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Animation Features Movies Television

Black Cat Detective (Heimao Jingzhang, 黑猫警长)

Director – Dai Tielang – 2010 – China – Cert. N/C U – 76m

Parental Warning: Although this drawn animation has a (completely legitimate) recommended UK U certificate, it contains a lot of gun and knife violence and, in the subtitles, one swear word.

****

Black Cat Detective and his fellow police protect everyday citizens from nefarious criminal animals including a mouse mastermind – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

A purple mole proudly shows the children sacks of supplies stocked in his granary for the coming Winter. Unfortunately, an evil criminal mastermind mouse (backed by music with a stinger cue ripped off the opening of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) has his eye on these stocks and breaks in with his gang who get drunk on red wine and oil before passing the sacks out of the granary window, which action alerts the mother mole whose attempt at stopping them is thwarted by their throwing enough sax onto her to pin her down.

The cops led by Black Cat Detective turn up to shoot at the mice, one of whom they hit, and arrest the mole children on the premises, quickly realising their mistake and releasing the latter.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Youth (Fang Hua 芳华)

Director – Xiaogang Feng – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 135m

*****

In 1970s Maoist China, a dancer with a troubled past suffers bullying in a military dance troupe – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

Almost from the moment talented dancer He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) from Beijing joins an out of town PLA (People’s Liberation Army) troupe, she puts her foot in it. Top of her to do list is to get a picture of herself in uniform. Unfortunately, she won’t have a uniform for the first week, so without asking, she borrows one off one of her roommates planning to return it before anyone notices. Not only does her roommate notice, but when the company is unexpected deployed to another location, the journey takes the troupe past the photographer’s where the picture is displayed in the window. Now Xiaoping has the reputation of a thief and a number of the other girls pick on her.

The kindly Liu Feng (Hwang Xuan), who may be the only one of her contemporaries to have seen her file, takes pity on her.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Movies Shorts

Golden Conch (金色的海)

Director – Wan Guchan – 1963 – China – Cert. N/C U – 36m

*****

A mermaid falls for a poor fisherman and moves in with him arousing the wrath of her sea goddess mother available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

A coral island, drifting mists, drifting faerie maidens. Underwater. Every morning, says the female narrator, a fisherman goes out in his boat and sings to these mermaids. But their mother the sea goddess doesn’t like to be disturbed so she hides the girls from him by increasing layers of blue fog. 

The fisherman goes about his work and his net keeps picking up a conch shell which he keeps throwing back in the water. When he returns home, there is food prepared on his table, which is odd because he lives alone. 

Next day when he’s out, the camera closes in on his simple cottage. Inside there’s an urn, inside the urn floats the golden conch (the image distorted by patterned glass) which lap dissolves into a faerie maiden. She walks round the house, magics a fire alight in his stove and opens the window to marvel at his singing. … Read the rest

Categories
Animation Art Movies Shorts

Where is Mama? (Xiao Ke Dou Zhao Ma Ma, 小蝌蚪找妈妈)

Director – Te Wei – 1960 – China – Cert. N/C U – 15m

*****

The watercolour paintings of Qi Baishi are brought to life as a group of newly-born tadpoles search for their mother – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

This has a fairly simple plot which small children might enjoy as much as adults. A frog births some tadpoles, but while it is away they hatch and go around searching for her, not knowing what she looks like. Each creature they encounter – two chicks, two crayfish, three goldfish, a crab, a turtle and, finally, a catfish – gives them a slightly more accurate description than the one before. Eventually – spoiler alert! – they find mama. “But we don’t look like you!”

On some level it works as a children’s story which you can imagine being turned into a picture book for the very young. (There’s a long tradition of animated shorts which fit this bill, some of them are even adapted from already existing children’s picture books.) But that’s not really the film’s strength. Nor is it the Chinese actress’ voice-over which seems to be squarely aimed at little kids.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven 3D (Da Nao Tian Gong, 大闹天宫)

Directors – Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang – 3D Restoration, 2012 (originally Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) – China – Cert. N/C PG – 92m

****

The Jade Emperor assigns the Monkey King to a series of lowly Heavenly positions to keep him out of trouble and mayhem ensues – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, the Monkey King Sun Wokong breaks out of the rock in which he’s been imprisoned to realise he needs a decent personal weapon and talk the Dragon King out of his prized, giant Golden Ringed Wishing Staff, shrinking it to manageable size. The latter complains to the Jade Emperor, so to keep him out of further trouble Monkey is named Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven and assigned to a series of lowly Heavenly positions in charge of first the stables then the Queen’s peach orchard.

Upon learning that the Queen and her companions are unaware of his title and have failed to invite him to their upcoming banquet, Monkey turns himself invisible, causes the guests to fall asleep and takes the food back to his Fruit And Flower Mountain home on Earth to distribute it among his boy monkey subjects.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Movies Shorts

Fishing Child (Yu Tong, 渔童)

Director – Wan Guchan – 1959 – China – Cert. N/C U – 23m
*****
A Catholic priest attempts with the help of a local official to steal a magic, wealth-producing bowl from a poor fisherman – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

Animation has long proved effective as a vehicle for mythology, fairy stories, folk tales and suchlike. This little film proves it again. Made using traditional 2D Disney style backgrounds and camerawork augmented with 2D cut-out characters, it’s also a visual marvel in which can also be seen the influences as diverse as Chinese art and UPA cartoons. 

A poor, coastal village is blockaded by foreign (i.e. European) ships preventing the local fishermen from pursuing their livelihood. That doesn’t however stop a local official from tormenting an old fisherman by demanding he pay Fish Tax. The man is flabbergasted since the blockade prevents him from working and therefore earning money, but the official insists, threatening to chop up the man’s boat with his axe if payment is not forthcoming the next day. 

Thinking as the rain pelts down, the understandably worried man decides to go out in the storm as the ships won’t be looking for fishermen and catch fish to pay the tax.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Crossing (Guo Chun Tian)

Director – Bai Xue – 2018– China – Cert. 12a – 99m

***1/2

Border crossings of no return. A Chinese teenage girl who regularly travels from Shenzhen into Hong Kong becomes involved with a gang smuggling iPhones across the frontier – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

Sixteen-year-old Peipei (Huang Yao) lives in Shenzhen, but goes to school in neighbouring Hong Kong. She has to cross the China-Hong Kong border on a daily basis, waved through by border officials with better things to do than stop, question or search schoolgirls. She lives in a cramped apartment. Her father is rarely there because he works the night shift at a shipping yard, where she sometimes visits him. Her gambling mother often invites friends over to play Mahjong… Read more.

The Crossing is available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

Trailer:

UK Theatrical: Friday, March 22nd 2019.

Festivals: London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) 2018.

Review originally published in DMovies.org.

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest