November 3, 2009

People's Republic of Cinema @ the Walker, Nov. 4-23

Beginning tomorrow night and continuing through Nov. 23 is yet another fascinating film series at the Walker Art Center: The People's Republic of Cinema: 60 Years of China on Film. I know as much about Chinese cinema as I do about aerospace engineering, which is to say I'm a total ignoramus about both subjects. 

Hopefully this series will broaden my horizons even a little, and I'm particularly intrigued by the concept of observing a country's history through the eyes of its most famous filmmakers. I'd love to see that for any country, let alone a country poised to be one of the great superpowers of this century (and a country so richly studied in last year's best documentary, Up the Yangtze).

Here's part of the official blurb from the Walker, as well as a listing of the films, synopses, and, when I could track them down, even trailers.

"The series celebrates 60 years of China on film, featuring 14 films, many of them rarely seen, which trace the evolution of China through the eyes of its filmmakers...Marking the 60th anniversary of 'New China', this timely series tracks the decades of political tumult and massive cultural and economic change that followed 1949’s Communist revolution. The People’s Republic of Cinema charts the unprecedented propulsive energies at work through years of radical transformation and looks to the future of a country still in flux—one responding both to its past and its relatively new prominence in the larger world. The series is organized chronologically by content, from films created or set during the establishment of the People’s Republic of China to those of the present day."

All films are in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.

Wednesday, November 4 @ 6:00 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
New Year’s Sacrifice (Zhufu)
Directed by Sang Hu

A fine example of revolutionary realism, this film is creatively adapted from the 1924 short story by Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature. In this tragic tale of a woman (portrayed by veteran film star Bai Yang), Lu attempted to show that “the oppressive weight of tradition . . . only increases the burden on widows while offering little comfort” (Film Society of Lincoln Center). Winner of a special jury prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. 1956, video, 100 minutes.

Friday, November 6 @ 7:30 pm (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
Crows and Sparrows (Wuya yu maque)
Directed by Zheng Junli

This neorealist gem of Chinese cinema, completed just before the revolution, shows the country’s transformation through the prism of a Shanghai boarding house. The tenants must work together to save their living space as the owner, a Chiang Kai-shek sympathizer, is fleeing the country and the Red Army is set to take over. During production, Zheng provided the studio with a fake script and made daily updates to the real screenplay hidden in the ceiling as the situation in the country changed. 1949, 35mm, 108 minutes.

Saturday, November 7 @ 7:30 pm & Wed., Nov. 11 @ 10 am (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
Little Red Flowers (Kan shang qu hen mei)
Directed by Zhang Yuan
Area Premiere

Four-year-old Qiang is sent to a kindergarten boarding school not long after the 1949 liberation. After failed attempts to win the coveted red flowers doled out for good behavior, he turns to rebellion. With Qiang’s trials and tribulations serving as a microcosm of the confusion and conformity in post-revolution Chinese life, this heart-rending, beautiful film features a first-rate performance by its diminutive star, who achingly displays a loss of childhood innocence. 2006, 35mm, 92 minutes.

Sunday, November 8 @ 3:00 pm (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun)
Collectively directed

One of eight “model works” permitted during the Cultural Revolution, the story of The Red Detachment of Women has been adapted to several artistic disciplines: film (screening at the Bell Auditorium on November 9), literature, opera, and ballet. This stunning film adaptation of the ballet that premiered in 1964—and was performed for President Richard Nixon upon his visit to China—captured international attention at the 1971 Venice and San Francisco film festivals. Featuring Ching Ching-hua, Lo Sing Siang, and members of the China Ballet Troupe. 1970, 35mm, 105 minutes.

Monday, November 9 @ 6:00 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzi jun)
Directed by Xie Jin

An all-time classic of Chinese revolutionary cinema by legendary director Xie, this film follows the exploits of fighting women’s detachment within the Communist revolution. Loosely based on a true story, the action focuses in particular on Wu Qionghua, a slave girl who escapes and seeks revenge against her oppressors. 1961, video, 120 minutes.

Wednesday, November 11 @ 6 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
Red Lantern (Hong deng ji)
Directed by Cheng Yin

Another of the eight “model performances” of the Cultural Revolution, this modern Peking opera film showcases the highly stylized revolutionary aesthetics typical of the era. 1970, video, 112 minutes.

Friday, November 13 @ 7:30 pm (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
Yellow Earth (Huang tudi)
Directed by Chen Kaige

Beginning in 1939, this poignant story focuses on impoverished farmers in the Shaanxi province. A communist soldier promotes the People’s Liberation Army to a rural girl on the brink of an arranged marriage, and characters burst into inspired song throughout. Chen’s first feature, which showcased the exquisite cinematography of a young Zhang Yimou, announced the arrival of China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers, who challenged the style and stories of Mao-era films. “Unquestionably a milestone in Chinese film history” - (Film Society of Lincoln Center). 1984, 35mm, 89 minutes.

Saturday, November 14 @ 7:30 pm (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
Platform (Zhantai)
Directed by Jia Zhangke

This epic road movie from acclaimed filmmaker Jia spans the years 1979 through 1990—a time when Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy elicited sweeping economic and cultural change. As foreign pop culture gradually permeates every aspect of life, a nomadic theater troupe changes its name to the “All-Star Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band” and trades propaganda theater for improvised pop songs and Western dance. In revealing the erosion of Maoist orthodoxy and the arrival of Western influence, Platform charts the mood of a country in permanent transition. 2000, 35mm, 154 minutes.

Monday, November 16 @ 6:00 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
One and Eight (Yi ge he ba ge)
Directed by Zhang Junzhao

Based on an epic poem, this film follows nine captives led by a group of Communist Eighth Route Army soldiers in World War II. When nearly all of the regular soldiers are killed, the prisoners—including army deserters and an officer falsely accused of treason—must wage battle against the Japanese in order to survive. Due in part to Zhang Yimou’s cinematography, this is one of the early examples of Chinese cinema’s move toward artistic experimentation in the 1980s. 1984, video, 90 minutes.

Wednesday, November 18 @ 6:00 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
Directed by Zhou Xiaowen
Area Premiere

A captivating and sensual tale about a strong-willed rural woman’s obsessive pursuit of the biggest television in her county, Ermo is a cinematic meditation on post-socialist consumerism in China. 1994, video, 98 minutes.

Thursday, November 19 @ 7:30 pm (Walker Cinema - FREE)
Beijing Bastards (Beijing zazhong)
Directed by Zhang Yuan

While searching for his pregnant girlfriend, rock singer Cui Jian drinks, smokes, does drugs, and carouses aimlessly. A bleak treatise on youth, cast with actual rock musicians and artists, Beijing Bastards is considered one of the first “independent” films in China, and was partly financed by Zhang’s income from directing music videos. Called “the Sixth Generation’s first major film” (Time), it sparked controversy in China, but won special jury awards at the Locarno and Singapore film festivals. 1993, 35mm, 95 minutes.

Saturday, November 21 @ 7:30 pm (Walker Cinema - $6/$8)
Good Cats (Hao mao)
Directed by Ying Liang
Area Premiere

In the fast-growing city of Zigong, 29-year-old Luo Liang becomes a driver for Boss Peng, a shady real estate developer. Interspersed with rock music interludes and upbeat commercials for the impending Olympics, Ying’s inventive third film is a razor-sharp satire of the moral consequences of China’s rise to economic power. “[Ying’s] apocalyptic visions derive from a scrupulous, brave realism” (New Yorker). 2009, video, 103 minutes.
*Plays with
Cry Me a River (Heshang aiquing)
Directed by Jia Zhang-ke
Ten years after graduation, four far-flung college students are reunited and take up the same arguments from their youth. “An elegy to the generation born in the 1970s” (International Short Film Festival Oberhausen). 2009, video, 19 minutes.

Monday, November 23 @ 6:00 pm (Bell Auditorium - FREE)
Pirated Copy (Man yan)
Directed by He Jianjun

Set against the backdrop of the contemporary black market for pirated DVDs in Beijing, Pirated Copy is a character-driven drama about the passion two couples have for each other and for film. It “demonstrates that [He is] one of the most interesting and versatile directors among China’s ‘Sixth Generation’” (Variety). With music by famous Chinese female punk rocker Bao Luo. 2004, video, 90 minutes.

* Full schedule & Tickets for the Walker screenings
* Map and Directions to the Walker Art Center
* Map and Directions to the Bell Auditorium


  1. if you'd like to continue your education on chinese cinema, check out some of the posts at dgenerate films, as well as some of the films that we distribute (including ying liang's last two features).

  2. Very cool, and thanks for checking in, Brent. Many happy returns and new Chinese films for you and your team.

  3. Hey Dan! This is a fabulous venue, especially since Chinese cinema is so underexposed for decades. I have seen CROWS AND SPARROWS, NEW'S YEAR'S SACRIFICE, RED LANTERN, YELLOW EARTH, PLATFORM of this fantastic batch, and Junli's neorealist masterpiece CROWS ranks among the greatest films of all time from any country. I would have loved to see THE GODDESS, THE PEACH GIRL, LITTLE TOYS and the original SPRINGTIME IN A SMALL TOWN included, especially since they all received impressive DVD rollouts.

    THE PEACH GIRL, THE GODDESS and LITTLE TOYS are among the greatest films in the entire history of the cinema and just to think of them pumps up my adreneline.

    Many of the festival offerings are most appealing Dan, especially LITTLE RED FLOWERS, for which you offer that excellent trailer for.

  4. Wow, you are a veritable expert on Chinese cinema compared to me, Sam. Thanks for the recs on Little Red Flower and Crows and Sparrows - I'll try to make those priority viewing.


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