Zhang Yimou

Would it surprise you to learn that the original title for Christian Bale’s upcoming Chinese epic, The Flowers of War, was actually Blood Mist? It shouldn’t after watching the trailer below which is absolutely filled with the stuff. Also, I’m just making up the bit about it being the original title but there really is a lot of it in this trailer. Bale plays an American named John Haufman who finds himself trapped in the Chinese city of Nanking during the Japanese invasion in 1937. He dons a dead priest’s robe as a way to stay alive and soon finds himself responsible for the safety of a group of schoolgirls and a gaggle of prostitutes when the Japanese soldiers come looking to party. It’s a fact-based story that touches on the despicable acts committed by the invading army and covered with raw power in Iris Chang’s excellent The Rape of Nanking. The film is reportedly China’s most expensive production yet, and it’s easy to see where all the money went after watching the footage below. Director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) has turned his visually adept eye to a slightly more modern time period, and the results look impressively visceral and stylish. Check out the trailer below.

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As China’s filmmaking profile rises, so does director Zhang Yimou’s. The veteran of over two decades has a considerable number of solid films under his belt, including the action flicks Hero and House of Flying Daggers. His base, however, is in drama, and with movies like Raise the Red Lantern, it’s clear that he’s got a formidable skill. That skill will meet halfway around the world with Christian Bale now that Bale has signed on for Zhang’s next project – Nanjing Heroes. The film focuses on the massacre of 1937 where Japanese military killed thousands of Chinese citizens, and Bale is set to play an American man of the cloth who helps save a considerable amount of lives. With the film split between English and Mandarin, it’s unclear where the bulk of the story will be told, but it also signifies the slow growth of China’s presence as a filmmaker for the world. With Zhang and the production jumping into the ocean to the tune of $90 million, this marks the most expensive movie in the country’s history, and the Bale connection delivers a famous name recognized in countries beyond US shores. On a tangent, now that MGM has financing funds, their Red Dawn – the film about a Communist Chinese invasion on US soil – might see the light of day. With any luck, these films will be released on the same weekend to make cultural trend spotting that much easier.[THR]

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Culture Warrior

There has been a heated debate happening in the world of art cinema criticism, from the printed words of Sight and Sound to the blogspots of grad students, about the status and function of a continually dominating aesthetic known as slow cinema. The discussion basically goes like this: on one hand, slow cinema is a rare, unique and truly challenging methodological approach to film that exists to push the boundaries and expectations of plot and pacing to an extreme antithetical to expectations conditioned by mainstream filmmaking, disrupting the norm by presenting a cinema that focuses on details and mood – in a way that only cinema can – rather than narrative; on the other hand, slow cinema has become such an established and familiar formal approach witnessed in art houses and (especially) film festivals (like Cannes, where such films are repeatedly lauded and rewarded) that they have devolved into a paint-by-numbers approach to get an “in” into such venues rather than a sincere exploration of the potentialities of cinematic expression, and furthermore the repeated celebration of slow cinema devalues the medium’s equal potential to manipulate time by condensing it or speeding it up (‘fast’ cinema).

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