8 Masters of Chinese Cinema

China Heavyweight

Nate von Zumwalt

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong returns today (technically yesterday, if we’re subscribing to the disorienting time change) for its second year, this time at the newly minted Metroplex. For SFF: Hong Kong neophytes, the event is a cultural exchange of sorts that sees the exportation of 11 American independent films direct from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. You can check the complete festival program out at hk.sundance.org.

Hong Kong, and China in its entirety, is a cinematically rich region, with the art form virtually running through the country’s bloodlines. That strong heritage is reflected in the 30-plus years of the Sundance Film Festival, with masters of the Chinese film movement making repeated appearances at the festival in Park City, and markedly during an early 1990s period that featured a festival category devoted to Hong Kong cinema. To celebrate the kickoff of this year’s edition of Sundance in Hong Kong, we recall eight masters of Chinese cinema who also shared their work with audiences in the snowcapped mountains of Utah.

“Raise the Red Lantern”

Zhang Yimou, Raise the Red Lantern (1991) 

“The historical setting here is the 1920s. A beautiful young woman, Songlian, accepts a proposal to become the fourth wife of a somewhat-elderly master of a powerful clan in northern China. The story unfolds over the course of four seasons as the wives variously compete and conspire to gain the favor of their shared husband.” GoWatchIt

Tian Zhuanzhuang, The Blue Kite (1993) 

“The Blue Kite examines a family over the decade and a half from the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution (1953-1967). Through narration and flashbacks, a child, Tietou, recalls how he and his mother lived through three marriages and the successive events and political turbulence that were primarily responsible for their difficulties. It is a story of personal struggle and coming of age during the Communist revolution.” GoWatchIt

John Woo, Hard Boiled (1993)

“In Hard Boiled, John Woo is operating at his peak. The suave and ultra cool detective Chow Yun-fat leads an investigation into the activities of the Triads, a local criminal group. He’s confronted by Tony Leung, the right-hand man of the syndicate’s leader. Choices about loyalty, betrayal and friendship fuel Woo’s narrative, but the “fire” come from an almost surreally kinetic play of impossibly drawn-out battles, which ultimately engulf everyone.” GoWatchIt

Chen Kaige, Temptress Moon (1997)

“In a dark riverbed, a rowboat glides sleekly through the pitch-black water. The perspective is low, and as the boat slinks past, the full moon adjusts in the slippery wake. This unforgettable shot begins Temptress Moon, Chen Kaige’s astonishingly beautiful and eloquently poetic melodrama.

The rowboat is headed for the palatial Pang estate. Arriving is Zhongliang (Leslie Cheung), the brother of the heir’s wife, who learns he was summoned only to be a lower-class servant who prepares opium pipes for his sister and the Pang elder son, Zhengda. While high one night, Zhengda forces Zhongliang to kiss his sister, triggering events that lead Zhongliang to Shanghai, leave Zhengda brain dead, and force the Pangs to turn the household over to a woman (Gong Li).” GoWatchIt

Wong Kar-Wai, Days of Being Wild (1993)

“Set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Wong Kar-wai’s outstanding second feature deals with a group of young men and women, rebels without causes, who drift cool and glamorous, through the neon light and shadow of the City. At the heart of the film is Yoddy (played by Leslie Cheung), conniving and hustling, shifting without commitment between lovers, flaunting hi-flashy American car. It is his effort to finally give some meaning to his rootless life that brings the film to its violent, tragic end.” GoWatchIt

Zhao Qi, Fallen City (2013)

“The 2008 earthquake in China utterly destroyed not only physical structures but also human lives in mountain cities like Beichuan. Through the gracefully interwoven stories of three survivors from the town, Fallen City documents the struggle to rebuild amidst ruin. Meanwhile, down the road, a new Beichuan is rising. The Chinese government’s solution to the devastation of the earthquake is a completely new town where the survivors can live a better, more prosperous life in spacious flats among manicured landscapes.” GoWatchIt

Hokey pokey (the right one in)

Lixin Fan, Last Train Home (2010)

“Each year in China more than 130 million migrant workers travel home for the New Year’s holiday—the one time they’ll reunite with family all year. The mass exodus constitutes the world’s largest human migration. Amid this chaos, director Lixin Fan focuses on one couple, Changhua and Sugin Zhang, who embark upon a two-day journey to see their children.” GoWatchIt

Yung Chang, China Heavyweight (2012)

“In southwestern China, state athletic coaches scour the countryside to recruit poor, rural teenagers who demonstrate a natural ability to throw a good punch. Moved into boxing training centers, these boys and girls undergo a rigorous regimen that grooms them to be China’s next Olympic heroes but also prepares them for life outside the ring. As these young boxers develop, the allure of turning professional for personal gain and glory competes with the main philosophy behind their training—to represent their country.” GoWatchIt


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Alexis Chikaeze as Kai in 'Miss Juneteenth,' coming to digital platforms June 19

Channing Godfrey Peoples on a Bittersweet ‘Miss Juneteenth’ Release and the Urgency of Portraying Black Humanity on Screen

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature is hitting digital platforms this Juneteenth—the day for which the film is named and which is very close to the director’s heart. “I feel like I’ve been living Miss Juneteenth my whole life,” she says.
The June 19 holiday—which commemorates the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas (more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was issued)—is celebrated in her hometown of Fort Worth with a deep sense of reverence and community, with barbecues, a parade, and a scholarship pageant for young Black women.

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