BFI’s Chinese Cinema

The New Waves programme in August showcases films made from 1980 to 1994 when Chinese cinema dominated the international art house scene. After the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, the Mainland’s Fourth and Fifth Generation of Chinese auteurs such as Xie Fei, Wu Tianming, Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Tian Zhuangzhuang emerged at the same time as Hong Kong’s New Wave filmmakers like Ann Hui and the new generation of Taiwanese masters led by Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang.

Programme highlights include:

·         Fourth Generation filmmaker Xie Fei in Conversation – 13 & 14 August

·         Hong Kong New Wave pioneer Ann Hui in Conversation – 24 August

·         New Waves: Fifth Generation masters


Part four of A Century of Chinese Cinema looks at how a new generation of art house masters from the Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan emerged from the shadows of the Cultural Revolution to inspire audiences worldwide. From the late 1970s onwards, the Fourth Generation filmmakers sought for ways to express the ordeal that had been inflicted upon their country over the past decade from 1966-76. The result was the so-called ‘scar films’ – simple, affecting dramas pioneered by such filmmakers as Xei Fei and Wu Tianming. BFI Southbank is delighted to welcome acclaimed Fourth Generation filmmaker Xei Fei, currently a Professor at Beijing Film Academy, to give a talk on 13 August, and to take part in two Q&A events to accompany screenings of his films, Black Snow (China, 1990) on 13 August and The Women from the Lake of Scented Souls (China, 1993) on 14 August.

Though not well known in the West, Fourth Generation filmmaker Wu Tianming directed several important features including his most celebrated film, The Old Well (China, 1986) that would help reshape Chinese cinema. As the head of the Xi’an Film Studio, he was known as the ‘Godfather of the Fifth Generation’ and mentored the burgeoning careers of the now-legendary Fifth Generation filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 1982, along with Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Junzhao and others.

The films of the Fifth Generation directors came to represent a new approach to filmmaking in China. Already a renowned cinematographer, Zhang Yimou announced himself as a master director with Red Sorghum (China, 1987) and The Story of Qiu Ju (China 1992). Both films starred Zhang’s muse Gong Li and established her reputation as one of the world’s most gifted film actresses. Together with Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige’s remarkably assured debut Yellow Earth (China, 1984) was a true milestone that helped propel China to the top ranks of global cinema. While Chen’s most famous film in the West, Farewell My Concubine (Hong Kong-China 1993), a melodrama about life backstage at the famed Peking Opera spanned a half-century of modern Chinese history and came to define the Chinese epic.

Key filmmakers in the Hong Kong New Wave are director Ann Hui whose film, Boat People (Hong Kong, 1982) is considered one of the best Hong Kong films of all time, and is the last film in Hui’s “Vietnam trilogy” recounting the plight of Vietnamese refugees after the communist takeover following the Fall of Saigon. BFI Southbank is pleased to welcome Ann Hui for a Q&A following the screening of her captivating and light-heartedly funny film, A Simple Life (Hong Kong, 2011) on 24 August.

The leading figures of the Taiwanese New Wave were Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien who together put Taiwanese cinema on the international map with work that explored the island’s rapidly changing present as well as its turbulent, often bloody past. Yang’s The Terroriser (Taiwan, 1986) is a complex multi-narrative urban thriller that reflected the pressures and uncertainties of city life, while A Brighter Summer Day (Taiwan, 1991) inspired by a real-life 1960s murder case ranks alongside Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (Taiwan, 1989) as the crowning achievement of the Taiwanese New Wave. By the 1980s, Hou was recognised internationally for his style, often compared to Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, with films such as The Time to Live and the Time to Die (Taiwan, 1985), and Dust in the Wind (Taiwan, 1987).

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