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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

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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 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

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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

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Mogul Mowgli

Director – Bassam Tariq – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A UK British Pakistani rap artist is stopped in his career tracks by an auto-immune system suppression illness – in cinemas from Friday, October 30th and on BFI Player Subscription Exclusive from Friday, February 5th

This opens with British Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film) waiting in the wings then going on stage to perform before a massively enthusiastic New York crowd. I had fairly high expectations and my heart sank. Ahmed’s performance as the singer was leaving me absolutely cold. (To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of rap music.) Happily I was much more impressed with almost everything that followed.

This opening performance turns out to be the final leg of a tour. Zed has a major European Tour planned imminently. Back in Britain, he gets into a street fight with a fan/stalker and in the course of the resultant fight starts to experience severe stomach pains. He wakes up in the local hospital to learn that he’s suffering from an auto-immune system suppression illness and consequently will be unable to tour. He’s horrified by the the suggestion from his trusted manager Vaseem (Anjana Vasam) that his admirer and rival performer RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), whom Zed despises, can cover for him on the European Tour.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Synchronic

Directors – Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 102m

*****

Two New Orleans paramedics stumble upon a designer drug causing weird hallucinations and inexplicable deaths in this mind-bending science fiction yarn – on VoD from Friday, January 29th

The prior films of creative partners Benson & Moorhead (The Endless, 2017; Spring, 2014; Resolution, 2012) inevitably set the bar high since they’ve consistently astonished audiences with their mind-bending narratives. Normally I watch films once then review them, but on this occasion I’ve had the privilege of wilfully watching Synchronic three times in the last year or so. This in itself tells you something about this film’s narrative pleasures. And given that Marvel recently signed the duo up to direct episodes of Moon Knight for Disney+, it would seem Hollywood is of a similar opinion.

Its extraordinary story involves two New Orleans paramedics whose characters completely engage you and pulls you in. Which is just as well because they stumble on some pretty strange stuff in the course of their work – in particular, calls involving trauma and sometimes death in the aftermath of bad drug trips.

It opens with a couple at home taking some hallucinogenic drugs and seeing / experiencing some extremely weird goings on.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Empty Hands (Hung Sau Dou)


Director – Chapman To – 2017 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 97m

Film *****

Subtitle legibility *

25 word intro – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

To get the subtitle issue out of the way first, the subs here are what subs often used to be forty years ago – white with no black edge around the lettering. So as soon as the lettering appears over a white area of the image, it’s rendered invisible and illegible. These days, that system is rarely used so it’s rarely a problem. But there are several scenes here when it’s an issue. Nothing that will fundamentally spoil the film, but it’s a pity that someone cut a corner and didn’t get this quite right. If it ever turns up on home video, I hope someone redoes the subs properly to make them legible. The translation seems fine, which makes the poor legibility far more irritating. Now then, the film…

This follows the time-worn, martial arts movie template of a hero with something to prove so they train for a big competition fight in which they somehow find themselves.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Till We Meet Again (Sheng Qian Yue Si Hou)

Director – Steven Ma – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 97m

****1/2

A young man succumbs to a debilitating psychosis in the decade following his mother’s death – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

When Wai Wong Oli, Moritz) was three, his mother Mui (Josephine Ku) told him she’d always be there. Ten years ago, she died of cancer and Wai (Steven Ma) blames himself. He’s never been able to get past this, making himself dangerously ill. He gave up a job for a restaurant job near his parents’ home just so he’d be able to look after her. He’s a conscientious and efficient worker, so his boss gives him time off to see his mother whatever he wants, and when that doesn’t work out his grateful colleagues cover for him.

Sometimes, though, he doesn’t take the meds prescribed for him by Dr. Fung (Jennifer Yu) and goes completely to pieces. Fortunately, his schoolfriend Chi (Himmy Wong) is there for him. Thoughts of guilt and suicide are never far away.

The narrative proceeds on its course, flashing back and forth in time through Wai’s memories from when he was younger, including himself (Fong Chit Lun) at age 10 and himself in the decade leading up to his mum’s passing, in the company of both his mum and his bus driver dad Chung (Ling Hiu Wah).… Read the rest

Categories
Live Action Movies Shorts

Conditioned

Director – Chan Kam-hei – 2015 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 24m

****

A schoolgirl pretends to be a boy at home because her mother can’t deal with her being a girl – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Teenager Nam takes off a feminine top and changes into his/her boy’s school uniform. As a boy, s/he calls in on her grandpa to pick up a plate, waiting ’til she’s out of sight of the house to dispose of the contents in a dumpster, then proceeds home to where her mother has turned the apartment upside down ina hunt for earring. Her mother is only interested in her own looks. Does she look okay? He likes me in earrings, she says.

At night, Nam sneaks round to her friend’s, a boy who lets her wash her smalls – bra, knickers – in bowls in his bedsit sink. Only at thisa point does it become clear Nam is a she. She helps him with homework. He jokes, asking her to move I with him or can he walk her home.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

No.7 Cherry Lane (Jiyuantai Qihao)

Director – Yonfan – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12A – 125m

*****

The tutor of an 18 year old girl falls for her mother who hired him against the background of the 1967 protest marches in Hong Kong – sumptuous Closing Gala film from the recently wrapped London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

Insofar as this is like anything else – which it really isn’t – it’s like a reworking of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) filtered through In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Oh, and it’s 3D rendered then 2D animated. Broadly speaking, The Graduate is about a young man seduced by a much older, bored housewife before later becoming romantically involved with her daughter. In The Mood For Love is set in early 1960s Hong Kong and includes a sequence on a sloping pedestrian street where a man passes a women walking in the opposite direction, the whole thing charged with a sense of romantic longing. There;’s a similar scene in No.7 Cherry Lane, although it’s considerably less central to the plot than the one in In The Mood For Love.

Yonfan, here making his first film in ten years, would certainly agree that filmic and literary references abound in the film.… Read the rest