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

The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – in cinemas in IMAX from Wednesday, September 16th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river. Again, the emphasis is on the Concession as a whole made up of lots of constituent individuals rather than the individuals in their own right.… Read the rest