Views, news, and reviews of films, from the latest releases to classic oldies.

Patriotic movies may have unlocked China’s blockbuster machine
In the climactic scene of a recent hit Chinese blockbuster, a handsome military leader gives his troops an inspirational speech, urging them to fight for the nation against Japanese imperialists.  As the music crescendos, the inspired soldiers chant, “The Chinese nation will not perish! The Chinese nation will not perish!” But as the camera zooms out, we see a surprising sight that viewers in China might have expected to be censored: the blue and red flag of the Republic of China, now known as Taiwan, waving from a rooftop.  Considered a symbol of Taiwan “separatism,” the flag was spotted a few times in the war epic The Eight Hundred, a movie set during the second Sino-Japanese war, when Chi
How John Woo reinvented action movies
Director John Woo, who turned 74 on May 1, should be considered the godfather of the modern action movie. Mixing spectacular set pieces with sentiment, he started tropes now synonymous with the genre. These include slow-motion fight scenes, Mexican stand-offs and characters firing multiple guns at the same time. The repeated use of doves, however, is a style all his own. Born in Guangzhou in 1946, the director of films such as A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992) grew up in Hong Kong after his family fled persecution under Mao Zedong.  “As a kid, I always felt like I lived in hell – the slums of Hong Kong were horrible,” he told Venice Magazine. “I always had t
Will ‘Parasite’ make it past China’s film censors?
Chinese film fans still don’t know if, or when, they will get to see Parasite, the South Korean film that made history by winning the 92nd Academy Award for best picture, along with three other Oscars. Some expressed doubts the film would be shown in China given its unflinching criticism of social inequality and extreme poverty, and its amoral storyline. It wouldn’t be the first Korean film to fall foul of Chinese censors. Korean directors have not been shy about depicting their country under dictatorship, and are likened to French filmmakers in their stylistic portrayal of sex and gore. Chinese censorship rules ban the explicit portrayal of sex, violence, sensitive political issues, practic
The making of Oscar-nominated, Obamas-backed ‘American Factory’
Back in 2014, the Chinese entrepreneur Cao Dewang looked like a savior to the people of Dayton, Ohio. Cao is the founder and CEO of Fuyao, which makes glass such as windshields. The Chinese billionaire promised to bring an abandoned General Motors factory in the American state back to life, providing thousands of jobs to an area that desperately needed them. Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert were there in 2008 to document the GM factory closing.  They returned in 2014 to make American Factory, which has been nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Academy Awards and won accolades at film festivals around the world. Given full access to the plant and its workers, the
New documentary shows the vulnerable side of Bruce Lee
What can we expect in a new Bruce Lee documentary that we haven’t already seen in previous productions? By drawing on his own personal experience, Vietnamese-American director Bao Nguyen (Live from New York!), who lives between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, has delivered something fresh with Be Water, a personal take on the challenges the martial arts superstar faced as he lived between Hong Kong and America. Having gained the family’s permission, Nguyen benefited from unprecedented access to archival material, which was essential, as it is primarily a film told in the past.  Several of Lee’s old friends appear in interviews; hearing from his widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, and daug
Chinese animation is having something of a renaissance
The world is in the throes of an animation boom. Audiences can’t seem to get enough of animated TV shows and films. In 2019, they raked in an astounding $250 billion. Today, three countries dominate animated film and television production and consumption: the US, Japan and – a distant third – South Korea. But a fourth player is making itself heard. China has developed an appetite for cartoons. According to the Global and China Animation Industry Report, the value of China’s animation industry grew from $12.8 billion in 2013 to $25.2 billion in 2018. It is expected to reach $50 billion by 2025. Until very recently, Chinese consumers and producers viewed cartoons as exclusively for children.
Film festivals continue to tell the story of Hong Kong unrest
It is difficult for Hongkongers to find a nearby cinema to watch locally made films about the ongoing anti-government protests. But interest in the demonstrations has led foreign cinemas and film festivals to program documentaries and feature films relating to Hong Kong’s political movements. This month, the Netherlands’ International Film Festival Rotterdam, one of the world’s top-10 film festivals, is screening a film series called “Ordinary Heroes: Made in Hong Kong.” It comprises of more than 20 documentaries, features and short films that focus on the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the current protests. The festival opens on January 22. In New York City, the popular Metrograph Cinema on
Is ‘The Farewell’ problematic? For some in China, the answer is yes
The Farewell, an autobiographical film about a Chinese-American woman, has won rave reviews in the US and earned its leading actress, Awkwafina, a history-making Best Actress win at the Golden Globes. The much-lauded movie has a 98% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In comparison, on Douban, a popular review site in China, just 60% of the audience gave it a positive review.  Some viewers applauded the film for giving non-Chinese viewers an accessible introduction to a rich, complex culture. But many comments were highly critical, with some viewers going so far as to say they found some of the scenes offensive. The unfavorable reviews, from moviegoers who have watched the film thr
‘The Matrix’ can thank this man for its iconic fight scenes
Hong Kong martial arts director Yuen Woo-ping’s action scenes are the defining feature of The Matrix trilogy, yet Yuen himself never sought to work in Hollywood. When the films’ sibling directors, the Wachowskis, were preparing the first in the trilogy, a producer for the film had to track Yuen down in Hong Kong and convince him to go to Los Angeles to discuss choreographing the martial arts scenes in The Matrix. “I’d already been asked to work in Hollywood a couple of times, and I’d said no. I didn’t feel that my English was good enough to work there,” Yuen said. “What happened then was that one of the producers of The Matrix contacted Shaw Brothers [a Hong Kong production company] to find
How a 3am call and a secret inspire film remembering China’s abandoned children
One Sunday afternoon in February 2017, Chinese film director Yuchao Feng was in his flat in the US state of New Jersey when he received a phone call from his mother that would shock and inspire him. Feng knew something was wrong – not just because it was 3am in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, where his mother, Wang Jingjing, was calling from, but because they rarely spoke. “My parents were not around much when I was growing up in Ningde,” says Feng, recalling the city of three million in Fujian province, in the country’s southeast, known for its tea cultivation. “And we talked even less after I moved to the US to study film in 2011.” Feng’s mother was having a nightmare similar to thos