Monday, May 28, 2007

Frivolous Lists: China

The subject sort of came up recently on a_film_by, so I made a list of my favorite Chinese films:

1. STILL LIFE (Jia Zhang Ke, 2006)
2. THE DAYS (Wang Xiaoshuai, 1993)
3. GRAIN IN EAR (Zhang Lu, 2005)
4. THE WORLD (Jia Zhang Ke, 2004)
5. PLATFORM (Jia Zhang Ke, 2000)
6. QUEEN OF SPORTS (Sun Yu, 1934)
7. ON THE BEAT (Ning Ying, 1995)
9. ZHOU YU'S TRAIN (Sun Zhou, 2002)
10. XIAO WU (Jia Zhang Ke, 1997)

I didn't include Taiwan and Hong Kong, which feel like different film cultures to me.

Wang pretty much lost it, I'd say, after THE DAYS and maybe FROZEN; it's weird to remember that I liked him that much.

I'd love to see Sun Yu's later films: he was just getting really good when I lost track of his career.


girish said...

I'm a fan of Wang Chao's Orphan of Anyang (2001). He had a film at Cannes last year called Luxury Car but I don't think it made it to N. America.

Dan Sallitt said...

I liked Orphan. If I recall correctly, I thought the visual style was strong, but that the dramaturgy wasn't quite as unusual. But I'd like to see more by the guy.

girish said...

Dan, I noticed that several older Chinese films have come to DVD: Crossroads, Street Angel, Daybreak, Twin Sisters. Do you have any strong recommendations among these?

I was going to rent Spring In A Small Town first.

Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - of the four films you asked about, I believe I've seen only Daybreak and Street Angel. I'm not wild about either one, though I know that Street Angel, especially, has enthusiastic partisans. Daybreak is directed by Sun Yu, whom I admire; but it's just so shameless and lurid, and the propaganda angle is central to the film's concept. Sun was already a lively, fluid director and a good storyteller, but he was definitely on board with the barnstorming aspects that were giving me pause. Street Angel is more experimental and out there - kind of a cross between Dziga Vertov and the Three Stooges. Check it out, but I couldn't figure out what end of it to grab hold of.

Spring in a Small Town is mandatory viewing, I guess. I liked it a little bit. Didn't quite see what all the fuss was about.

girish said...

Thanks, Dan. Your words are helpful.

And just my $0.02, but I like the idea of your unearthing older comments, etc from other places (like AFB) and posting links to them or building little posts around them here. I go through the AFB archives and enjoy doing so, but get easily defeated by the sheer volume of it and slink away (to go back another day)...

Anonymous said...

Do you dislike the Fifth Generation, or just not like them as much as Jia and co.? Their reputation has gone downhill lately, but Tian Zhuangzhuang's still seems pretty secure.

I like ON THE BEAT a lot as well. I wish it was easier to see Ning Ying's other films.

Dan Sallitt said...

I confess that the Fifth Generation didn't bowl me over. I never managed to enjoy Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou; I was interested in Tian Zhuangzhuang as late as The Blue Kite (which would have been just under my top ten), but lately I'm not enjoying him, and I had a frighteningly bad time with The Go Master, which seems to have pleased a lot of people whose taste I respect.

There was a Fifth Generation guy named Huang Jianxin whom I used to like, mostly for The Black Cannon Incident.

Ning Ying had a film called Perpetual Motion at Toronto in 2005. It was a mixed bag, I guess, but I wound up kind of liking it.

Anonymous said...

Several older Ning Ying films, including ON THE BEAT, are available for online VOD through

I've only seen two Wang films, both later ones: BEIJING BICYCLE and SHANGHAI DREAMS. both struck me as interesting failures; a style is in place with which sharp, observational cinema could occur, but Wang forces things in very deterministic directions in both films. Hope to catch up with his older work sometime.

A list of my recent favorites, FWIW, would include Jiang Wen's DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP, and ORPHAN would be a runner-up. I'm guessing you have no use for the Jiang film, Dan? (Seems a little too cartoonish and swaggering for you, but I could be totally wrong.)

Dan Sallitt said...

It's true that there was something showmanlike and sensation-oriented about Devils on the Doorstep that isn't my thing, but I kind of liked the film anyway - there was a lot of shading to the characterizations.

Wang just signposts everything so hard these days. He's always illustrating his theme, always using drama like a yellow magic marker on a school text. He's certainly a lucid storyteller, but sometimes I giggle at how solemn he gets.