Century of Chinese Film Detailed Listings

A CENTURY OF CHINESE CINEMA

Friday, October 11 – Friday, December 13

The UCLA Film & Television Archive is pleased to present this landmark program, adapted from its recent premiere showing at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.  Uniting archival materials from the collections of the China Film Archive (Beijing), the Hong Kong Film Archive and the Chinese Taipei Film Archive in the first ever such collaboration between those organizations, this series offers audiences a chance to consider what unites and separates the highly connected cinematic traditions of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  This edition in Los Angeles pays special attention to firsts, founding documents and works that helped define and direct historic movements.  While acknowledging the political specificity of the three major production centers, their distinctive achievements and their respective interactions with other world cinema traditions (be they Soviet, Japanese or European, to cite a few examples), these various “Chinese” cinemas share significant aesthetic, cultural and philosophical underpinnings, and often, personnel, capital, and other resources.  Thus, the series’ title may be seen as defining an area of theoretical inquiry into the historical dialogue between these cinemas, and their interdependency as points of comparison, particularly in later years.  Such a modest sampling of such an enormous cinematic edifice can only be seen as preliminary, but the series endeavors to encourage such future explorations of the idea of a Chinese cinema.

FREE Admission on Sunday, December 8!

Note:  Curated by Noah Cowan, artistic director, TIFF Bell Lightbox, and organized by TIFF, in collaboration with China Film Archive (Beijing), Hong Kong Film Archive and Chinese Taipei Film Archive.  Presented in association with Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles.  Organized for UCLA Film & Television Archive by Shannon Kelley.  Program notes are adapted from notes that accompanied the program at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Special thanks to: Noah Cowan, Samuel LaFrance, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Yanrong Tan, China Film Archive; Wendy Hau, Hong Kong Film Archive; Teresa Huang, Chinese Taipei Film Archive.

Thanks to: Robert Chi, Susan Pertel Jain, Zhao Jing, Chen Mei.

Click here for more information on this series. 

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11

7:30 p.m.

SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN 

China, 1948

Wenhua Film Company.  DIR: Fei Mu.  SCR: Li Tianji.  CINE: Li Shengwei.  EDIT: Xu Ming, Wei Yibao.  CAST: Shi Yu, Wei Wei, Zhang Hongmei, Li Wei, Cui Chaoming.

Spring in a Small Town is the apotheosis of Golden Age Shanghai cinema, at once a deeply literary work that forges unexpected connections between pre- and post-Republican prose forms, and a breathtaking visual masterpiece that marries symbolism derived from ancient landscape painting with innovative camera and editing ideas.  His once great wealth lost in the aftermath of the Second World War, the sickly, middle-aged Dai Liyan (Shi Yu) now pines for the past in his ruined estate with his alienated wife Zhou Yuwen (Wei Wei), his young sister, and an old servant.  The couple's mutual ennui is temporarily lifted when an old friend---and Yuwen's former lover---arrives for a visit.  As old feelings rekindle, Yuwen becomes torn between loyalty to her husband and his family and the chance to begin life anew with her old flame.  Cited as a formative influence by Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Jia Zhangke and Wong Kar-wai, Spring in a Small Town evokes the astonishing visual fluidity of Orson Welles while predicting the cinema of modernist master Alain Resnais in its beautifully affecting restraint and time-jumping, Marienbad-ish voiceover.  Wei Wei is exquisite as the tortured Yuwen, her poetic voiceover suggesting a regretful ghost recalling her last possible moment of happiness; she endows the film with a tragic pain that lingers long after the wistful last shot.  "An extraordinary work, anticipating Antonioni in its slow unfolding of an erotic situation, treated with a mixture of sympathy and austerity."---David Bordwell. 

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 93 min.

IN PERSON:  Robert Chi.

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

7:30 p.m.

RED HEROINE 

China, 1929

Youlian Film Company.  DIR: Wen Yimin.  CINE: Yao Shiquan.  CAST: Wang Chuqin, Zhu Shaoquan, Zhao Taishan, Fan Xuepeng, Qu Yifeng.

The only surviving section of the 13-part serial Red Knight Errant, this barn-burner of an action epic is a prime specimen of the martial arts/fantasy film explosion of late-twenties and early-thirties Shanghai---but one with a significant twist.  In place of the typical manly hero, Red Heroine presents a swashbuckling woman clad in exotic costume soaring through the air, disappearing in clouds of smoke and laying waste to armies of baddies with a sweep of her sword.  Opening with Red Heroine's abduction by a tyrannical warlord, the film follows her rescue by a hermit monk, her training to become an unstoppable killing machine, and her efforts to stop the warlord ravaging the countryside and enslaving numerous (very) scantily-clad young women.  (Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist strongman then ruling China, had threatened to ban all martial arts cinema for its immorality, but one wonders if the films' politics cut a bit too close to the bone as well!)  Reportedly a smash hit on its release, Red Heroine helped set the template for later revivals of the martial arts genre in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

35mm, b/w, silent with English intertitles, 94 min.

Preceded by:

LABORER'S LOVE

China, 1922

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR: Zhang Sichuan.  SCR: Zheng Zhengqiu.  CINE: Zhang Weitao.  CAST: Zheng Zhegu, Yu Ying, Zheng Zhengqiu.

Although virtually all of early Chinese cinema has been destroyed, what remains offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative crucible of 1920s Shanghai.  Laborer's Love, written by Zheng Zhengqiu and directed Zhang Sichuan---both of them regarded as founding fathers of the First Generation of Chinese cinema---is a synthesis of Harold Lloyd-like silent comedy and the May 4th literature then in fashion.  While the film's charming story of a soft-hearted carpenter turned fruit peddler trying to impress his future father-in-law does not much seem like a call to class warfare, the pointed references to urban corruption and the character of a happily liberated young woman anticipate the progressive impulse in much Chinese cinema to come.

35mm, b/w, silent with English intertitles, 30 min.

 

ROMANCE OF THE WESTERN CHAMBER

China/Hong Kong, 1927

Minxin Film Company.  DIR: Li Minwei.  SCR: Hou Yao, based on the play by Wang Shifu.  CINE: Liang Linguang.  CAST: Ce Cijiang, Liu Chuchu, Li Dandan, Hu Chichang, Zhu Yaoting.

Less than an hour remains of this sumptuous costume epic, at the time one of the most lavish Chinese productions ever made.  Based on a scandalous Yuan Dynasty play, the film chronicles the blossoming affair between a young scholar and a courtier's daughter, set against the backdrop of a bandit siege.  Featuring a few breathtaking hand-tinted sequences and replete with breakneck action, intrigue and old-fashioned romance, Romance of the Western Chamber anticipates the later "anything goes" spirit of Hong Kong New Wave director Tsui Hark.

35mm, b/w, silent with French intertitles and live English translation, 45 min.

Note:  Live musical accompaniment provided by Cliff Retallick. 

 

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20

7:00 p.m.

SPRING SILKWORMS

China, 1933

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR: Cheng Bugao.  SCR: Cai Chusheng, Xia Yan, based on the short story by Mao Dun.  CINE: Wang Shizhen.  CAST: Gong Jianong, Zheng Xiaoqiu, Gao Qianping, Wang Zhengxin, Yan Yuexian.

Hailed as one of the first successful attempts to weave progressive politics into Chinese popular cinema, Spring Silkworms is as notable for its exquisite attention to the details of rural life as it is for its revolutionary spirit.  Scripted by the greatest screenwriters of the day, Cai Chusheng and Xia Yan, from the (decidedly un-militant) short story by May 4th writer Mao Dun, Spring Silkworms follows a humble silk-farming family struggling to be free of debt to exploitative middlemen (shades of Visconti's classic La Terra Trema).  While bristling with rage at the destructive macroeconomic forces brought on by late-stage colonialism, the film never sacrifices empathy to ideology; the Marxist message is further modulated by First Generation master Cheng Bugao's lyrical depictions of local farming practices and the gorgeous Zhejiang countryside.  Indeed, Cheng's luminous landscape sequences (influenced by ancient scroll painting) attests to Spring Silkworms' enormous continuing importance: regarding nature as virtually a character in itself, the film anticipates similar strategies in such later masterpieces as Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town and Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth.  "A milestone in the development of Chinese, and indeed world, cinema" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949).”

35mm, b/w, silent with English subtitles, 100 min.

 

Note:  Live musical accompaniment.

 

THE BIG ROAD

China, 1935

Lianhua Film Company.  PROD: Lu Hang-zhang.  DIR/SCR: Sun Yu.  CINE: Hong Weilei.  CAST: Chen Yanyan, Zheng Junli, Li Lili, Liu Qiong, Jin Yan. 

A big-hearted classic of the 1930s progressive film movement, The Big Road (also known as The Highway) chronicles the efforts of six young, patriotic and unemployed city men building a highway to aid the anti-Japanese war effort.  Among the many major achievements of Second Generation master Sun Yu, the film is also an early and mesmerizing experiment in sound design: as Paul Clark explains, "the silence of the film is broken by songs, particularly the road-making songs, which the workers sing together, and by a curious device, a series of percussion sounds, when one of the four men playfully taps the nose, chest and forehead of a gang comrade."  (This unabashed physical intimacy extends to a surprising nude bathing scene with the men, following some fairly raw talk from two women who are following the road crew's progress.)  Wearing its patriotism on its sleeve, The Big Road emphasizes the necessity of presenting a united front against the Japanese invaders; the only real villain is a Chinese collaborator who kidnaps two of the men to impede the highway's progress.  The film's insistence on identifying class enemies reveals a darker side of this otherwise effusive and joyous work.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 104 min.

 

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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24

7:30 p.m.

LI SHUANGSHUANG

Mainland China, 1962

Haiyan Film Studio. DIR: Lu Ren. SCR: Li Zhun. CINE: Zhu Jing. EDIT: Shen Chuandi.  CAST: Zhang Ruifang, Liu Fei, Zhang Wenrong, Zhong Xinghuo, Cao Yi.

A brief relaxation of strict socialist realism guidelines in the 1960s saw the emergence of several wonderful and now rarely seen comedies, the most popular of which was the deft and enormously charming Li Shuangshuang.  The title character (Seventeen Years superstar Zhang Ruifang) is a model member of a village commune who cheerily denounces the laziness and minor corruption of the village men, especially her kind but not overly bright husband.  As she spurs on the other village women to do the same, she and her husband become estranged and unhappy.  All ends well, of course, as the couple triumphantly reunite in the name of Party and Nation, but beneath the breeziness one can feel greater metaphors at work, and harbingers of things to come: is Li Shuangshuang perhaps a stand-in for an overly demanding Party, and her husband the exhausted people of China?  (For Kevin B. Lee, "Li Shuangshuang's uncompromising stance toward her community foretold the kind of behavior that would explode full-scale during the sweeping, destructive purification campaigns of the Cultural Revolution just a few years later.")

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 104 min.

 

UNFINISHED COMEDY

Mainland China, 1957

Changchun Film Studio.  DIR: Lu Ban.  SCR: Luo Tai, Lu Ban.  CINE: Zhang Jun. CAST: Fang Hua. Ning Jiaping, Chen Zhong, Su Manhui, Yan Huang.

Seventeen Years director Lu Ban was a master of comedies that gently tweaked the Party bureaucracy; his most famous film, When the New Director Arrives, poked good-natured fun at the feudal impulses and reactionary mindset of some lower Party officials.  But Unfinished Comedy, easily the most surprising discovery of this series, is something else entirely.  Never screened upon release and rarely seen since, its formal audacity and radical critique of Party censors landed it in hot water just as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the brief period of significant artistic freedom in the late 1950s, was coming to a close; Lu himself was heavily persecuted, and never made another film.  More or less playing themselves, two famous comedians from pre-Revolution days perform a series of sketches in a theater for a group of Party cadres (purported to be "authorities in literary criticism").  The stage performances blend over into absurdist, self-contained fantasy episodes where the two comics allegorically parody Party propaganda and ideological orthodoxy.  The cadres, as one might imagine, are far from amused, and their reactions parallel the film's real-life treatment at the hands of the government.  "Perhaps the most accomplished film made in the seventeen years between 1949 and the Cultural Revolution" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949).”

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 80 min.

 

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26

3:00 p.m.    •please note matinee start time

THE GODDESS 

China, 1934

Lianhua Film Company.  DIR/SCR: Wu Yonggang.  CINE: Hong Weilie.  CAST: Ruan Lingyu, Zhang Zhizhi, Li Keng, Li Junxin, Tang Huaiqiu.

Silent screen legend Ruan Lingyu, giving a fierce and tragic performance in her signature role as a wronged prostitute, is the electric center of The Goddess, one of the most powerful silent films of all time and an early high point for Chinese cinema.  Ruan plays a nameless young "goddess" (1930s slang for her actual profession) who walks the streets in order to provide for her son.  A run-in with a petty gangster results in the hoodlum becoming her pimp against her will; after he does nothing to help when her son is expelled from school, and ultimately steals the tuition money she had set aside, she exacts a terrifying vengeance.  Key Second Generation director Wu Yonggang brings both an unsparing eye and a gentle humanism to this exceptional film, never flinching from the realities and consequences of the heroine's work but never judging her for resorting to what was (and is) a relatively normal profession.  But Ruan's luminous performance and presence is the true crux of the film: scholars Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar consider her character in The Goddess, "a remarkable condensation in one figure of different aspects of the times," including Confucian family devotion, gender, national identity, the new complexities of capitalism, and Ruan's own scandalous off-screen image (as brilliantly depicted in Stanley Kwan's 1992 Ruan biopic Center Stage).

35mm, b/w, silent with English subtitles, 85 min.

 

Note:  Live musical accompaniment.

 

NEW WOMEN

China, 1935 

Lianhua Film Company.  PROD: Luo Mingyou.  DIR: Cai Chusheng.  SCR: Sun Shiyi.  CINE: Zhao Daming.  CAST: Ruan Lingyu, Gu Menghe, Zheng Junli, Wu Yin, Wang Naidong.

New Women was iconic actress Ruan Lingyu's swan song, released mere months before her suicide; its story, thinly adapted from the memoir of Ai Xia, an actresses hounded to death by the press several years earlier, eerily parallels Ruan's own tragically short life.  "Often seen [by critics] as a metaphor for China itself, suffering under semi-colonialism, semi-feudalism and Japanese invasion" (Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar, “China On Screen”), Ruan here plays the very model of a "new woman," an independent-minded music teacher who dreams of becoming a celebrated writer.  Her struggles, intensified by lecherous and vengeful men out to manipulate her and the need to provide for her sick daughter in the countryside, are contrasted with those of her best friend, a patriotic female factory worker who is presented as a model figure for post-revolutionary women.  Influential left-wing director Cai Chusheng experiments with both the literary humanism of the May 4th Movement and the new revolutionary class politics in this fascinating transitional film, making Ruan both the embodiment of the era's complexities and contradictions and the hope for their resolution; as Berry and Farquhar write, "If Ruan herself embodies a China that cannot act now, she also acts as a channel for the expression and articulation of hopes for future agency."

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 106 min.

 

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

7:00 p.m.

STREET ANGEL 

China, 1937 

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR/SCR: Yuan Muzhi.  CINE: Wu Yinxian.  CAST: Zhao Dan, Wang Jiting, Wei Heling, Zhou Xuan, Qian Qianli.

Loosely based on director Frank Borzage's 1927 silent classic Seventh Heaven (though bearing the title of the film he made a year later) and a major hit upon its release in Shanghai, Street Angel is a curious mélange of leftist Chinese cinema motifs and Hollywood bravado, and plentiful other delightfully discordant elements.  (The opening parade scene, featuring copious cross-cutting between bemused onlookers and the film's playful main characters, could be mistaken for early Fellini.)  Zhao Dan stars as a misfit street musician who sets out to rescue two hard-luck sisters---one already sold into prostitution, the other on the verge of the same and barely subsisting as a teahouse singer---from their dire straits.  A scintillating mixture of melodrama, social realism, exuberant musical numbers and slapstick comedy, Street Angel is considered the definitive portrait of Shanghai street life in the 1930s, marvelously capturing the earthy energy and wild collective mood swings that preceded the incipient Japanese invasion.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 91 min.

 

SONG AT MIDNIGHT 

China, 1937

Xinhua Film Company.  PROD: Zhang Shankun.  DIR/SCR: Ma-Xu Weibang.  CINE: Yu Xingsan, Xue Boqing.  EDIT: Dong Jiqing.  CAST: Jin Shan, Hu Ping, Shi Chao, Xiao Ying, Zhou Wenshu.

A loose adaptation of Gaston Leroux's “The Phantom of the Opera,” Song at Midnight is, "an oddball mixture of horror film, propaganda piece and musical; it rates historical importance as the first acknowledged Chinese horror film" (Donato Totaro).  Soon after the fall of Imperial China, an opera troupe arrives at a theater overseen by a troll-like custodian and a catatonic woman named Li Xiaoxia, who is entranced by the haunting voice of a plaintive, unseen singer.  The young leftist leader of the troupe delves into the mystery and discovers that the voice belongs to a mysterious man named Song Danping, once a famous opera singer who was tortured and hideously disfigured by an evil lord over his love for the woman who now thinks him dead.  Beautifully rendered in gothic black-and-white, Song at Midnight is intriguing both for its political content---making the wronged hero Song Danping, "a fugitive revolutionary, using the theater as a sanctuary... with clear references to the chaotic political struggles of the 1920s" (David Robinson)--- and its evocation of 1930s Hollywood horror films.  Director Ma-Xu Weibang went on to be a force in postwar Hong Kong cinema, and may have helped institute its tradition of cleverly appropriating visual and narrative motifs from both Hollywood and other national cinemas.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 119 min.

 

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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2

7:30 p.m.

NEW YEAR'S SACRIFICE 

Mainland China, 1956

Beijing Film Studio.  PROD: Dai Hao.  DIR: Sang Hu.  SCR: Xia Yan, based on the story by Lu Xun.  CINE: Qian Jiang.  EDIT: Yang Xueming.  CAST: Bai Yang, Li Jingbo, Wei Heling, Guan Zhongqiang, Shi Lin.

One of more confounding aspects of Chinese cinema of the "Seventeen Years" period is the prevalence of films derived from works associated with the left-leaning, Western-influenced May 4th Movement, which Mao Zedong had implicitly denounced as being insufficiently attentive to the lives of the peasantry and the mechanics of class struggle.  However, the literary cachet of these works assured audiences that the film adaptations would be "quality pictures," while their mildly progressive politics made them reasonably acceptable to the ideological dictates of the new regime.  Hugely successful at the time, these films have a fascinating awkwardness about them, the square peg of early modernist literature meeting the round hole of socialist realism.  Based on the celebrated short story by literary lion Lu Xun, New Year's Sacrifice---which chronicles the travails of a poor servant (Bai Yang) in the house of a wealthy noble family who is twice sold into marriage, twice widowed and forced back into lowly servitude---is among the most successful of these adaptations, largely due to a refined screenplay by May 4th acolyte Xia Yan and the carefully detailed direction of Second Generation master Sang Hu.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 110 min.

 

SACRIFICED YOUTH 

Mainland China, 1985

Beijing Film Academy; Youth Film Studio.  DIR: Zhang Nuanxin.  SCR: Zhang Manling, Zhang Nuanxin.  CINE: Deng Wei, Mu Deyuan.  EDIT: Zhao Qihua.  CAST: Guo Jianguo, Song Tao, Li Fengxu, Yu Da, Feng Yuanzheng.

The gender equity programs put into place on the Mainland after 1949 saw the emergence of some influential female voices in Chinese cinema, the most famous of whom was Zhang Nuanxin.  Her masterpiece Sacrificed Youth tells the story of 17-year-old Li Chun, who is transported to the mountainous Dai territory in Yunnan during the Cultural Revolution as a "sent-down girl" to live and work amongst the locals.  Boarding in a Dai home with a "Dadie" (Father), "Yiya" (an old Grandmother) and "Dage" (Elder Brother), this daughter of urban intellectuals is shocked by the earthy sensuality of the locals.  While she eventually comes to realize that beauty is something deeper and more primal than the Maoist maxim repeated to her by her teachers ("Only true modesty is true feminine beauty") and begins to share in the joyous, vibrant and uninhibited life of her indigenous hosts, her rejection of Dage’s lustful attentions precipitates her return to the city.  Revisiting the area years later, she receives a shocking and heartbreaking surprise.  While her use of landscape is as breathtaking as that of her Fifth Generation successors---especially in the staggering final sequence, a series of long shots of barren plains and forbidding mountains that resembles a fractured Qing scroll painting---Zhang forgoes their symbolism in favor of a more ethnographic (and empathetic) style, and combines this with rarely addressed issues of female self-realization and sexual awakening.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 92 min.

 

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3

7:00 p.m.

THIS LIFE OF MINE

Mainland China, 1950 

Wenhua Film Company.  DIR: Shi Hui.  SCR: Yang Liuqing, based on the story by Lao She.  CINE: Lin Fa, Ge Weiqing.  EDIT: Fu Jiqiu.  CAST: Shi Hui, Li Wei, Wei Heling, Wang Min, Cui Chaoming.

"Shi Hui, driven to suicide in Mao's 'Anti-Rightist Purge' of the late 1950s, was one of the greatest screen actors ever and a very fine director; this adaptation of a short story by Lao She was probably his best work" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).  The first film produced in Shanghai after the end of the civil war, This Life of Mine delicately balances the interest in earthy local language that was a hallmark of the May 4th Movement with the class analysis demanded by the new regime.  It is also among the first fully realized examples of Soviet-influenced cinematography in Chinese cinema: the film's sublime play of light and shadow was much admired and frequently imitated in the years to come.  The film traces the history of 20th-century China from the fall of the Qing dynasty through to the 1949 Revolution through the eyes of a simple Beijing policeman, played by actor-director Shi Hui, who brilliantly conveys the changing face of the Chinese people through four tumultuous decades of conflict.  "The ultimate discovery.  As an expression of the New China's spiritual turmoil, the film engages in intense moral inquiries and ambiguities that are unparalleled in socialist cinema, even as it tries to toe the party line" (Andrew Chan, The L Magazine).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 120 min.

 

SHANGRAO CONCENTRATION CAMP 

Mainland China, 1951

Shanghai Film Studio.  DIR: Zhang Ke, Sha Meng.  SCR: Feng Xuefeng.  CINE: Qiu Yiren, Zhu Jinming.  EDIT: Wu Tingfang, Huang Zhangcai.  CAST: Tang Hua Da, Jiang Jun, Lu Min, Zhou Liangliang, Lin Nong.

One of the major discoveries of this series and one of the greatest POW films of all time, Shangrao Concentration Camp is set in the hellish confines of a Guomindang (Nationalist) prison, where the brutal officials try to force two female Communist prisoners to reveal their leader's identity and location.  While its subject and year of production might suggest a propaganda film, Shangrao has garnered some interesting (if chronologically impossible) comparisons to Bresson from some critics for its intense, haunting minimalism, though its true roots are in the Soviet cinema then widely distributed in China; in particular, the great cinematographer Zhu Jinming offers a brilliant echo of Dovzhenko's overwhelming landscapes in his images of China's rugged northern climes.  With an extraordinary use of long takes and surprisingly mobile camera movements accentuating the passionate, earthy performances of leads Tang Hua Da and Jiang Jun, Shangrao Concentration Camp is, "a powerful meditation on human relations under pressure" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949”).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 96 min.

 

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

7:00 p.m.

THE EAST IS RED

Mainland China, 1965 

August First Film Studio, Central Newsreel and Documentary Film School.  DIR: Wang Ping.

Though often thought of as the epitome of kitsch, model operas represent a key development in Chinese cinema's tradition of filmed performance, unique both for their extreme ideological rigidity and their mesmerizingly abstract design.  While the genre hit its peak during the second phase of the Cultural Revolution, when such films as Xie Tieli's Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy were the only films permitted in theaters, the form was developed over a number of years.  Made during the first stirrings of the Cultural Revolution, and in many ways setting the template for what was to come---not least in the ideological fervor of its hard-line director Wang Ping, one of the very rare women allowed behind the camera during the period---The East Is Red was the most lavish, and most important, of these earlier films; its title song became the unofficial national anthem, and the film itself remained a cornerstone of Mao's cult of personality until his death a decade later.  Retelling the history of the Chinese Communist Party, from its founding in 1921 to its victory over the Nationalists in 1949, as a grand musical pageant, The East Is Red is both breathtaking and discomfiting in its monumental design; the opening sequence, for example, with vast numbers of spectators entering the Great Hall of the People, eerily recalls the films of Leni Riefenstahl.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 117 min.

 

RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN  

Mainland China, 1961

Tianma Film Studio.  DIR: Xie Jin.  SCR: Liang Xin.  CINE: Shen Xilin.  EDIT: Zhang Hanchen.  CAST: Zhu Xijuan, Niu Ben, Wang Xingang, Chen Qiang, Xiang Mei.

"The films I directed before the Cultural Revolution are mostly about the contrast between the old society and the new society," said Xie Jin, whose distinguished career extended from the pre- to post-Cultural Revolution periods.  "What was the past like?  What happened after the founding of New China?"  The director boldly answered those questions in this tale of a violated peasant girl turned vicious fighting machine.  The film's first half, situated on the sweltering island of Hainan, has the feel of a "James Bond of the East," as a dashing spy recruits our heroine to the Communist cause; the second half, featuring her army training and fearsome all-female combat scenes, crosses the eye-popping style of Communist propaganda posters with the gritty realism of Soviet war films, creating an unclassifiable, proto-pop art socialist cinematography.  While Red Detachment is certainly brimming with cadre spirit---it became one of the Mainland's most important films up to the fall of the Gang of Four, remade successively in literary, theater, model opera and new film versions---Xie Jin never lets the proceedings sink into sloganeering; he later claimed that he kept such classic (and decidedly un-revolutionary) Chinese novels as “Romance of Book and Sword” in mind while making the film.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 110 min.

 

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15

7:30 p.m.

YELLOW EARTH 

Mainland China, 1984

Guangxi Film Studio.  PROD: Guo Ke-qi.  DIR: Chen Kaige.  SCR: Zhang Xiliang.  CINE: Zhang Yimou.  EDIT: Pei Xiaonan.  CAST: Wang Xueqi, Xue Bai, Liu Qiang, Tan Tuo.

The film that changed Chinese cinema forever has lost none of its power or beauty since its explosive debut.  In 1939, a young cadre comes to a dirt-poor village in Shaanxi province (the cradle of Chinese communism) to collect local folk songs so they can be adapted into Maoist anthems.  (This same campaign created the theme for The East Is Red, screening on November 10).  He befriends a young girl and educates her about the new social status that women will enjoy come the revolution.  After he departs, she tries to follow him, with tragic consequences.  Beautifully etching both the beauty and terror of rural life, director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Zhang Yimou upend all the conventions of Seventeen Years-style socialist realism through poetic symbolism drawn from ancient scroll paintings and an exquisite use of traditional folk music.  A true milestone, Yellow Earth introduces all the key elements of Fifth Generation filmmaking and would help propel the Mainland to the top ranks of global cinema.  "Chen Kaige and his cinematographer Zhang Yimou have invented a new language of colors, shadows, glances, spaces, and unspoken thoughts and implications; and they've made their new language sing" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 89 min.

 

RED SORGHUM  

Mainland China, 1987

Xi’an Film Studio.  PROD: Wu Tian-ming.  DIR: Zhang Yimou.  SCR: Mo Yan, Chen Jianyu, Zhu Wei.  CINE: Gu Changwei.  EDIT: Du Yuan.  CAST: Jiang Wen, Gong Li, Dong Kun, Qian Ming, Chen Zhigang. 

Already a renowned cinematographer for his work on such landmark Fifth Generation films as Yellow Earth, Zhang Yimou announced himself as a master director with this deceptively simple folk fable; the film also introduced the world to his muse and future wife Gong Li, who went on to become the most famous film actress to ever emerge from the Mainland.  Set in the lead-up to the Sino-Japanese War, Red Sorghum tells the story of a young peasant girl, Jiu'er (Gong), whose parents sell her into marriage with an elderly winemaker.  Attacked by bandits on the way to her wedding, Jiu'er is rescued by one of her palanquin bearers (Jiang Wen, sporting maximum swagger), who later returns and becomes her lover.  Together they turn around the wine business she has inherited, but then have to grimly dig in to face the invading Japanese armies.  From its bawdy beginnings to its tragic conclusion, where an unimaginable nightmare becomes all too real, Red Sorghum is above all a formidable visual accomplishment: every shot feels utterly original, every nuance of color a boldly symbolic flourish.  "The cinematography in Red Sorghum has no desire to be subtle, or muted; it wants to splash its passionate colors all over the screen with abandon, and the sheer visual impact of the film is voluptuous" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).

35mm, color, in Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles, 91 min.

 

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22

7:30 p.m.

THE ARCH

Hong Kong, 1970

Cathay Asia Films, Film Dynasty.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Cecile Tang Shu Shuen.  CINE: Subrata Mitra.  EDIT: Les Blank, C.C. See.  CAST: Lisa Lu, Roy Chiao Hung, Hilda Chou Hsuan, Li Ying, Wen Hsui.

The incomparably original Cecile Tang, one of the few female filmmakers working in Hong Kong in the ‘60s and ‘70s, made two of the most interesting and important films of the era with her debut The Arch and its follow-up China Behind.  A profound character study that feels like a hybrid of Kenji Mizoguchi's tales of female sacrifice, the tragic romances of Chinese costume drama and the interruptive techniques of the French New Wave, The Arch focuses on a wealthy widow (Lisa Lu) in the early Qing dynasty on the eve of her crowning achievement, the erection of a triumphal arch in honor of her many good works.  When a young and handsome cavalry officer is billeted at her palatial house and soon begins to court both the matriarch and her immature daughter, the widow is forced to choose between her own happiness and her daughter's well-being.  Shot in soft, luminous black and white by Satyajit Ray's longtime cinematographer Subrata Mitra, The Arch is "one of the most significant art-house classics in [Hong Kong] film history...as if Alain Resnais met Henrik Ibsen in seventeenth-century China" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 95 min. 

 

CHINA BEHIND

Hong Kong, 1974

Film Dynasty.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Cecile Tang Shu Shuen.  CINE: Chang Chao-tang.  EDIT: Song I-shun.  CAST: Tseng Chi-lu, Shao Hsiao-ling, Feng Pao-yen, Pan Yung-min, Chin Yung-hsiang.

Highly influenced by the French New Wave and presaging many aspects of the Hong Kong New Wave to come, the films of Cecile Tang stand apart from the kung-fu and Chinese opera films that dominated ‘70s Hong Kong cinema.  One of the most exciting discoveries of this series, Tong's second film China Behind---banned for over a decade by the Hong Kong government, on the grounds that it would "damage good relations with other territories"---follows a group of Mainlanders as they desperately try to flee from a China in thrall to the Cultural Revolution.  Narrowly escaping capture as they set out, the fugitives are willing to do anything---including a long, death-defying swim---to reach freedom.  But what they find when they reach the haven of Hong Kong is a far cry from their dreams of liberty; the final passages of the film are a damning and powerful indictment of both the socialist and free-market "utopias" that defined the ideological landscape of the century just past.  "One of the earliest films to deal with the clash of Communist and capitalist ideals that would inevitably manifest itself with the 1997 handover[;] the moral degradation and spiritual disenchantment of its characters reveal the dehumanizing effects felt [on] both sides of the border" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 89 min.

 

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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25

7:30 p.m.

THE PEACH BLOSSOM LAND

Taiwan, 1992

Long Shong Pictures, Performance Workshop Films.  PROD: Ding Nai-chu.  DIR: Stan Lai.  SCR: Stan Lai, based on his play.  CINE: Christopher Doyle.  EDIT: Chen Po-wen.  CAST: Brigitte Lin, Li Wei-hui, Gu Bao-ming, Chin Shih-chieh, Ku Pao-ming.

Taiwan's Stan Lai is among the world's most important theater directors.  His most famous work, “Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring,” upended just about every convention of Chinese theater when it premiered in 1986, mere months before martial law was lifted; six years later, he adapted the play into a film which itself radically challenged the principles of filmed opera, featuring remarkable innovations in staging, the use of song and dialogue, and the convention of the "fourth wall."  Two theater companies unwillingly share the same theater on the same night, one rehearsing an epic melodrama of star-crossed love set against the turmoil of 1949 Shanghai, the other a madcap comedy.  The stories of the two plays soon begin to overlap, revealing a shared concern with how the Taiwanese, traumatized by war and political terror, might retain a respect for the past without succumbing to its nightmares.  Lai attracted exceptional collaborators to the project: legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Du Ke Feng), who shoots the film with an uncharacteristic restraint that gracefully extracts the work from the proscenium; and the magnificent Brigitte Lin, Taiwan's most famous actress, herself a living metatext for Taiwan's rebirth and re-engagement with the world.  "A Brechtian-infused exploration of nationhood, storytelling, and the art of theater" (Film Society of Lincoln Center).

HDCam, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 107 min.

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

7:30 p.m.

WONG FEI-HUNG: THE WHIP THAT SMACKS THE CANDLE

Hong Kong, 1949

Wing Yiu Film Company.  PROD: Cheung Tsok-hong.  DIR: Wu Pang.  SCR: Ng Yat-siu, based on the story by Chu Yu-chai.  CAST: Kwan Tak-hing, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, Lee Lan, Sek Kin, Tsi Chi-wai.

One of the most revered of Chinese folk heroes, the legendary martial artist Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924) is also one of the most popular and enduring screen characters in cinema history.  A tried and true symbol of Chinese tradition and patriotism standing tall against Western influence and foreign incursion, Wong was portrayed at various ages and in numerous incarnations, from the comic to the ultra-serious, in over 100 feature films---most famously by Jackie Chan (in 1978’s Drunken Master and its absolutely awesome 1994 sequel) and Jet Li (in the Once Upon a Time in China series).  But Wu Pang’s 1949 The Whip That Smacks the Candle started it all: not only did it bring Wong to the screen for the first time in the person of Chinese opera star Kwan Tak-hing (who would go on to play the role in over 70 features, serials and TV episodes), it set the template for the modern kung fu genre by eschewing the fantasy elements of the silent era wuxia films in favor of realistic action choreography and a focus on the importance of martial arts discipline and technique.  Come see where it all began!

35mm, in Cantonese with English subtitles, 72 min.

 

THE STORY OF A DISCHARGED PRISONER 

Hong Kong, 1967

Kong Ngee Company. PROD: He Jianye.  DIR/SCR: Patrick Lung Kong.  CINE: Chen Kan.  CAST: Patrick Tse Yin, Shek Kin, Chan Tsai-chung, Do Ping, Hui Ying-ying.

Only recently being rediscovered, this tough-as-nails, black-and-white crime thriller from 1967 has had an enormous and lasting influence: it served as the basis for John Woo's 1986 bullet-ballet opus A Better Tomorrow, which made "heroic bloodshed" the new face of Hong Kong action cinema.  Patrick Tse Yin stars as the eponymous ex-con Lee Cheuk-hung, who is released from prison after 15 years to discover his fiancée has become the mistress of powerful triad boss One-Eyed Jack (Shek Kin, best known in the West as the villain in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon), who tries to recruit Lee into his gang; determined to stay on the straight and narrow, Lee refuses.  But when the vengeful Jack starts putting the pressure on, the former foot soldier is forced to once again show that he has the "true colors of a hero" (as per the film's original title).  Both a groundbreaking action melodrama (featuring fight choreography from legendary martial arts master Lau Kar-leung's brother Lau Kar-wing) and a forceful, socially conscious portrait of the plight of the marginalized in a rapidly modernizing Hong Kong, The Story of a Discharged Prisoner is "[both] a damning critique [and] a call for hope...[this] is filmmaking at its sharpest and most masterful" (South China Morning Post).

35mm, b/w, in Cantonese with English subtitles, 119 min.

 

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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8  /  Free Admission!

7:00 p.m.

A CITY OF SADNESS

Taiwan, 1989 

3-H Films, Era International.  PROD: Ch’iu Fu-sheng.  DIR: Hou Hsiao-hsien.  SCR: Chu T’ien-yen, Wu Nien-jen.  CINE: Chen Hwai-en.  EDIT: Liao Ch’ing-sung.  CAST: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Li Tien-lu, Hsin Shu-fen, Kao Jai, Chen Sown-yung.

By the late 1980s, director Hou Hsiao-hsien had become recognized internationally for his signature filmmaking style---consisting of spare dialogue, long, lingering shots, extraordinarily precise compositions and a remarkable use of deep focus---and his highly specific but universally resonant stories of intergenerational conflict and change.  With A City of Sadness, Hou takes on a far broader historical canvas: the period of the "White Terror" between 1945 and 1950, when Taiwan became host to the Nationalist Chinese government-in-exile as they fled from their defeat at the hands of Mao's Communists---an era of political repression that reached its brutal culmination in the "February 28 Incident," the 1947 massacre of thousands of Taiwanese civilians by Nationalist soldiers.  Focusing on four brothers, each of whom represents a different response by the Taiwanese to the Nationalist government---with particular emphasis on the gentle, deaf-mute Wen-ching, movingly played by Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung Chiu-wai---Hou keeps the famous historical events off-screen while showing the tragic ruptures they create within the microcosmic world of the family.  A Taiwanese mirror of the "scar films" then being made in a Mainland China just recovering from the Cultural Revolution, Hou's beautiful, tragic, and ineffably moving City is, "one of the supreme masterworks of the contemporary cinema" (Jonathan Rosenbaum).

35mm, color, in Mandarin, Min Nan and Cantonese with English subtitles, 160 min.

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13

7:30 p.m.

COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY

Hong Kong, 1996   

Golden Harvest Company, United Filmmakers Organization.  PROD: Raymond Chow, Eric Tsang.  DIR: Peter Chan.  SCR: Ivy Ho.  CINE: Jingle Ma.  EDIT: Chan Ki-Hop, Kwang Chi-leung.  CAST: Maggie Cheung, Leon Lai, Eric Tsang, Irene Tsu, Christopher Doyle.

Made one year before the handover of Hong Kong to the Mainland, prolific Second Wave filmmaker Peter Chan’s tender, lyrical boy-meets-girl chronicle garnered nine prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Director and Best Actress.  Leaving his fiancée back home in Beijing, wide-eyed Xiao Jun (Leon Lai) arrives in Hong Kong from the Mainland in 1986 to pursue his dreams of making a comfortable life for his future family.  He soon meets the ambitious, shrewd and hard-working Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung), who turns out to be a fellow Mainlander.  The friendship between Xiao Jun and Li Qiao, made more intimate by their mutual physical dislocation and experience of urban isolation, quickly escalates into a heated love affair that spans a decade and the vast distance between two islands in transition---Hong Kong and New York City---as the couple separate and reconnect with each other in unexpected circumstances.  Its soundtrack filled with the warm and nostalgic songs of pan-Asian singing sensation Teresa Teng---whose tragically early passing during production inspired Chan to change the film’s Chinese title to that of one of her best known songs ("Tian Mi Mi")---Comrades is both a spellbinding romance and a scintillating snapshot of Hong Kong, capturing the megacity’s palpable anxiety and disorientation on the brink of profound historic change.

35mm, in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles, 118 min.

 

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

Hong Kong, 2000 

Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Paradis Films.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Wong Kar-wai.  CINE: Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping Bin.  EDIT: William Chang.  CAST: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Siu Ping Lam, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chin. 

Filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece of romantic longing is a love letter to much of

Chinese cinema history.  Its tale of a man and a woman (Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung), crammed into adjacent tiny apartments, their spouses embroiled in an affair and their own passions repressed by tradition, propriety, and a fear of the unknown, echoes a tradition of wenyi melodrama stretching back to the 1930s.  The film has a deep, almost fetishized relationship with the postwar period---especially its clothing and interior design---that speaks to the continuing weight of history and memory in contemporary Chinese filmmaking.  (Critic Stephen Teo astutely identifies the film's deep formal echoes of Fei Mu's postwar masterpiece Spring in a Small Town, further underlining this connection).  But In the Mood's most profound connection to the past is in the intoxicating performances of Leung and Cheung, whose grace and vulnerability conjure up the aura of vanished stars from the Golden Age of Shanghai cinema in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Displaying Wong Kar-wai at the height of his powers, his extraordinary control over mood, tone and gesture felt in every frame, In the Mood for Love was recently anointed as the most important Chinese film on Sight & Sound's decennial poll of the greatest films ever made.  "Rhapsodically sublimated and ultimately sublime" (J. Hoberman, The Village Voice).

35mm, color, in Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles 98 min.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

VENUE:  All programs screen at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90024 (corner of Wilshire & Westwood Blvds., courtyard level of the Hammer Museum).   <http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/billy-wilder-theater>

 

 

TICKETS:   FREE Admission to the screening of A City of Sadness (1989) on December 8.

 

Advance tickets are available for $10 at <http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/programs/ticketing-information>

Tickets are also available at the Billy Wilder Theater box office starting one hour before showtime: $9, general admission; FREE to all UCLA students with valid ID; $8, other students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.

 

 

PARKING:   At the Billy Wilder Theater for a $3 flat rate on weekdays after 6 p.m. and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Enter from Westwood Blvd., just north of Wilshire.

 

INFO:  www.cinema.ucla.edu / 310-206-FILM (-3456)

A CENTURY OF CHINESE CINEMA

Friday, October 11 – Friday, December 13

 

http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2013-10-11/century-chinese-cinema

 

The Archive is pleased to present this landmark program, adapted from its recent premiere showing at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.  Uniting archival materials from the collections of the China Film Archive (Beijing), the Hong Kong Film Archive and the Chinese Taipei Film Archive in the first ever such collaboration between those organizations, this series offers audiences a chance to consider what unites and separates the highly connected cinematic traditions of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  This edition in Los Angeles pays special attention to firsts, founding documents and works that helped define and direct historic movements.  While acknowledging the political specificity of the three major production centers, their distinctive achievements and their respective interactions with other world cinema traditions (be they Soviet, Japanese or European, to cite a few examples), these various “Chinese” cinemas share significant aesthetic, cultural and philosophical underpinnings, and often, personnel, capital, and other resources.  Thus, the series’ title may be seen as defining an area of theoretical inquiry into the historical dialogue between these cinemas, and their interdependency as points of comparison, particularly in later years.  Such a modest sampling of such an enormous cinematic edifice can only be seen as preliminary, but the series endeavors to encourage such future explorations of the idea of a Chinese cinema.

 

FREE Admission on Sunday, December 8!

 

Note:  Curated by Noah Cowan, artistic director, TIFF Bell Lightbox, and organized by TIFF, in collaboration with China Film Archive (Beijing), Hong Kong Film Archive and Chinese Taipei Film Archive.  Presented in association with Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles.  Organized for UCLA Film & Television Archive by Shannon Kelley.  Program notes are adapted from notes that accompanied the program at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

 

Special thanks to: Noah Cowan, Samuel LaFrance, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Yanrong Tan, China Film Archive; Wendy Hau, Hong Kong Film Archive; Teresa Huang, Chinese Taipei Film Archive.

 

Thanks to: Robert Chi, Susan Pertel Jain, Zhao Jing, Chen Mei.

 

-----------------

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11

7:30 p.m.

SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN 

China, 1948

Wenhua Film Company.  DIR: Fei Mu.  SCR: Li Tianji.  CINE: Li Shengwei.  EDIT: Xu Ming, Wei Yibao.  CAST: Shi Yu, Wei Wei, Zhang Hongmei, Li Wei, Cui Chaoming.

Spring in a Small Town is the apotheosis of Golden Age Shanghai cinema, at once a deeply literary work that forges unexpected connections between pre- and post-Republican prose forms, and a breathtaking visual masterpiece that marries symbolism derived from ancient landscape painting with innovative camera and editing ideas.  His once great wealth lost in the aftermath of the Second World War, the sickly, middle-aged Dai Liyan (Shi Yu) now pines for the past in his ruined estate with his alienated wife Zhou Yuwen (Wei Wei), his young sister, and an old servant.  The couple's mutual ennui is temporarily lifted when an old friend---and Yuwen's former lover---arrives for a visit.  As old feelings rekindle, Yuwen becomes torn between loyalty to her husband and his family and the chance to begin life anew with her old flame.  Cited as a formative influence by Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Jia Zhangke and Wong Kar-wai, Spring in a Small Town evokes the astonishing visual fluidity of Orson Welles while predicting the cinema of modernist master Alain Resnais in its beautifully affecting restraint and time-jumping, Marienbad-ish voiceover.  Wei Wei is exquisite as the tortured Yuwen, her poetic voiceover suggesting a regretful ghost recalling her last possible moment of happiness; she endows the film with a tragic pain that lingers long after the wistful last shot.  "An extraordinary work, anticipating Antonioni in its slow unfolding of an erotic situation, treated with a mixture of sympathy and austerity."---David Bordwell. 

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 93 min.

 

IN PERSON:  Robert Chi.

 

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

7:30 p.m.

RED HEROINE 

China, 1929

Youlian Film Company.  DIR: Wen Yimin.  CINE: Yao Shiquan.  CAST: Wang Chuqin, Zhu Shaoquan, Zhao Taishan, Fan Xuepeng, Qu Yifeng.

The only surviving section of the 13-part serial Red Knight Errant, this barn-burner of an action epic is a prime specimen of the martial arts/fantasy film explosion of late-twenties and early-thirties Shanghai---but one with a significant twist.  In place of the typical manly hero, Red Heroine presents a swashbuckling woman clad in exotic costume soaring through the air, disappearing in clouds of smoke and laying waste to armies of baddies with a sweep of her sword.  Opening with Red Heroine's abduction by a tyrannical warlord, the film follows her rescue by a hermit monk, her training to become an unstoppable killing machine, and her efforts to stop the warlord ravaging the countryside and enslaving numerous (very) scantily-clad young women.  (Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist strongman then ruling China, had threatened to ban all martial arts cinema for its immorality, but one wonders if the films' politics cut a bit too close to the bone as well!)  Reportedly a smash hit on its release, Red Heroine helped set the template for later revivals of the martial arts genre in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

35mm, b/w, silent with English intertitles, 94 min.

 

Preceded by:

LABORER'S LOVE

China, 1922

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR: Zhang Sichuan.  SCR: Zheng Zhengqiu.  CINE: Zhang Weitao.  CAST: Zheng Zhegu, Yu Ying, Zheng Zhengqiu.

Although virtually all of early Chinese cinema has been destroyed, what remains offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative crucible of 1920s Shanghai.  Laborer's Love, written by Zheng Zhengqiu and directed Zhang Sichuan---both of them regarded as founding fathers of the First Generation of Chinese cinema---is a synthesis of Harold Lloyd-like silent comedy and the May 4th literature then in fashion.  While the film's charming story of a soft-hearted carpenter turned fruit peddler trying to impress his future father-in-law does not much seem like a call to class warfare, the pointed references to urban corruption and the character of a happily liberated young woman anticipate the progressive impulse in much Chinese cinema to come.

35mm, b/w, silent with English intertitles, 30 min.

 

ROMANCE OF THE WESTERN CHAMBER

China/Hong Kong, 1927

Minxin Film Company.  DIR: Li Minwei.  SCR: Hou Yao, based on the play by Wang Shifu.  CINE: Liang Linguang.  CAST: Ce Cijiang, Liu Chuchu, Li Dandan, Hu Chichang, Zhu Yaoting.

Less than an hour remains of this sumptuous costume epic, at the time one of the most lavish Chinese productions ever made.  Based on a scandalous Yuan Dynasty play, the film chronicles the blossoming affair between a young scholar and a courtier's daughter, set against the backdrop of a bandit siege.  Featuring a few breathtaking hand-tinted sequences and replete with breakneck action, intrigue and old-fashioned romance, Romance of the Western Chamber anticipates the later "anything goes" spirit of Hong Kong New Wave director Tsui Hark.

35mm, b/w, silent with French intertitles and live English translation, 45 min.

 

Note:  Live musical accompaniment provided by Cliff Retallick. 

 

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20

7:00 p.m.

SPRING SILKWORMS

China, 1933

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR: Cheng Bugao.  SCR: Cai Chusheng, Xia Yan, based on the short story by Mao Dun.  CINE: Wang Shizhen.  CAST: Gong Jianong, Zheng Xiaoqiu, Gao Qianping, Wang Zhengxin, Yan Yuexian.

Hailed as one of the first successful attempts to weave progressive politics into Chinese popular cinema, Spring Silkworms is as notable for its exquisite attention to the details of rural life as it is for its revolutionary spirit.  Scripted by the greatest screenwriters of the day, Cai Chusheng and Xia Yan, from the (decidedly un-militant) short story by May 4th writer Mao Dun, Spring Silkworms follows a humble silk-farming family struggling to be free of debt to exploitative middlemen (shades of Visconti's classic La Terra Trema).  While bristling with rage at the destructive macroeconomic forces brought on by late-stage colonialism, the film never sacrifices empathy to ideology; the Marxist message is further modulated by First Generation master Cheng Bugao's lyrical depictions of local farming practices and the gorgeous Zhejiang countryside.  Indeed, Cheng's luminous landscape sequences (influenced by ancient scroll painting) attests to Spring Silkworms' enormous continuing importance: regarding nature as virtually a character in itself, the film anticipates similar strategies in such later masterpieces as Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town and Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth.  "A milestone in the development of Chinese, and indeed world, cinema" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949).”

35mm, b/w, silent with English subtitles, 100 min.

 

Note:  Live musical accompaniment.

 

 

THE BIG ROAD

China, 1935

Lianhua Film Company.  PROD: Lu Hang-zhang.  DIR/SCR: Sun Yu.  CINE: Hong Weilei.  CAST: Chen Yanyan, Zheng Junli, Li Lili, Liu Qiong, Jin Yan. 

A big-hearted classic of the 1930s progressive film movement, The Big Road (also known as The Highway) chronicles the efforts of six young, patriotic and unemployed city men building a highway to aid the anti-Japanese war effort.  Among the many major achievements of Second Generation master Sun Yu, the film is also an early and mesmerizing experiment in sound design: as Paul Clark explains, "the silence of the film is broken by songs, particularly the road-making songs, which the workers sing together, and by a curious device, a series of percussion sounds, when one of the four men playfully taps the nose, chest and forehead of a gang comrade."  (This unabashed physical intimacy extends to a surprising nude bathing scene with the men, following some fairly raw talk from two women who are following the road crew's progress.)  Wearing its patriotism on its sleeve, The Big Road emphasizes the necessity of presenting a united front against the Japanese invaders; the only real villain is a Chinese collaborator who kidnaps two of the men to impede the highway's progress.  The film's insistence on identifying class enemies reveals a darker side of this otherwise effusive and joyous work.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 104 min.

 

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THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24

7:30 p.m.

LI SHUANGSHUANG

Mainland China, 1962

Haiyan Film Studio. DIR: Lu Ren. SCR: Li Zhun. CINE: Zhu Jing. EDIT: Shen Chuandi.  CAST: Zhang Ruifang, Liu Fei, Zhang Wenrong, Zhong Xinghuo, Cao Yi.

A brief relaxation of strict socialist realism guidelines in the 1960s saw the emergence of several wonderful and now rarely seen comedies, the most popular of which was the deft and enormously charming Li Shuangshuang.  The title character (Seventeen Years superstar Zhang Ruifang) is a model member of a village commune who cheerily denounces the laziness and minor corruption of the village men, especially her kind but not overly bright husband.  As she spurs on the other village women to do the same, she and her husband become estranged and unhappy.  All ends well, of course, as the couple triumphantly reunite in the name of Party and Nation, but beneath the breeziness one can feel greater metaphors at work, and harbingers of things to come: is Li Shuangshuang perhaps a stand-in for an overly demanding Party, and her husband the exhausted people of China?  (For Kevin B. Lee, "Li Shuangshuang's uncompromising stance toward her community foretold the kind of behavior that would explode full-scale during the sweeping, destructive purification campaigns of the Cultural Revolution just a few years later.")

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 104 min.

 

UNFINISHED COMEDY

Mainland China, 1957

Changchun Film Studio.  DIR: Lu Ban.  SCR: Luo Tai, Lu Ban.  CINE: Zhang Jun. CAST: Fang Hua. Ning Jiaping, Chen Zhong, Su Manhui, Yan Huang.

Seventeen Years director Lu Ban was a master of comedies that gently tweaked the Party bureaucracy; his most famous film, When the New Director Arrives, poked good-natured fun at the feudal impulses and reactionary mindset of some lower Party officials.  But Unfinished Comedy, easily the most surprising discovery of this series, is something else entirely.  Never screened upon release and rarely seen since, its formal audacity and radical critique of Party censors landed it in hot water just as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the brief period of significant artistic freedom in the late 1950s, was coming to a close; Lu himself was heavily persecuted, and never made another film.  More or less playing themselves, two famous comedians from pre-Revolution days perform a series of sketches in a theater for a group of Party cadres (purported to be "authorities in literary criticism").  The stage performances blend over into absurdist, self-contained fantasy episodes where the two comics allegorically parody Party propaganda and ideological orthodoxy.  The cadres, as one might imagine, are far from amused, and their reactions parallel the film's real-life treatment at the hands of the government.  "Perhaps the most accomplished film made in the seventeen years between 1949 and the Cultural Revolution" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949).”

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 80 min.

 

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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26

3:00 p.m.    •please note matinee start time

THE GODDESS 

China, 1934

Lianhua Film Company.  DIR/SCR: Wu Yonggang.  CINE: Hong Weilie.  CAST: Ruan Lingyu, Zhang Zhizhi, Li Keng, Li Junxin, Tang Huaiqiu.

Silent screen legend Ruan Lingyu, giving a fierce and tragic performance in her signature role as a wronged prostitute, is the electric center of The Goddess, one of the most powerful silent films of all time and an early high point for Chinese cinema.  Ruan plays a nameless young "goddess" (1930s slang for her actual profession) who walks the streets in order to provide for her son.  A run-in with a petty gangster results in the hoodlum becoming her pimp against her will; after he does nothing to help when her son is expelled from school, and ultimately steals the tuition money she had set aside, she exacts a terrifying vengeance.  Key Second Generation director Wu Yonggang brings both an unsparing eye and a gentle humanism to this exceptional film, never flinching from the realities and consequences of the heroine's work but never judging her for resorting to what was (and is) a relatively normal profession.  But Ruan's luminous performance and presence is the true crux of the film: scholars Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar consider her character in The Goddess, "a remarkable condensation in one figure of different aspects of the times," including Confucian family devotion, gender, national identity, the new complexities of capitalism, and Ruan's own scandalous off-screen image (as brilliantly depicted in Stanley Kwan's 1992 Ruan biopic Center Stage).

35mm, b/w, silent with English subtitles, 85 min.

 

Note:  Live musical accompaniment.

 

NEW WOMEN

China, 1935 

Lianhua Film Company.  PROD: Luo Mingyou.  DIR: Cai Chusheng.  SCR: Sun Shiyi.  CINE: Zhao Daming.  CAST: Ruan Lingyu, Gu Menghe, Zheng Junli, Wu Yin, Wang Naidong.

New Women was iconic actress Ruan Lingyu's swan song, released mere months before her suicide; its story, thinly adapted from the memoir of Ai Xia, an actresses hounded to death by the press several years earlier, eerily parallels Ruan's own tragically short life.  "Often seen [by critics] as a metaphor for China itself, suffering under semi-colonialism, semi-feudalism and Japanese invasion" (Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar, “China On Screen”), Ruan here plays the very model of a "new woman," an independent-minded music teacher who dreams of becoming a celebrated writer.  Her struggles, intensified by lecherous and vengeful men out to manipulate her and the need to provide for her sick daughter in the countryside, are contrasted with those of her best friend, a patriotic female factory worker who is presented as a model figure for post-revolutionary women.  Influential left-wing director Cai Chusheng experiments with both the literary humanism of the May 4th Movement and the new revolutionary class politics in this fascinating transitional film, making Ruan both the embodiment of the era's complexities and contradictions and the hope for their resolution; as Berry and Farquhar write, "If Ruan herself embodies a China that cannot act now, she also acts as a channel for the expression and articulation of hopes for future agency."

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 106 min.

 

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

7:00 p.m.

STREET ANGEL 

China, 1937 

Mingxing Film Company.  DIR/SCR: Yuan Muzhi.  CINE: Wu Yinxian.  CAST: Zhao Dan, Wang Jiting, Wei Heling, Zhou Xuan, Qian Qianli.

Loosely based on director Frank Borzage's 1927 silent classic Seventh Heaven (though bearing the title of the film he made a year later) and a major hit upon its release in Shanghai, Street Angel is a curious mélange of leftist Chinese cinema motifs and Hollywood bravado, and plentiful other delightfully discordant elements.  (The opening parade scene, featuring copious cross-cutting between bemused onlookers and the film's playful main characters, could be mistaken for early Fellini.)  Zhao Dan stars as a misfit street musician who sets out to rescue two hard-luck sisters---one already sold into prostitution, the other on the verge of the same and barely subsisting as a teahouse singer---from their dire straits.  A scintillating mixture of melodrama, social realism, exuberant musical numbers and slapstick comedy, Street Angel is considered the definitive portrait of Shanghai street life in the 1930s, marvelously capturing the earthy energy and wild collective mood swings that preceded the incipient Japanese invasion.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 91 min.

 

SONG AT MIDNIGHT 

China, 1937

Xinhua Film Company.  PROD: Zhang Shankun.  DIR/SCR: Ma-Xu Weibang.  CINE: Yu Xingsan, Xue Boqing.  EDIT: Dong Jiqing.  CAST: Jin Shan, Hu Ping, Shi Chao, Xiao Ying, Zhou Wenshu.

A loose adaptation of Gaston Leroux's “The Phantom of the Opera,” Song at Midnight is, "an oddball mixture of horror film, propaganda piece and musical; it rates historical importance as the first acknowledged Chinese horror film" (Donato Totaro).  Soon after the fall of Imperial China, an opera troupe arrives at a theater overseen by a troll-like custodian and a catatonic woman named Li Xiaoxia, who is entranced by the haunting voice of a plaintive, unseen singer.  The young leftist leader of the troupe delves into the mystery and discovers that the voice belongs to a mysterious man named Song Danping, once a famous opera singer who was tortured and hideously disfigured by an evil lord over his love for the woman who now thinks him dead.  Beautifully rendered in gothic black-and-white, Song at Midnight is intriguing both for its political content---making the wronged hero Song Danping, "a fugitive revolutionary, using the theater as a sanctuary... with clear references to the chaotic political struggles of the 1920s" (David Robinson)--- and its evocation of 1930s Hollywood horror films.  Director Ma-Xu Weibang went on to be a force in postwar Hong Kong cinema, and may have helped institute its tradition of cleverly appropriating visual and narrative motifs from both Hollywood and other national cinemas.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 119 min.

 

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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2

7:30 p.m.

NEW YEAR'S SACRIFICE 

Mainland China, 1956

Beijing Film Studio.  PROD: Dai Hao.  DIR: Sang Hu.  SCR: Xia Yan, based on the story by Lu Xun.  CINE: Qian Jiang.  EDIT: Yang Xueming.  CAST: Bai Yang, Li Jingbo, Wei Heling, Guan Zhongqiang, Shi Lin.

One of more confounding aspects of Chinese cinema of the "Seventeen Years" period is the prevalence of films derived from works associated with the left-leaning, Western-influenced May 4th Movement, which Mao Zedong had implicitly denounced as being insufficiently attentive to the lives of the peasantry and the mechanics of class struggle.  However, the literary cachet of these works assured audiences that the film adaptations would be "quality pictures," while their mildly progressive politics made them reasonably acceptable to the ideological dictates of the new regime.  Hugely successful at the time, these films have a fascinating awkwardness about them, the square peg of early modernist literature meeting the round hole of socialist realism.  Based on the celebrated short story by literary lion Lu Xun, New Year's Sacrifice---which chronicles the travails of a poor servant (Bai Yang) in the house of a wealthy noble family who is twice sold into marriage, twice widowed and forced back into lowly servitude---is among the most successful of these adaptations, largely due to a refined screenplay by May 4th acolyte Xia Yan and the carefully detailed direction of Second Generation master Sang Hu.

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 110 min.

 

SACRIFICED YOUTH 

Mainland China, 1985

Beijing Film Academy; Youth Film Studio.  DIR: Zhang Nuanxin.  SCR: Zhang Manling, Zhang Nuanxin.  CINE: Deng Wei, Mu Deyuan.  EDIT: Zhao Qihua.  CAST: Guo Jianguo, Song Tao, Li Fengxu, Yu Da, Feng Yuanzheng.

The gender equity programs put into place on the Mainland after 1949 saw the emergence of some influential female voices in Chinese cinema, the most famous of whom was Zhang Nuanxin.  Her masterpiece Sacrificed Youth tells the story of 17-year-old Li Chun, who is transported to the mountainous Dai territory in Yunnan during the Cultural Revolution as a "sent-down girl" to live and work amongst the locals.  Boarding in a Dai home with a "Dadie" (Father), "Yiya" (an old Grandmother) and "Dage" (Elder Brother), this daughter of urban intellectuals is shocked by the earthy sensuality of the locals.  While she eventually comes to realize that beauty is something deeper and more primal than the Maoist maxim repeated to her by her teachers ("Only true modesty is true feminine beauty") and begins to share in the joyous, vibrant and uninhibited life of her indigenous hosts, her rejection of Dage’s lustful attentions precipitates her return to the city.  Revisiting the area years later, she receives a shocking and heartbreaking surprise.  While her use of landscape is as breathtaking as that of her Fifth Generation successors---especially in the staggering final sequence, a series of long shots of barren plains and forbidding mountains that resembles a fractured Qing scroll painting---Zhang forgoes their symbolism in favor of a more ethnographic (and empathetic) style, and combines this with rarely addressed issues of female self-realization and sexual awakening.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 92 min.

 

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3

7:00 p.m.

THIS LIFE OF MINE

Mainland China, 1950 

Wenhua Film Company.  DIR: Shi Hui.  SCR: Yang Liuqing, based on the story by Lao She.  CINE: Lin Fa, Ge Weiqing.  EDIT: Fu Jiqiu.  CAST: Shi Hui, Li Wei, Wei Heling, Wang Min, Cui Chaoming.

"Shi Hui, driven to suicide in Mao's 'Anti-Rightist Purge' of the late 1950s, was one of the greatest screen actors ever and a very fine director; this adaptation of a short story by Lao She was probably his best work" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).  The first film produced in Shanghai after the end of the civil war, This Life of Mine delicately balances the interest in earthy local language that was a hallmark of the May 4th Movement with the class analysis demanded by the new regime.  It is also among the first fully realized examples of Soviet-influenced cinematography in Chinese cinema: the film's sublime play of light and shadow was much admired and frequently imitated in the years to come.  The film traces the history of 20th-century China from the fall of the Qing dynasty through to the 1949 Revolution through the eyes of a simple Beijing policeman, played by actor-director Shi Hui, who brilliantly conveys the changing face of the Chinese people through four tumultuous decades of conflict.  "The ultimate discovery.  As an expression of the New China's spiritual turmoil, the film engages in intense moral inquiries and ambiguities that are unparalleled in socialist cinema, even as it tries to toe the party line" (Andrew Chan, The L Magazine).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 120 min.

 

SHANGRAO CONCENTRATION CAMP 

Mainland China, 1951

Shanghai Film Studio.  DIR: Zhang Ke, Sha Meng.  SCR: Feng Xuefeng.  CINE: Qiu Yiren, Zhu Jinming.  EDIT: Wu Tingfang, Huang Zhangcai.  CAST: Tang Hua Da, Jiang Jun, Lu Min, Zhou Liangliang, Lin Nong.

One of the major discoveries of this series and one of the greatest POW films of all time, Shangrao Concentration Camp is set in the hellish confines of a Guomindang (Nationalist) prison, where the brutal officials try to force two female Communist prisoners to reveal their leader's identity and location.  While its subject and year of production might suggest a propaganda film, Shangrao has garnered some interesting (if chronologically impossible) comparisons to Bresson from some critics for its intense, haunting minimalism, though its true roots are in the Soviet cinema then widely distributed in China; in particular, the great cinematographer Zhu Jinming offers a brilliant echo of Dovzhenko's overwhelming landscapes in his images of China's rugged northern climes.  With an extraordinary use of long takes and surprisingly mobile camera movements accentuating the passionate, earthy performances of leads Tang Hua Da and Jiang Jun, Shangrao Concentration Camp is, "a powerful meditation on human relations under pressure" (Paul Clark, “Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics Since 1949”).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 96 min.

 

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

7:00 p.m.

THE EAST IS RED

Mainland China, 1965 

August First Film Studio, Central Newsreel and Documentary Film School.  DIR: Wang Ping.

Though often thought of as the epitome of kitsch, model operas represent a key development in Chinese cinema's tradition of filmed performance, unique both for their extreme ideological rigidity and their mesmerizingly abstract design.  While the genre hit its peak during the second phase of the Cultural Revolution, when such films as Xie Tieli's Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy were the only films permitted in theaters, the form was developed over a number of years.  Made during the first stirrings of the Cultural Revolution, and in many ways setting the template for what was to come---not least in the ideological fervor of its hard-line director Wang Ping, one of the very rare women allowed behind the camera during the period---The East Is Red was the most lavish, and most important, of these earlier films; its title song became the unofficial national anthem, and the film itself remained a cornerstone of Mao's cult of personality until his death a decade later.  Retelling the history of the Chinese Communist Party, from its founding in 1921 to its victory over the Nationalists in 1949, as a grand musical pageant, The East Is Red is both breathtaking and discomfiting in its monumental design; the opening sequence, for example, with vast numbers of spectators entering the Great Hall of the People, eerily recalls the films of Leni Riefenstahl.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 117 min.

 

RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN  

Mainland China, 1961

Tianma Film Studio.  DIR: Xie Jin.  SCR: Liang Xin.  CINE: Shen Xilin.  EDIT: Zhang Hanchen.  CAST: Zhu Xijuan, Niu Ben, Wang Xingang, Chen Qiang, Xiang Mei.

"The films I directed before the Cultural Revolution are mostly about the contrast between the old society and the new society," said Xie Jin, whose distinguished career extended from the pre- to post-Cultural Revolution periods.  "What was the past like?  What happened after the founding of New China?"  The director boldly answered those questions in this tale of a violated peasant girl turned vicious fighting machine.  The film's first half, situated on the sweltering island of Hainan, has the feel of a "James Bond of the East," as a dashing spy recruits our heroine to the Communist cause; the second half, featuring her army training and fearsome all-female combat scenes, crosses the eye-popping style of Communist propaganda posters with the gritty realism of Soviet war films, creating an unclassifiable, proto-pop art socialist cinematography.  While Red Detachment is certainly brimming with cadre spirit---it became one of the Mainland's most important films up to the fall of the Gang of Four, remade successively in literary, theater, model opera and new film versions---Xie Jin never lets the proceedings sink into sloganeering; he later claimed that he kept such classic (and decidedly un-revolutionary) Chinese novels as “Romance of Book and Sword” in mind while making the film.

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 110 min.

 

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15

7:30 p.m.

YELLOW EARTH 

Mainland China, 1984

Guangxi Film Studio.  PROD: Guo Ke-qi.  DIR: Chen Kaige.  SCR: Zhang Xiliang.  CINE: Zhang Yimou.  EDIT: Pei Xiaonan.  CAST: Wang Xueqi, Xue Bai, Liu Qiang, Tan Tuo.

The film that changed Chinese cinema forever has lost none of its power or beauty since its explosive debut.  In 1939, a young cadre comes to a dirt-poor village in Shaanxi province (the cradle of Chinese communism) to collect local folk songs so they can be adapted into Maoist anthems.  (This same campaign created the theme for The East Is Red, screening on November 10).  He befriends a young girl and educates her about the new social status that women will enjoy come the revolution.  After he departs, she tries to follow him, with tragic consequences.  Beautifully etching both the beauty and terror of rural life, director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Zhang Yimou upend all the conventions of Seventeen Years-style socialist realism through poetic symbolism drawn from ancient scroll paintings and an exquisite use of traditional folk music.  A true milestone, Yellow Earth introduces all the key elements of Fifth Generation filmmaking and would help propel the Mainland to the top ranks of global cinema.  "Chen Kaige and his cinematographer Zhang Yimou have invented a new language of colors, shadows, glances, spaces, and unspoken thoughts and implications; and they've made their new language sing" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 89 min.

 

RED SORGHUM  

Mainland China, 1987

Xi’an Film Studio.  PROD: Wu Tian-ming.  DIR: Zhang Yimou.  SCR: Mo Yan, Chen Jianyu, Zhu Wei.  CINE: Gu Changwei.  EDIT: Du Yuan.  CAST: Jiang Wen, Gong Li, Dong Kun, Qian Ming, Chen Zhigang. 

Already a renowned cinematographer for his work on such landmark Fifth Generation films as Yellow Earth, Zhang Yimou announced himself as a master director with this deceptively simple folk fable; the film also introduced the world to his muse and future wife Gong Li, who went on to become the most famous film actress to ever emerge from the Mainland.  Set in the lead-up to the Sino-Japanese War, Red Sorghum tells the story of a young peasant girl, Jiu'er (Gong), whose parents sell her into marriage with an elderly winemaker.  Attacked by bandits on the way to her wedding, Jiu'er is rescued by one of her palanquin bearers (Jiang Wen, sporting maximum swagger), who later returns and becomes her lover.  Together they turn around the wine business she has inherited, but then have to grimly dig in to face the invading Japanese armies.  From its bawdy beginnings to its tragic conclusion, where an unimaginable nightmare becomes all too real, Red Sorghum is above all a formidable visual accomplishment: every shot feels utterly original, every nuance of color a boldly symbolic flourish.  "The cinematography in Red Sorghum has no desire to be subtle, or muted; it wants to splash its passionate colors all over the screen with abandon, and the sheer visual impact of the film is voluptuous" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).

35mm, color, in Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles, 91 min.

 

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22

7:30 p.m.

THE ARCH

Hong Kong, 1970

Cathay Asia Films, Film Dynasty.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Cecile Tang Shu Shuen.  CINE: Subrata Mitra.  EDIT: Les Blank, C.C. See.  CAST: Lisa Lu, Roy Chiao Hung, Hilda Chou Hsuan, Li Ying, Wen Hsui.

The incomparably original Cecile Tang, one of the few female filmmakers working in Hong Kong in the ‘60s and ‘70s, made two of the most interesting and important films of the era with her debut The Arch and its follow-up China Behind.  A profound character study that feels like a hybrid of Kenji Mizoguchi's tales of female sacrifice, the tragic romances of Chinese costume drama and the interruptive techniques of the French New Wave, The Arch focuses on a wealthy widow (Lisa Lu) in the early Qing dynasty on the eve of her crowning achievement, the erection of a triumphal arch in honor of her many good works.  When a young and handsome cavalry officer is billeted at her palatial house and soon begins to court both the matriarch and her immature daughter, the widow is forced to choose between her own happiness and her daughter's well-being.  Shot in soft, luminous black and white by Satyajit Ray's longtime cinematographer Subrata Mitra, The Arch is "one of the most significant art-house classics in [Hong Kong] film history...as if Alain Resnais met Henrik Ibsen in seventeenth-century China" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).

35mm, b/w, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 95 min. 

 

CHINA BEHIND

Hong Kong, 1974

Film Dynasty.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Cecile Tang Shu Shuen.  CINE: Chang Chao-tang.  EDIT: Song I-shun.  CAST: Tseng Chi-lu, Shao Hsiao-ling, Feng Pao-yen, Pan Yung-min, Chin Yung-hsiang.

Highly influenced by the French New Wave and presaging many aspects of the Hong Kong New Wave to come, the films of Cecile Tang stand apart from the kung-fu and Chinese opera films that dominated ‘70s Hong Kong cinema.  One of the most exciting discoveries of this series, Tong's second film China Behind---banned for over a decade by the Hong Kong government, on the grounds that it would "damage good relations with other territories"---follows a group of Mainlanders as they desperately try to flee from a China in thrall to the Cultural Revolution.  Narrowly escaping capture as they set out, the fugitives are willing to do anything---including a long, death-defying swim---to reach freedom.  But what they find when they reach the haven of Hong Kong is a far cry from their dreams of liberty; the final passages of the film are a damning and powerful indictment of both the socialist and free-market "utopias" that defined the ideological landscape of the century just past.  "One of the earliest films to deal with the clash of Communist and capitalist ideals that would inevitably manifest itself with the 1997 handover[;] the moral degradation and spiritual disenchantment of its characters reveal the dehumanizing effects felt [on] both sides of the border" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).

35mm, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 89 min.

 

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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25

7:30 p.m.

THE PEACH BLOSSOM LAND

Taiwan, 1992

Long Shong Pictures, Performance Workshop Films.  PROD: Ding Nai-chu.  DIR: Stan Lai.  SCR: Stan Lai, based on his play.  CINE: Christopher Doyle.  EDIT: Chen Po-wen.  CAST: Brigitte Lin, Li Wei-hui, Gu Bao-ming, Chin Shih-chieh, Ku Pao-ming.

Taiwan's Stan Lai is among the world's most important theater directors.  His most famous work, “Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring,” upended just about every convention of Chinese theater when it premiered in 1986, mere months before martial law was lifted; six years later, he adapted the play into a film which itself radically challenged the principles of filmed opera, featuring remarkable innovations in staging, the use of song and dialogue, and the convention of the "fourth wall."  Two theater companies unwillingly share the same theater on the same night, one rehearsing an epic melodrama of star-crossed love set against the turmoil of 1949 Shanghai, the other a madcap comedy.  The stories of the two plays soon begin to overlap, revealing a shared concern with how the Taiwanese, traumatized by war and political terror, might retain a respect for the past without succumbing to its nightmares.  Lai attracted exceptional collaborators to the project: legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Du Ke Feng), who shoots the film with an uncharacteristic restraint that gracefully extracts the work from the proscenium; and the magnificent Brigitte Lin, Taiwan's most famous actress, herself a living metatext for Taiwan's rebirth and re-engagement with the world.  "A Brechtian-infused exploration of nationhood, storytelling, and the art of theater" (Film Society of Lincoln Center).

HDCam, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 107 min.

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

7:30 p.m.

WONG FEI-HUNG: THE WHIP THAT SMACKS THE CANDLE

Hong Kong, 1949

Wing Yiu Film Company.  PROD: Cheung Tsok-hong.  DIR: Wu Pang.  SCR: Ng Yat-siu, based on the story by Chu Yu-chai.  CAST: Kwan Tak-hing, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, Lee Lan, Sek Kin, Tsi Chi-wai.

One of the most revered of Chinese folk heroes, the legendary martial artist Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924) is also one of the most popular and enduring screen characters in cinema history.  A tried and true symbol of Chinese tradition and patriotism standing tall against Western influence and foreign incursion, Wong was portrayed at various ages and in numerous incarnations, from the comic to the ultra-serious, in over 100 feature films---most famously by Jackie Chan (in 1978’s Drunken Master and its absolutely awesome 1994 sequel) and Jet Li (in the Once Upon a Time in China series).  But Wu Pang’s 1949 The Whip That Smacks the Candle started it all: not only did it bring Wong to the screen for the first time in the person of Chinese opera star Kwan Tak-hing (who would go on to play the role in over 70 features, serials and TV episodes), it set the template for the modern kung fu genre by eschewing the fantasy elements of the silent era wuxia films in favor of realistic action choreography and a focus on the importance of martial arts discipline and technique.  Come see where it all began!

35mm, in Cantonese with English subtitles, 72 min.

 

THE STORY OF A DISCHARGED PRISONER 

Hong Kong, 1967

Kong Ngee Company. PROD: He Jianye.  DIR/SCR: Patrick Lung Kong.  CINE: Chen Kan.  CAST: Patrick Tse Yin, Shek Kin, Chan Tsai-chung, Do Ping, Hui Ying-ying.

Only recently being rediscovered, this tough-as-nails, black-and-white crime thriller from 1967 has had an enormous and lasting influence: it served as the basis for John Woo's 1986 bullet-ballet opus A Better Tomorrow, which made "heroic bloodshed" the new face of Hong Kong action cinema.  Patrick Tse Yin stars as the eponymous ex-con Lee Cheuk-hung, who is released from prison after 15 years to discover his fiancée has become the mistress of powerful triad boss One-Eyed Jack (Shek Kin, best known in the West as the villain in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon), who tries to recruit Lee into his gang; determined to stay on the straight and narrow, Lee refuses.  But when the vengeful Jack starts putting the pressure on, the former foot soldier is forced to once again show that he has the "true colors of a hero" (as per the film's original title).  Both a groundbreaking action melodrama (featuring fight choreography from legendary martial arts master Lau Kar-leung's brother Lau Kar-wing) and a forceful, socially conscious portrait of the plight of the marginalized in a rapidly modernizing Hong Kong, The Story of a Discharged Prisoner is "[both] a damning critique [and] a call for hope...[this] is filmmaking at its sharpest and most masterful" (South China Morning Post).

35mm, b/w, in Cantonese with English subtitles, 119 min.

 

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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8  /  Free Admission!

7:00 p.m.

A CITY OF SADNESS

Taiwan, 1989 

3-H Films, Era International.  PROD: Ch’iu Fu-sheng.  DIR: Hou Hsiao-hsien.  SCR: Chu T’ien-yen, Wu Nien-jen.  CINE: Chen Hwai-en.  EDIT: Liao Ch’ing-sung.  CAST: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Li Tien-lu, Hsin Shu-fen, Kao Jai, Chen Sown-yung.

By the late 1980s, director Hou Hsiao-hsien had become recognized internationally for his signature filmmaking style---consisting of spare dialogue, long, lingering shots, extraordinarily precise compositions and a remarkable use of deep focus---and his highly specific but universally resonant stories of intergenerational conflict and change.  With A City of Sadness, Hou takes on a far broader historical canvas: the period of the "White Terror" between 1945 and 1950, when Taiwan became host to the Nationalist Chinese government-in-exile as they fled from their defeat at the hands of Mao's Communists---an era of political repression that reached its brutal culmination in the "February 28 Incident," the 1947 massacre of thousands of Taiwanese civilians by Nationalist soldiers.  Focusing on four brothers, each of whom represents a different response by the Taiwanese to the Nationalist government---with particular emphasis on the gentle, deaf-mute Wen-ching, movingly played by Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung Chiu-wai---Hou keeps the famous historical events off-screen while showing the tragic ruptures they create within the microcosmic world of the family.  A Taiwanese mirror of the "scar films" then being made in a Mainland China just recovering from the Cultural Revolution, Hou's beautiful, tragic, and ineffably moving City is, "one of the supreme masterworks of the contemporary cinema" (Jonathan Rosenbaum).

35mm, color, in Mandarin, Min Nan and Cantonese with English subtitles, 160 min.

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13

7:30 p.m.

COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY

Hong Kong, 1996   

Golden Harvest Company, United Filmmakers Organization.  PROD: Raymond Chow, Eric Tsang.  DIR: Peter Chan.  SCR: Ivy Ho.  CINE: Jingle Ma.  EDIT: Chan Ki-Hop, Kwang Chi-leung.  CAST: Maggie Cheung, Leon Lai, Eric Tsang, Irene Tsu, Christopher Doyle.

Made one year before the handover of Hong Kong to the Mainland, prolific Second Wave filmmaker Peter Chan’s tender, lyrical boy-meets-girl chronicle garnered nine prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Director and Best Actress.  Leaving his fiancée back home in Beijing, wide-eyed Xiao Jun (Leon Lai) arrives in Hong Kong from the Mainland in 1986 to pursue his dreams of making a comfortable life for his future family.  He soon meets the ambitious, shrewd and hard-working Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung), who turns out to be a fellow Mainlander.  The friendship between Xiao Jun and Li Qiao, made more intimate by their mutual physical dislocation and experience of urban isolation, quickly escalates into a heated love affair that spans a decade and the vast distance between two islands in transition---Hong Kong and New York City---as the couple separate and reconnect with each other in unexpected circumstances.  Its soundtrack filled with the warm and nostalgic songs of pan-Asian singing sensation Teresa Teng---whose tragically early passing during production inspired Chan to change the film’s Chinese title to that of one of her best known songs ("Tian Mi Mi")---Comrades is both a spellbinding romance and a scintillating snapshot of Hong Kong, capturing the megacity’s palpable anxiety and disorientation on the brink of profound historic change.

35mm, in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles, 118 min.

 

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

Hong Kong, 2000 

Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Paradis Films.  PROD/DIR/SCR: Wong Kar-wai.  CINE: Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping Bin.  EDIT: William Chang.  CAST: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Siu Ping Lam, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chin. 

Filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece of romantic longing is a love letter to much of

Chinese cinema history.  Its tale of a man and a woman (Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung), crammed into adjacent tiny apartments, their spouses embroiled in an affair and their own passions repressed by tradition, propriety, and a fear of the unknown, echoes a tradition of wenyi melodrama stretching back to the 1930s.  The film has a deep, almost fetishized relationship with the postwar period---especially its clothing and interior design---that speaks to the continuing weight of history and memory in contemporary Chinese filmmaking.  (Critic Stephen Teo astutely identifies the film's deep formal echoes of Fei Mu's postwar masterpiece Spring in a Small Town, further underlining this connection).  But In the Mood's most profound connection to the past is in the intoxicating performances of Leung and Cheung, whose grace and vulnerability conjure up the aura of vanished stars from the Golden Age of Shanghai cinema in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Displaying Wong Kar-wai at the height of his powers, his extraordinary control over mood, tone and gesture felt in every frame, In the Mood for Love was recently anointed as the most important Chinese film on Sight & Sound's decennial poll of the greatest films ever made.  "Rhapsodically sublimated and ultimately sublime" (J. Hoberman, The Village Voice).

35mm, color, in Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles 98 min.

 

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VENUE:  All programs screen at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA  90024 (corner of Wilshire & Westwood Blvds., courtyard level of the Hammer Museum).   <http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/billy-wilder-theater>

 

 

TICKETS:   FREE Admission to the screening of A City of Sadness (1989) on December 8.

 

Advance tickets are available for $10 at <http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/programs/ticketing-information>

Tickets are also available at the Billy Wilder Theater box office starting one hour before showtime: $9, general admission; FREE to all UCLA students with valid ID; $8, other students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.

 

 

PARKING:   At the Billy Wilder Theater for a $3 flat rate on weekdays after 6 p.m. and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Enter from Westwood Blvd., just north of Wilshire.

 

INFO:  www.cinema.ucla.edu / 310-206-FILM (-3456)