"Guonianhao", or Happy New Year, is the worst Chinese film I have ever seen in a cinema. Don't get me wrong, it is not the worst film ever made in this country. Every year, more than 80 percent of lousy films fail to reach the cinemas, and among those that do make it, most are kind enough to show some signs to tip off the discerning audience, for example, an inadequate actress who may have been born with a typical disability to control her facial muscles, a complacent director who has lost touch with the times, or simply an awkward title that betrays the filmmakers' vulgar taste.But "Guonianhao" is different. The title sounds just fine for a movie that was previously scheduled to premiere on the first day of the Year of Monkey. The popular phrase people use to greet each other at this time of year even evokes some warmth of a festive nature from the bottom of our hearts. The cast members look presentable. Skit actor Zhao Benshan, who has appeared on China Central Television's most watched New Year Gala on more than a dozen occasions, is a strong presence related to the festival and therefore should attract those who miss his acrimony. As for Mr. Gao Qunshu, though he may not be my favorite film director, many of my respectful colleagues admire his work telling twisty detective stories on the small screen, and not to mention his weird charisma that seems to have overwhelmed many a seasoned showbiz reporter in my office.All evidence suggests "Guoniaohao" may possess the potential to dominate the box office during the Chinese New Year, and that's why I was completedly taken by surprise. Imagine yourself taking a joyful ride on the back of a lovely steed on a sunny afternoon in the countryside, and suddenly a nasty spider web lands on your face. Your natural response is to get off the horse and rid your face of the ugly critter and its sticky production, but unfortunately the startled horse just keeps galloping on and on into an unchartered territory. That's what happened in my first 15 minutes of "Guonianhao," yet I persisted, against my better judgment, just so to give the film a fair assessment.So now, several days after the traumatic experience, I've calmed down and risen above my initial shock and ensuing anger to tell you about the sin that is "Guonianhao." Impatient viewers may find the cinematography insufficient and the editing sloppy, but further analysis reveals a general lack of coordination or preparation in the filming process. When a director has no idea what to shoot, the editor will have problem plowing through the vast amount of raw materials to form a decent storyline. So every now and then you see the story jumping from Point A to C, and while you wonder about Point B, the film teleports you to Point F.But a scattered narrative with no regard for consistency is the least of the film's many evils. With such meager input of creativity and effort, how do the filmmakers make sure the aggregate of video clips last long enough to count as a movie? Well, they do so by adding bizarre and meaningless episodes. A typical example is a scene where an old man meets a chicken vendor who fancies herself an opera singer. I guess the point is to introduce some humorous flavor while highlighting the lonesome state of the old man, but the attempt landed neither here nor there, all it achieved was making me wonder if I was peeping into the minds of a mental patient.Such surreal and irrelevant episodes abound in the entire film and are often executed by semi-celebrities from China's micro-blogging website Weibo. In the age where ordinary smart phone users have all turned to WeChat and active users of Weibo mostly consist of professionals who major in publicity stunts, Mr. Gao Qunshu's obsession with the website is admirable. I remember a few years ago when he made "Beijing Blues", another inadequate film with a non-story, he also
Despite competition from more than a dozen Chinese and foreign challengers, Star Wars Episode Seven is still going strong after more than two weeks of hegemony in the Chinese market.Director J. J. Abrams said the key for the film was to return to the roots of the first Star Wars film and be based more on emotion than explanation. That pretty much sums up the most defining characteristics of the film. As the grand re-entry of the epic space opera unfolds on an IMAX screen, I was stunned not so much by the enhanced spectacle as by its similarity to previous Star Wars films.Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew have each come back to reprise their roles in the new episode, even the smuggler’s ship Millennium Falcon is brought back from a scrap yard to take the characters on yet another quest across the universe. Their presence may appeal to loyal fans of the series, but they no longer carry the whole story forward.That task now rests on a group of younger actors and actresses including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, who are gathered to breathe new life into this decades-old franchise. That much they did, but they did it while duplicating the acting styles of their predecessors. The stiff way in which they pose and gesticulate before the camera is almost identical to the ways of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. This kind of makes you wonder whether teachers of acting classes have updated their syllabus since the 1970s.And the return-to-the-roots scheme continues in the storyline. Remember the Death Star? It is back in “The Force Awakens”, in a much bigger size and with heavier fire power capable of wiping out an entire galaxy at one shot. And guess what happens to this ultimate, ultimate weapon in Episode Seven? It is destroyed by a single X-wing fighter, in the same manner in which Luke Skywalker blew up the First Death Star.And please don’t get me started on the “emotion over explanation” explanation. Of course there is some kind of Greek opera involved when Han Solo confronts his renegade son in Kylo Ren, but that is only a fraction of the whole story and not enough to make up for the lack of common sense for the rest of the film. This is a universe where even small fighter jets possess hyperspace capability, somehow the filmmakers want us to believe our heroes can hack into a complex weapon system the size of a planet by simply pulling and mismatching some fuses. And to think the fate of the universe hinges on the balance of power among people who are strong with the force is preposterous at best.The supernatural concept of “The Force” is most awkward in a fictional world of highly advanced technologies. A world where galaxies can be annihilated in a matter of seconds has no place for knights wielding flashy light-sabers. That’s the biggest loophole in the Star Wars series that has survived in the re-entry, and according to title, it is here to stay for the rest of the serial reboot.
In 2015, China&`&s movie industry witnessed progress in almost every aspect of filmmaking. As infrastructure building continued to expand, new box office records were cropping up by the month. The changes in the moviegoing demographic impacted on the genres of films rolling off the production line. Stories that appeal to a wider range of audience in smaller cities saw significant increase in numbers.In the year 2016, the same pattern will most likely continue. Among the movies that have already booked a release date, a large proportion of them fall into the comedy category. At least five will hit Chinese cinemas in the latter half of January alone, but none seems to possess the necessary firepower to trigger a box office explosion. The most promising candidate, according to information available so far, is likely to debut on April 1st in the form of "Chongqing Hot Pot," starring Chen Kun and Bai Baihe.Chen and Bai have each appeared in a movie with more than a billion yuan income in the year 2015, this year they rally under Yang Qing, producer of a previous box office record-holder "Lost in Thailand," to form the formula for an explosion in the market. A slight deviation from the established pattern is, the first day of the lunar new year now becomes a rather coveted spot. Traditionally people have thought of this time of year as an occasion for family reunions and friendly visits, but since 2014 the cinemas have made it into their itineraries. This probably has something to do with young migrant office workers patronizing newly built local cinemas in their hometowns. Their enthusiasm for entertainment in places of limited choices led to cordial reception for many mediocre films that could have remained obscure in a different time.Anyway, today only the most competitive movies occupy the privileged time slots during the Spring Festival, and these include "Mermaid" by Stephen Chow, "The Monkey King 2" by Cheang Pou-Soi, "From Vegas to Macau" by Wang Jing and "Guonianhao" or "Happy New Year" by Gao Qunshu.Stephen Chow is almost a god-fatherly figure among China&`&s young movie fans, his unique humorous style and keen sense of observation provide an amusing perspective in the analysis of humanity, while his fame has guaranteed ample resources at his command in the process of filmmaking. "Mermaid" could be a compelling choice for viewers during the festival, but nonetheless they need to tune down their expectation a bit. Since Mr. Chow has refrained from appearing in his own films, he has not found a worthy substitute actor that can quite imitate his demeanor and style in front of the camera.Two years ago, when director Cheang Pou-Soi promoted "The Monkey King: Havoc in the Heavenly Kingdom," he highlighted the ground-breaking special effects. But in fact the level of special effects did not come close to the level of his boasting. Now, two years have transpired, the filmmakers are once again stressing the special effects in the sequel. I certainly hope they live up to their promise this time, but hoping is all I can do about this one.Wang Jing&`&s "From Vegas to Macau" is also a sequel, according to Mr. Wang&`&s previous track record and the performance of two prequels, there may not be any surprises, pleasant or unpleasant. The size of this film&`&s income will most likely be proportionate to the size of total box office income during the festival season.Director Gao Qunshu has always been quite proficient at speculating what the viewers want, but his recent outings indicate he may not be as proficient at delivering it. This year he joins hands with popular skit actor Zhao Benshan in "Guonianhao". The latter has repeatedly appeared on China Central Television&`&s New Year Gala, China&`&s most watched show in the past couple of decades. So Zhao is a strong presence associated with the New Year and therefore may attract people wh
老炮儿(斗殴咋就演成了代沟?Or vise versa)
Director Feng Xiaogang is known as much for his quick temper as for the fluctuating popularity of his movies. But not many know of the ups and downs in his private life. In Guan Hu&`&s "Mr. Six," Feng takes on a role that shares much in common with himself in age and temperament, and that gig has won him a best actor title at China&`&s 52nd Golden Horse Awards.Mr. Feng plays an old street punk "Mr. Six" in his 50s who has considerable influence over his neighborhood in Beijing. While respecting the official laws and regulations, Mr. Six relies on a special set of rules to govern the underground society within his sphere of influence. Everything seems to work out just fine in his life, until his son gets into a dispute with a group of drag-racing youngsters who have deep pockets and powerful connections.Mr. Six&`&s insistence on solving the matter his own way leads to more complications, but nonetheless his predilection points to a period of time when people used to behave, interact, settle differences and seek justice according to social norms. Such unofficial way of keeping order was common in times of ineffective judiciary, or in an underground society where people had no affection for the righteous authority.In Guan Hu&`&s movie, Mr. Six tries to impose the old ways on a group of young people who have powerful parents in modern day China. What essentially is a gangster feud is deliberately played out as a clash between generations, or rather, a clash between the traditional and the modern-minded members of the society.Feng Xiaogang is very successful in his portrayal of an old man who bemoans the bygone of his glorious days and is reluctant to surrender his privileges in the modernization process. His performance is the highlight of the story.However, the profiling of the antagonists seems less straightforward. In order to beef up the dramatic effect, the storywriter at one point secretly replaces Mr. Six&`&s young opponents with their wealthy and powerful grown-up associates. That puts the rivalry in a different context: the old gangster leader Mr. Six, who has lived a rather successful life bullying others with brutal force, now finds himself on the receiving end of bullying by his rich and powerful contemporaries, who have risen to power by equally unsavory methods.This shift in the latter half of the film puts it in a rather awkward position. What could have been interpreted as a reflection on generation gap almost becomes a direct assault on the effectiveness of the country&`&s judiciary system. Fortunately, misunderstanding is averted when the director chose to be consistent with Mr. Six&`&s character and arranged a final showdown within legal boundaries.Guan Hu&`&s story is certainly impressive with all the authentic Beijing dialect and prevailing male hormone, but the ambiguity of the director&`&s message is still worth a few complaints. A colleague of mine said maybe I&`&ll be able to relate to it much better when I am old. True, when I reach a more mature age, I will be missing a lot of things: my teeth, my straight backbone, or the ability to walk, but make no mistake, I will not want to go back to a time when justice is upheld by the verdict of a gang leader, rather than the rule of law. I guess that&`&s the generation gap between people of my age and the contemporaries of Mr. Six.
China's movie market has been expanding for some time now. A year ago, people were feeling slightly regrettable when total annual box office income failed to pass the 30 billion yuan threshold. This year by December 3rd, a 40 billion yuan record has been set and China's home-made movies account for nearly 60% of the total. Above all, China's 3D fantasy adventure film "Monster Hunt" became the country's highest-grossing film in July, beating international box office powerhouse "Furious 7".In the year 2015, China's movie industry not only achieved gratifying income figures, they've also made progress in an all-around manner.First and foremost, infrastructure building continues to generate exciting results, bringing the total number of cinema screens in the country to somewhere near 31,000. Currently the overall attendance rate stays around 15%, but the surplus seats stand ready to accommodate box office explosions, which are happening on a more regular basis in recent years.Most of the new facilities are being built in smaller cities or townships, where a new cinema attracts more moviegoers on average than a new cineplex in downtown Beijing. The increase in their number is also tipping the balance in China's movie market. While previously the urban dwellers footed almost all the bills, now small town young adults are empowered to change the way movies are made in this country.A typical example is how youth-centric stories are giving way to comedies. Suddenly China's storywriters have waken up to the possibility that maybe in the small cities, not every young man has lost the love of his life when the girl immigrate to a foreign country, and not every woman can bask in the favor of her young, handsome billionaire of a boss - when that does happen it is usually a middle-aged man, short and rotund and married with kids. Petty sentiment and fake melancholy have no currency among the small city dwellers, who simply want to enjoy some hearty laugher after a day's hard work.For that reason, comedy is the safest of all genres in which filmmakers are willing to invest their resources. Actor-turned-director Xu Zheng, who has kept impeccable track records in both roles, staged an ambitious comeback in "Lost in Hong Kong," which made the list of Top 3 earners, despite fierce competition from another comedy film and this year's No. 5 earner "Goodbye Mr. Loser."The favor of small town young adults propelled more titles to make headlines which otherwise could have remained obscure among the hundreds of low-budget stories cobbled up by amateur filmmakers. Chief among them is "Wolf Warriors," directed by actor Wu Jing. Mr. Wu is a talented martial artist and has a face not half bad, somehow his career as an actor never seem to take off. His first film in the director's chair depicts a hunt for foreign spies and features note-worthy action sequences, but the film's undisguised demonstration of patriotism follows the narrative of the past century. The stylish young men loitering in Beijing's Sanlitun will frown upon it, but they couldn't stop the film from causing a moderately big bang in the market.The potential and appetite of small town young adults therefore appeared on the radar of Chinese filmmakers, who didn't bother to figure out what this sizable group of consumers want the most. Their standard approach is to build on something that has already stood the test. "Dior's Man" is a popular show inspired by Germany sketch comedy "Knallerfrauen" and is streamed exclusively on China's video portals. Despite content that some may consider vulgar, it is nonetheless a well executed and creative show. So when the same crew came up with a film project "Jian Bing Man," they rocked the market by grossing more than 1.1 billion yuan.The source of inspiration is not limited to video content. Best-selling cartoon novel "Go Away Mr. Tumor" about a cartooni
2015 Chinese martial arts film "The Master" is the first big budget commercial film by writer and director Xu Haofeng, and also the first opportunity for the wider audience to have a taste of Xu's distinctive style.Xu's very first feature film met with lukewarm reception from the market back in 2012, and for that reason his second one never received wide-scale publicity. Although his stories have been adapted by famous film director Wong Kar Wai in "The Grand Master", and by Chen Kaige in "Daoshi Xiaoshan" or "Monk Comes Down the Mountain," neither of those has quite captured the apparently bizarre yet intrinsically straightforward logic that motivates the characters in his story."The Master" will have a better chance of impressing the general public. Set in Tianjin in the Early 20th Century, the story follows a Guangdong master who seeks to expand the influence of his martial arts school in a heavily guarded territory. To achieve this, he can't just go ahead and challenge local schools, but instead has to spend three years training an apprentice to do the heavy-lifting. With the support of a local partner, his plan would have worked, if only they were the only players in the game. Most of Xu Haofeng's characters are obsessed with something. The Guangdong master starring Liao Fan (Black Coal, Thin Ice) is determined to propagate his school for the sake of his own late master. His disciple shows a strong attachment to his hometown Tianjin and is willing to die here instead of surviving elsewhere. The Tianjin local masters are keen on protecting their own territory and their rules. In a place where one's well-being hinges on the size of one's fists, everyone is after something, be it honor, fame, power or family.But within this seemingly diverse and chaotic reality, everyone is surprisingly simple-minded. The characters' decisions and actions are as swift as their weapons are sharp, leaving no room for Shakespearean Hamlet's struggles. This simplicity of life philosophy is what distinguishes Xu Haofeng's masters from the commoners under our modern skins.Unlike Chen Kaige who made a major misstep in casting, Xu Haofeng appears to have the best casting members at his disposal, bar a couple of insignificant roles of course. Having survived a two-month intensive training, actor Liao Fan is able to execute some efficient moves and complete stunning action scenes as per the director's requirement. The viperine demeanor in Jiang Wenli makes one shudder at the thought of even being her friend, much less her enemy. And actress Song Jia lends all her charm to make the unappealing destination of Tianjin all the more attractive. Thanks to the dedication of the actors and actresses, the quirky world of Xu Haofeng is now much easier to understand.The realistic fighting style of an authentic Xu Haofeng film seems a far cry from that of a Jet Li film, where the kungfu masters pose, swing and make believe to entertain the camera. "The Master" is different because other than martial arts per se it speaks of the end of an old world and its orders, and it is the people and their strong beliefs in this historical context that impress the most intelligent and responsive audience members.