
2015
Written by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Chu Tien-wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng, and Zhong Acheng
Based on a story by Pei Xing
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Assassin
The Assassin is a great film that will bore the living crap out a whole bunch of people thinking they’re going to see something that it’s not. It’s one of those films that makes me feel like a bad movie review website guy because it should be a film I’m jazzed for, but I just don’t really have strong feelings for it. I’ve even seen some of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s other work, thanks to a particularly well-stocked Blockbuster that had Millennium Mambo (great!) and Flowers of Shanghai (greater!). This was before I moved to an area with great independent video stores, and also way before movies became easy to find on the internet, but that’s a whole different topic! But that meant The Assassin should have been right up my alley. And yet, I never really connected with it.

The Assassin has beautiful cinematography, some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. If anything the cinematography is too beautiful, every shot of the landscape looks out of a storybook, it’s a wonder how anything was ever done in 9th century China as everywhere people looked they would just see beautiful landscapes and spend all their time admiring them. The plot is steeped in historical characters as the story is literally dropped in the middle of actual history. I don’t know if Shu Qi’s character actually existed, but much of the rest of the characters are actual historical figures. Historical spoiler alert, Tian Xing, the guy who is exiled, will eventually have Tian Ji’an’s job. If anything, The Assassin got me to read up more on Chinese history, something I hadn’t done as much as I would have liked before.
Assassin
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - July 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

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Unauthorized but familiar Chinese movies

My wow Bootleg Warcraft Movie 我的魔兽世界
Chinese cinema hit the news cycle recently, but not because of a new breakout hit or because another Hollywood studio added a big Chinese star for one line of a movie in order to try to get a share of their box office, but because of a movie that is basically a bootleg of a bigger budget movie. Cinemas in China will get what is basically a bootleg Warcraft film, called My Wow (aka 我的魔兽世界 which means My World of Warcraft)! My Wow is set to hit theaters before Warcraft does, and the costumes look shockingly familiar. The plot is completely different, as it features “A man gets transported to a fantasy world of warcraft, where the impossible occurs…”

So basically it’s that same story where someone gets transported into a fantasy world and becomes a hero, except this time the fantasy world looks suspiciously like World of Warcraft without actually being Warcraft. It also stars Jatfei Wong/Wong Yat-Fei, though he doesn’t play the fish out of water character. The image at the top of the article are the oddly suspicious costumes from the film.

If you bootleg fish out of water stories from China, then you might also be excited for the upcoming release of The Adventures of Panda Warrior, which is totally not Kung Fu Panda, don’t get any ideas!

A peace-loving soldier from Ancient China is magically transported into a world ruled by an evil nine-headed snake. Transformed into a panda, he joins forces with a flying pig to free the once-peaceful Merryland from tyranny. But first he must train to be the kingdom’s most courageous panda warrior.

If The Adventures of Panda Warrior seems vaguely familiar, that’s because you might have stumbled across a trailer for it when it was called The Adventures of Jinbao (大兵金宝) in 2012. Jackie Chan voices the panda, because The Adventures of Jinbao is actually a sequel to his 2010 movie Little Big Soldier. Sort of. It’s a sequel to a flash game sequel to Little Big Soldier called FLASH Little Big Soldier (FLASH大兵小將), hence following the art style for the very beginning before Jackie Chan’s character is turned into a panda. Of course, the US version trades Jackie Chan for Rob Schneider and Norm MacDonald. None of this should be confused with the other animated Kung Fu Panda ripoff, Little Panda Fighter, which is Brazilian but also awful.

Adventures of Jinbao

Adventures of Jinbao Jackie Chan

Now if you want even more exciting stuff, April’s Crazy Toy City (疯狂玩具城) mysteriously has a similar poster and title to Disney’s Zootopia, known in China as Crazy Animal City (疯狂动物城). This was roundly mocked on China’s internet, though the film itself seems to have little to do with Zootopia, instead following a boy who is transported to a toy-ruled city after mistreating his toys. So maybe it’s a sequel to Toy Story?

Crazy Toy City Zootopia posters

Whatever the case, I’m sure we’ll soon have many more very original films to talk about! Now I have to go watch Hollywood’s latest reboot of a prequel of a sequel of a remake.

photos/info via qq and thenanfang

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - May 24, 2016 at 11:07 am

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Black Coal, Thin Ice (Review)

Black Coal, Thin Ice

aka 白日焰火 aka Bai Ri Yan Huo aka Daylight Fireworks
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
2014
Written and directed by Diao Yinan
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
In the bleak urban atmosphere of a rapidly industrializing China, body parts begin to appear at a coal processing plant mixed in with the incoming coal shipments. Those thought responsible are found, and after a bloody conclusion, things seemed solved. Years later a new crop of body parts appear, and things get darker from there. A disgraced cop who worked on the original case must put aside his own demons long enough to figure out the who-done-it before he becomes the next set of parts showing up in coal plants.

Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice paints a murder mystery backdropped by the new urban China, the landscape coated in layers of snow that mask the grit below. Glowing neon signs provide an aurora of human habitation among the snow, lighting many of the key locations. But the glow doesn’t show the warmth of humanity, it’s an unnatural presence that makes the night time illumination otherworldly. The inhabitants have their own secrets and shady lives, and who did what and why makes the mystery akin to peeling onions.
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
Officer Zhang Zili is an up and coming investigator with the police, though the first sign of trouble is his wife leaving him. The investigation around the body parts in the plant yields the name of the victim, the widow confused as to why her husband was targeted. Robbery suspects are located, but thanks to one of them being armed many of the characters of the first act get wiped out, Zhang only barely escaping death by killing them.

Years later, Zhang Zili lives in an alcohol-fueled state of minimal functionality. His reintroduction is him having his motorcycle stolen while he’s too drunk to give chase. He’s burned every bridge at work, where he is a walking joke kept on because of fading goodwill over surviving the shooting incident that capstoned the murder investigation.

But then more body parts are found in coal processing plants. Dun dun DUNNN!!!
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

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The Balala the Fairies series (巴啦啦小魔仙) is something you need to be aware of!


Because, why shouldn’t you be aware of Balala the Fairies, a Chinese television series turned movie series about magical fairy girls that are an amalgamation of Sailor Moon, Winx, Tinker Bell, and Harry Potter? It’s just 100% natural that this is a must-know franchise! Especially since they’re already on movie #2, which released in January in China. Now the films are inching towards broader releases. You can already find episodes of the show fansubbed online, and that means the barriers of entry to the Balala world is crumbling. Crumbling like a fairy who is on life support because the audience won’t clap!

Let’s just ignore the fact the young actress who stars in Balala the Fairies: The Magic Trial (巴啦啦小魔仙之魔法的考驗) is named Daisy Cakes. Because, seriously? I play you for this, AngelaBaby!

The first film is Balala The Fairies (巴啦啦小魔仙):

After a few months, when Mei-xue (美雪) and Mei-qi (美奇) were at stargazing camp with a few friends, they saw some meteorites shooting in the sky that crashed onto the earth. When Mei-xue (美雪) and Mei-qi (美奇) went to check things out, they found a strange but pretty looking stone with a badly wounded bird, they took the bird home to look after it. But they ended up to have found Xiao-lan (小兰)back from Fairyland, why is that? There is going to be another mission to finish!?

And it’s followed by 2014’s Balala the Fairies: The Magic Trial (巴啦啦小魔仙之魔法的考驗), which features some fairy idiots letting an emo idiot loose in the real world. There’s also a plot about a girl who isn’t popular being upset at the fairy girls, who appear to be acting all snotty. I support the girl who is mad at the fairy girls 100%, even if she’s teamed up with Sorrow Potter or whatever the villain’s name is.

This film made $2 million and will probably show up in the US soon. You can find the TV series fansubbed all over YouTube (if you dare!) and there will probably be more and more films, as there is a whole toyline to support! It’s called market saturation, people!

Balala the Fairies

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - June 4, 2014 at 9:37 am

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