BFI’s five-month season celebrating China’s rich film tradition.
A CENTURY OF CHINESE CINEMA in partnership with TIFF from June to October 2014 at BFI Southbank and across the UK
– Introduction by Noah Cowan, season curator for TIFF
– New digital restoration of Spring in a Small Town
– Wuxia (Swordplay), martial arts epics and Hong Kong gangster films
London, May 2014
From 1 June till 7 October 2014, the BFI will present the largest and most comprehensive exploration of Chinese cinema from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan ever to be undertaken in the UK. A Century of Chinese Cinema, forms part of Electric Shadows, the Chinese term for film and the name of the BFI’s extensive year-long programme of business, trade, creative and cultural collaborations with China. The season will showcase more than 80 films across five distinct programme strands for audiences to discover the rich variety of films from this immensely significant cinematic region.
The season begins in June with The Golden Age showcasing stunning classics from the 1930s and 40s that shattered age-old taboos, experimented with visual techniques and created stars to rival Hollywood. A New China presents powerful melodramas, gritty war films and daring satires made during the years of post-war revolutionary China and the Cultural Revolution. In July, the third part of the programme Swordsmen, Gangsters and Ghosts highlights the popular wuxia (swordplay), martial arts and Hong Kong gangster films which first brought Chinese Cinema to international attention. This landmark season continues with New Waves in August and New Directions in September and early October.
Programme highlights of the first two months at BFI Southbank include:
The Golden Age – June 2014
The Golden Age of Chinese Cinema was defined by the classics of Shanghai cinema from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the best known films of this era include New Women (China 1935, Cai Chusheng) starring the iconic ‘Greta Garbo of China’ s Ruan Lingyu whose tragic early death at the age of 24 led her to become an icon of Chinese cinema. The musical Street Angel (China 1937, Yuan Muzhi) which portrays the daily struggles of Shanghai’s underclasses, and Crossroads (China 1937, Shen Xiling), a heart-breaking portrait of four impoverished, artistically-minded young friends in Depression-era Shanghai. The epic melodrama The Spring River Flows East (Part 1: Eight War-Torn Years + Part 2: The Dawn) (China 1947, Cai Chusheng, & Zheng Junli) about the trials and tribulations of a family around the Sino-Japanese War is considered as one of the greatest films of this period and China’s answer to Gone With the Wind.
On 17 June, BFI Southbank welcomes Noah Cowan, season curator for TIFF for An Introduction to A Century of Chinese Cinema. He will give an overview of China’s incredibly rich cinematic history, and provide a taster of the months to come. On 18 June, Cowan will chair a panel discussion on early Chinese cinema following rare screenings of the silent films, Love’s Labours (China 1922, Zhang Shichuan) and Romance of the Western Chamber (China 1927, Hou Yao). He will also introduce a screening of Red Heroine (China 1929, Wen Yimin), a prime example of the martial arts explosion of the late 1920s.
Regarded as the finest work from the first great era of Chinese filmmaking, Fei Mu’s poignant study of adulterous desire, Spring in a Small Town (China 1948) was produced prior to the Communist takeover in China in 1949 and subsequently long suppressed by the new regime. It is now seen as a masterpiece and in 2005 declared the greatest Chinese film ever made by the Hong Kong Film Critics Association. The BFI will release the film in a new digital restoration in a new digital restoration in cinemas UK-wide from 20 June.
A New China – June 2014
The victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 marked the birth of a radically different nation. A New China introduces us to the cinema made during the first years of Communist rule and the volatile years leading up to the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Highlights of this programme include one of the major discoveries of this season Shangrao Concentration Camp (China 1951, Sha Meng, Zhang Ke) set in the hellish confines of a Nationalist prison; and the patriotic war epic Red Detachment of Women (China 1961, Xie Jin) about a young peasant girl’s recruitment to an all-female brigade in a brutal campaign against the Nationalists.
A brief relaxation of socialist realism guidelines in the 1960s saw the emergence of several wonderful and now rarely-seen comedies, the most popular of which was enormously charming Li Shuangshuang (China 1962, Lu Ren). Dubbed the ‘Romeo and Juliet of the East’, the Shaw Brothers’ legendary musical The Love Eterne (Hong Kong 1963, Li Han-hsiang) sparked fanaticism amongst audiences and broke box-office records throughout Asia on its release. While a host of memorable tunes accompany the bitter rivalry between two opera singers over their different financial and political fortunes in 1940s Shanghai in Two Stage Sister (Mainland 1964, Xie Jin)
One of the few female filmmakers working in Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s was Cecile Tang who was highly influenced by the French New Wave. Two of her best-known films will be shown in the programme – her debut The Arch (Hong Kong 1968) a daring character study of a wealthy widow and her relationship with a handsome young cavalry officer, and her second feature China Behind (Hong Kong 1974) – banned for over a decade by the Hong Kong government – about a group of Mainlanders who flee the Cultural Revolution to the British ‘haven’ of Hong Kong only to discover it is a far cry from their dreams of liberty.
Swordsmen, Gangsters and Ghosts – The Evolution of Chinese Genre Cinema – July 2014
Part three of the BFI’s season looks at the evolution of Chinese genre cinema that first brought Chinese Cinema to international attention including the wuxia (swordplay) films that date back to China’s earliest filmmaking days. In the late 19405, with anti-wuxia policies in place, talent from the worlds of filmmaking and martial arts migrated to Hong Kong, and the genre came alive again with Wong Fei-hung: The Whip That Smacks the Candle (Hong Kong 1949, Wu Pang). It was an offshoot of wuxia that brought the martial arts films to the world, and reached its global popularity with the kung-fu genre in the mid1960s to 70s with films like A Touch of Zen (Taiwan 1971, King Hu), and Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection) (Hong Kong 1972, Lo Wei) starring the legendary Bruce Lee.
In the 1980s and 90s, Jackie Chan found international superstardorn as a kung-fu comedy clown by blending martial arts with slapstick and stunts. Police Story (Hong Kong 1985, Jackie Chan) showcased Chan at his physical, comedic and creative peak, while Drunken Master (Hong Kong 1978 Yuen Woo-ping) and Drunken Master 3 (aka The Legend of Drunken Master) (Hong Kong 1994 Lau Kar-leung) both starred Chan as the celebrated Chinese martial artist Wong Fei Hung.
Martial arts cinema returned to the Mainland following the success of Ang Lee’s exhilarating epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan/Hong Kong/USA/Mainland 2000) which brought global acclaim for Chinese cinema in the new millennium. It became the most successful Chinese-language film of all time, making £127m on its release in 2000, and Won the best foreign-language Oscar the following year. Recent wuxía films also include Zhang Yimou’s Hero (Mainland/Hong Kong 2002) and Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet (Mainland 2006).
Concurrent with the rise of the wuxia and kung-fu genres were Hong Kong’s guns and gangsters movies which became a trademark of HK action cinema. One of the earliest films of this genre is the long-neglected, tough-as-nails crime thriller, The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (Hong Kong 1967, Patrick Lung Kong) which had an enormous and lasting influence on directors such as John Woo. More recently, a new generation of filmmakers has reinvigorated the genre with films like Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong 2002 Andrew Lau & Alan Mak), a modern masterpiece of the crime thriller genre later remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed; and Johnnie To’s Triad crime film series Election (Hong Kong 2005) and Election 2 (Hong Kong 2006).