China

NYAFF 2014

NYAFF 2014 runs June 27-July 14 in New York City. Follow all of our coverage here. Pan (Xu Zheng) just wants to go home. After a hard stretch of work — he’s a lawyer who used sleazy tactics to get his cop-killing, falcon-poaching client off — he just wants to leave this Podunk town in rural China behind and get back to Beijing. His amoral and unapologetic client, known only as Boss (Duo Bujie), claims to not have Pan’s full fee so the lawyer takes his car as collateral and heads out on what should be a simple drive across part of the Gobi desert. Of course it ends up being anything but simple. A run-in with a pair of vindictive truckers sets in motion a chain of events that sees him running afoul of Boss’ henchman, some rest stop scam artists and eventually of Boss himself. Pan keeps moving forward in the belief that his position in society, his superior attitude and his cash-filled wallet are all he needs to thrive, but he soon discovers he’ll need more than that if he wants to survive. No Man’s Land feels at times like a Chinese desert-set After Hours with vehicular mayhem replacing Cheech and Chong, and it’s as good as that sounds. Director Ning Hao‘s latest is an exciting and energetic romp across a gorgeous yet deadly landscape that manages both surface-level thrills and a deeper, more vicious commentary on modern-day China.

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nyaff lesson of the evil

The 2013 New York Asian Film Festival runs June 28 – July 15. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area and interested in tickets check out the official NYAFF page here, but if not feel free to follow along with us as we take a look at several of the movies playing the fest this year. As the name implies the festival presents new and select films from several countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Our fourth look at the films of NYAFF 2013 examines the evils that men (and women) do in the name of fame, madness and love.

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unmade in china

Documentaries about the production of a movie can go two ways. The film being filmed is completed without a hitch and the studio or distributor puts the “making of…” special on the DVD, or it’s a disastrous shoot and not exactly something executives want to flaunt in the form of a bonus feature. The latter can include docs on films that are miraculously finished (Burden of Dreams; Overnight; Hearts of Darkness) or unsurprisingly unfinished (Lost in La Mancha; It’s All True; the upcoming Death of “Superman Lives”). Either way, there’s usually good reason to isolate all that drama for a separately (or solely) released feature-length work. In the case of Unmade in China, the aim seems to have always been to cover a catastrophe. Director Gil Kofman (The Memory Thief) had already gone to the city of Xiamen to make the movie Case Sensitive, a YouTube-inspired thriller scripted by an American writer and intended for Hollywood but which wound up sold to Chinese film producers. They hired Kofman and a few others from the States to maintain a certain prestige appeal, and the whole thing immediately became a nightmare for the transplanted crew. Soon afterward, Tanner Barklow (producer of recent Oscar nominee The Invisible War) flew over to help chronicle the whole experience.

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  Editor’s note: With Tai Chi Zero now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 30, 2012. The martial arts genre has always featured period films fairly prominently, but it seems the Hong Kong and mainland China film industries have made a home there in recent years with no intention of leaving it anytime soon. Truth be told the biggest problem with the pseudo genre is that it’s swallowed Donnie Yen whole. He hasn’t made a contemporary film since 2007’s bone-crackingly brilliant Flash Point! But Yen aside, there are so many of these films that it’s getting difficult to tell them apart. Writer Kuo-fu Chen and director Stephen Fung recognized this fact and set out to tell a tale that would stand apart from the herd. The ace up their sleeve is a visual style that brings slow-mo, onscreen graphics and the inclusion of steam-punk elements to their story of a young man who travels to a remote village to learn a very specific and equally powerful form of martial arts. His quest is interrupted by Western-led intruders bent on leveling the town to make way for a railroad. On paper, and in trailer form, Tai Chi Zero seems like a success, but the end result is a mixed bag of frenetic action, humorous asides and a silliness that just won’t quit.

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Lee

The true joy of any film festival is to expose unknown gems to an unsuspecting crowd so they can then go out and spread the word to an even wider audience. That’s especially true at Fantastic Fest where movies come from some of the smallest and strangest niches around the world to play before audiences who think they’ve seen it all before. Lee’s Adventure arrives with little to no fanfare, but it will leave as one of this year’s best, funniest and most original features. It mixes live action with various types of animation in the service of a story that transcends time to show the lengths one man will go for the woman he loves. Lest you think it’s a sappy sci-fi romance though rest assured it also manages scenes of real awe, exciting action and some tear-inducing hilarity starring an anime Nicolas Cage. I shit you not. Li Jian Ji aka Devotion Lee (Jaycee Chan) suffers from TDD, Temporal Dilation Disorder, and he lives a fairly lonely life because of it. That all changed when he met Wang Qian (Fiona Wang) and discovered that she was afflicted with the same illness. The disease alters their perceptions in regard to time as it pauses, speeds up and slows down the world around them and their place in it. It’s not entirely controllable and can lead to major issues such as when Lee goes to the park for his lunch hour only to return to work and discover a whole […]

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This is the world we live in, one where Kevin Spacey dons a superhero costume and kicks ass in China. It’s a great day to be alive. Although this trailer for Inseparable doesn’t show it, the two-time Oscar winner rocks a lot of tight spandex and a helmet mask for the movie from Dayyan Eng. It also stars the great Daniel Wu (Shinjuku Incident, The Man With the Iron Fists). In a way, it would be far better if this trailer were insane, but it’s maybe even more bizarre that it’s, you know, not bizarre. It looks incredibly straight forward. Except the part where John Doe dressed up like a blue version of the guy in Super.

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Last year signaled a drop in tickets sold on domestic shores. Some theaters are responding by inflating their prices, but some Hollywood studios might be looking for a new audience altogether. BBC News is reporting on the new trend of big-budget filmmaking trying to get Chinese movie fans into seats. Of course, this comes alongside the growing trend of designing movies to appeal to the global audience. In a quick snapshot, the three highest grossing American movies to hit China were Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($170m), Kung Fu Panda 2 ($98m) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ($77m). Here’s how they broke down: Transformers 3‘s take in China was 18.8% of all foreign sales and 12.9% of the total. It was the second highest ticket-selling country behind the United States. Kung Fu Panda 2‘s take in China was 18.4% of all foreign sales and 13.8% of the total. It was also the second highest behind the United States. Pirates 3‘s take in China was 8.7% of all foreign sales and 7% of the total. It was the third highest behind the United States and Japan. There’s absolutely an emerging market here, but the bigger picture is the rest of the planet. China is starting to open its borders to American movies (allowing 34 foreign films entering their borders as opposed to 20 in years past), and it’s no surprise that studios are starting to notice there’s more money to be made by including Chinese actors and locations […]

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The fun of Let The Bullets Fly comes directly out of the verbal and situational jump rope that everyone involved commits to. It’s formed with Shakespearean-style characters who both seem larger than life and able to lie. After taking down a horse-drawn train coach, the infamous bandit Pocky Zhang (played coolly by writer/director Wen Jiang) finds out that he’s killed the Governor-to-be of a sleepy little hamlet called Goose Town and decides, what the hell, he’ll ride into town claiming to be the man he’s killed. Fortunately, a toady named Tang (Xiaogang Feng) and the poor dead man’s unaffected widow (Carina Lau) want to tag along to avoid being murdered on the side of the road. When they ride into town, they’ll face off against the man who controls the city with a wealthy fist. Master Huang (played with pure genius by Chow Yun-Fat) gives them the proverbial finger by sending his hat to personally greet them, and the escalating game of egos gets started at a gallop.

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The middle class in China is a juggernaut that has been growing steadily for at least the past decade. It was only a matter of time before a foreign-sales-obsessed studio world moved in to deliver the content that the hungry giant has an appetite for. Warner Bros. is officially the first to break into the People’s Republic of China to offer their films On Demand through television. According to a press release, Warner Bros. will be partnering with You On Demand (complete with its creepy, winky-face logo) to provide Pay-Per-View movies to an estimated potential 200 million households. The films become available this summer, and by the end of the season, You On Demand anticipates their service will be in 3 million households – the equivalent of some of the top cable providers here in the US. This is a large opportunity for the studio financially, of course, but what’s more fascinating is the door it leaves open for a US-based studio to start producing movies specifically for a foreign market. Hollywood is already highly aware of the global market and have catered more and more to foreign markets by making tentpole films more generic (and thus easy to digest in any culture or language), but with a direct line into the homes of the Chinese people, Warner Bros. might see an incentive to bypass American audiences altogether and start making a few movies every year specifically aimed at China. That’s just speculation, but it doesn’t seem too far fetched. […]

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Boiling Point

News came last week that the troubled MGM remake of the classic, chest poundingly patriotic Red Dawn was getting a political face lift with the invading force being digitally swapped from Chinese to North Korean. But what’s the big deal, as Jack Giroux always drunkenly says: all Asians are the same. Kidding. He’s generally sober. But really, MGM is indeed going through about a million dollars worth of post production changes to get rid off as many China references as they can and replace them with North Korean ones. Why? Well China has the second largest economy in the world these days (second to the good ol’ US of A) and a lot of American companies do a lot of work in China. China also is notorious for throwing fits when anyone mentions things like death buses, oppression of freedom and religion, guacamole, spies, and basically anything that points a spotlight on how big a dick their government can be. So, obviously, big companies don’t want to piss off China and risk losing that sweet, sweet source of income. With MGM’s decision to make the change, plenty of outlets and writers like Vince over at FilmDrunk have taken aim at MGM and more or less called them pussies for bowing down to as of now imaginary Chinese anger over the film. But you know what? I support the switch to North Korea, and here’s why.

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In what seems clearly like a move to appease a massive movie market overseas, MGM will be changing their invading army in the Red Dawn remake to North Korea instead of China. In perhaps the first time, art and commerce are in agreement. Think about it. Did China ever make sense anyway? The reason the USSR was so effective in the 80s original was because of decades of Cold War hostility that seeped into the popular response. Do you really care about China? Are you honestly afraid of them? Of course not. Now how about North Korea? Exactly. The United States isn’t engaged in a Cold War right now, and using an enemy from a Hot War is far, far too realistically horrifying for a mainstream action film featuring teens. For example, Al Qaeda invading would be a different movie entirely. The LA Times gets into the nitty gritty on why the decision was made, but as far as the artistic side of the movie, this seems like a smart move that should have been made a long time ago. Sure, China is communistic just like the Soviets, but popular culture doesn’t particular care anymore. Kim Jong-il makes for a much better boogeyman, even if he did invent the apple and write every major work of fiction ever.

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“Shatuo… you still remember Donkey Wang?” It’s 690 AD and the Chinese emperor has died. His widow is awaiting her coronation as the first empress of China, but not everyone in the court supports the idea of a lady on the throne. And then there’s the problem of her loyal subjects suddenly bursting into flames and burning to death. Empress Wu (Carina Lau) needs help figuring out who’s behind the immolation murders threatening to disrupt her impending inauguration and turns to Detective Dee (Andy Lau) for assistance. But first she’ll have to pardon him from prison where he’s spent the last eight years serving a sentence handed down by… Empress Wu. What follows is a visual feast of high-flying action, vibrant colors, mystical underworlds, and CGI wonders. Oh, and maybe a talking stag or two. It’s the Chinese Sherlock Holmes movie you never knew you wanted. It’s Shanghai Holmes! No? Too far? How about this… it’s a fun mix of mystery, magic, and martial arts that wraps an interesting central story in a guise of pure entertainment.

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Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week looking for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent… this week we’ve got a dinner date with Shakespeare. By way of China. Ang Lee’s phenomenal Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon kicked off a decade of similarly beautiful wuxia epics with films like House Of Flying Daggers, Hero, The Promise, and Curse Of the Golden Flower. Lee’s film remains the best of the bunch by far, but one that comes close to equaling it in visual and aural beauty is The Banquet. It lacks the overwhelming emotion and heartbreaking romance of Lee’s Academy Award winning film, but it does have glorious imagery and cinematography, the always exquisite Zhang Ziyi, and a fine literary pedigree in a story based loosely on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Oh, it also has a lame Americanized title courtesy of the Weinsteins…

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Some of the best revenge films manage to mess with that formula in creative and startling ways, but originality isn’t always a necessity. Sometimes you just need a grieving, cat-eyed father who knows how to handle a gun and cook a mean plate of pasta. Welcome to Johnnie To’s Vengeance.

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So you’re sitting around wanting to see the trailer for A Simple Noodle Story and contemplate deeply the implications of Chinese art house cinema, right?

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blood-simple-pic-3

Let me get this straight. An Asian director is remaking an American director’s movie? And it’s a revenge film?

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What are you going to do... arrest me for being an idiot?

It’s not unheard of for world news and politics to cross over into the entertainment industry. But one thing is for certain… when it happens, you can find some celebrity in the middle of the whole thing making an absolute ass out of himself or herself.

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published: 12.17.2014
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published: 12.15.2014
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published: 12.12.2014
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published: 12.05.2014
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