Chinese movies (2016 list)
A few days ago I wrote about the books related to China that I had read in 2016. Today I want to write about the Chinese movies I watched last year! I also did this for the movies I watched in 2015, you can check that post here.
Like last time, I classified them in 3 groups: liked them, meh, and didn’t like them. I also included some Hong Kong movies. I think watching movies is a good way of practising your listening comprehension and also of learning more about the culture. Just a word of warning: these are the Chinese movies I watched in 2016, but not all of them are from last year. I am usually not too aware of the latest releases.
Chinese movies I liked:
– Mr Six (老炮儿): Feng Xiaogang is one of China’s most famous directors, but this time he is the main actor and interprets an old ex gangster whose son gets in trouble with a car racing gang. I loved seeing Beijing hutongs (the characters live there) and I had trouble understanding the Beijing slang (bring on the subtitles please). Very entertaining.
– Saving Mr Wu (解救吾先生): Andy Lau is a famous actor from Hong Kong (so basically he interprets himself, haha) who is kidnapped. The ramson needs to be delivered in 24 hours or he and another kidnapped man will be killed.
– Big Fish & Begonia (大鱼海棠): this animation movie made waves in the summer as it was called “the dawn of the Chinese animation industry”. It was funded through crowd sourcing and took 10 years to finish. It has obvious influences of Japanese animation and I found it a bit too long but I liked it. I specially loved the fact that the protagonist lived in a tulou, the traditional round earth houses from the south of China. I visited the tulou near Xiamen in 2013.
– Song of the Phoenix (百鸟朝凤): this movie also has a curious story. Its director died while it was still being edited so he couldn’t see it released. It was finally released in May last year and almost no one went to see it, because it’s not a commercial movie and also because at the same time the last Captain America movie was showing. Then the producer of Song of the Phoenix appeared on tv crying and begging cinemas to keep showing the movie for a few more days so more people could see Wu Tianming’s (the deceased director) last movie. He succeeded and the movie ended up grossing 85 million RMB and getting good reviews in Douban (the Chinese imdb). It’s the story of two kids that are the apprentices of an old suona master in the countryside. The suona is a traditional instrument that was played in weddings and funerals. I liked it a lot and it made me realize that since I live in China I almost don’t watch any “artsy” Chinese movies. When I was in Spain I had to do a conscious effort to find independent Asian movies but here I just watch what’s on the cinema or what I can find in the Xiaomi box (internet tv). This has to change!!
– Mr Vampire (僵尸先生): a Hong Kongnese horror comedy from the 80s. It inspired me to write the post about Chinese zombies (the movie title was translated to English as vampire but in Chinese it’s zombies).
– Crazy Stone (疯狂的石头): a comedy about a very valuable jade stone that is found and exhibited to the public, and all the people that want to steal it. It’s funny but I would probably have enjoyed it more if I had been able to understand all the dialogues! The characters used I don’t know which dialect (Chongqing maybe?) and the subtitles were only in Chinese so I missed many jokes (my Chinese reading speed doesn’t allow me to be fully comfortable with subtitles if the language spoken is not standard mandarin!).
– Grandson from America (孙子从美国来): a small jewel that I found by chance browsing the free movies in the Xiaomi box. An independent movie probably made with very little money and with very good results. It’s the heart-warming story of an old shadow puppet master that suddenly has a grandson: his son had emigrated to America many years before and they lost contact, one day the son comes back and brings an American girlfriend (amwf couple!) and her son. The couple needs to leave for work and they leave the kid with the grandpa. The dialogues are super funny.
– The Great Wall (长城): this movie came with “baggage” before it was even released as it was accused of whitewashing. It is also until now the most expensive Chinese film ever made. The reviews are not good but I think the movie is not that bad. I mean, you know the premise is that the great wall is attacked by monsters so it’s obviously going to be about special effects, fights, etc. What exactly were people expecting? It’s obviously not an award deserving movie, but I had a good time in the cinema. Kudos to Zhang Yimou for not being afraid to change styles and genres.
Chinese movies that left me “meh”:
– In the Heat of the Sun (阳光灿烂的日子): this movie has a high mark on imdb and it’s from Jiang Wen, an interesting director. I guess I should have liked it more but the truth is that I can’t remember much about it so it must have left me very meh. It’s the story of a group of kids enjoying their freedom during the Cultural Revolution as there was no school and their parents were away.
– Finding Mr Right (北京遇上西雅图): this romantic comedy was quite successful and there is even a sequel, but I found it pretty forgettable (maybe also because romantic comedies are not my favourite genre). A woman goes to the US to give birth to her married lover’s baby and she stays in one of those illegal maternity centers for Chinese women who want their babies to have American passports. Then her credit card stops working and her boyfriend doesn’t pick up the phone. Meh.
– The Postmodern Life of my Aunt (姨妈的后现代生活): I really wanted to like this movie, it has a very cool title. But I found it a bit confusing (too many different things happen) and kind of long. It’s half comedy and half drama, and the main plot is about a middle age woman (the aunt) who lives in Shanghai. She meets a charming man that convinces her to invest her savings in a cemetery plot and he ends up being a scammer.
– And the Spring Comes (立春): this one I also didn’t like as much as I expected. It’s about a music teacher who dreams about being an opera singer. During the story she meets other bohemian characters that are striving to find acceptance in Chinese society.
– White Deer Plain (白鹿原): the conflict between two rival families in the Chinese countryside. Spoiler alert: it’s over 3 hours long.
– All’s Well, Ends Well (家有囍事): I watched this because C. recommended it as the type of movies he watched when he was a kid. It’s the Chinese equivalent of the comedies we watched in the 90s and we look upon now with nostalgia. Stephen Chow and several other famous HK actors are in it. Stephen Chow is the little brother in a family and he fakes a mental illness so he can live without working. It’s kind of fun in a goofy way.
Chinese movies that I didn’t like:
– Mojin: the Lost Legend (鬼吹灯之寻龙诀): I only watched this because C. is obsessed with tomb raiders stories (it seems there are several novels about tomb raiders very popular in China). It was bad. And it had Angelababy in it. That girl is pretty but she is totally clueless as an actress. Can she just be a model or something?
– The Mermaid (美人鱼): the latest Stephen Chow movie. It was last year’s blockbuster and it earned lots of money. And oh my God, it was abysmal. It looked cheap, like a bad tv series; the special effects looked awful; the acting was mostly horrendous; and the story was stupid and childish. I can’t believe I finished it. The reviews it got were generally positive though, so you can give it a try if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
– Surprise (万万没想到): the guys behind one of my favourite Chinese tv shows did a movie! However, it was not good. It seems they can make it work when they do 15 minute episodes, but one and a half hours straight of complete stupidity was too much even for me.
Did you watch any interesting Chinese movies lately? Any recommendation for my ever growing “to watch” list?