Chinese movies (2017 list)
Am I too annoying with lists? A couple of posts ago I wrote a list with the China-related books I read last year, and now it’s the movies turn! This is also the third year I make this list, you can check 2015 and 2016 here. Like last times, 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 2017, but not all of them are from last year. I am usually not too aware of the latest releases.
Chinese movies I liked:
– I Am Not Madame Bovary (我不是潘金莲): Fan Bingbing (China’s most famous actress, and an official beauty) is Li Xuelian, an uneducated rural woman who agrees to arrange a fake divorce from her husband so they will be able to buy a second property. This is actually something very common in China and I know people who did it as some places have laws that basically limit couples from owning more than one residential property, in an effort to curb the real estate bubble and the crazy prices. These couples normally remarry after purchasing the property, but in the movie the husband marries another woman and says his ex-wife had affairs with other men. Li Xuelian then goes on a crusade to clean her name and force her husband to remarry her. Visually, the movie is beautiful and the plot is quite funny. As a localization curio, the English title uses the fictional character Madame Bovary because it is known to western audiences, but in the original Chinese it’s Pan Jinlian, a character from the Ming dynasty erotic novel The Plum in the Golden Vase and, according to Wikipedia, the patron goddess of brothels and prostitutes. Understandable that Li Xuelian wants to clear her name in the movie!
– The Wasted Times (罗曼蒂克消亡史): a tale of gangsters during the 1930s in Shanghai and their dealings with the Japanese, who were trying to invade the city, with Ge You in the role of the gangsters boss. I liked this movie a lot, the photography was completely stunning and I loved all the clothes. The changshan or long robe for men can’t come back in fashion fast enough!
– Chongqing Hot Pot (火锅英雄): a group of friends open a hot pot restaurant inside an old bomb shelter. Is hot pot popular in your country? I didn’t know what it was before coming to China so I’ll explain: it’s a type of restaurant where you have a boiling pot in your table and the food is brought to you raw, then you cook it yourself in your pot and dip it in different sauces before eating. So, the hot pot guys in the story discover that their restaurant is separated by the vault of the bank next door by a single wall. Will they rob the bank? The movie is not a masterpiece of any kind, but it’s entertaining. Damn, now I want to eat hot pot…
– Full Circle (飞越老人院): a heartwarming story about a group of retired people that live in an old people’s home. They have a theatre group and dream about performing in a national competition. One of the actors is Wang Deshun, a.k.a. the world’s hottest grandpa.
– Mountain Patrol (可可西里): a stunning movie, almost a documentary, about a group of rangers fighting against poachers that kill Tibetan antelopes and sell their pelts in the black market. Most of the actors were amateur and the story is based on true events that happened in the 1990s. According to Wikipedia, the movie had a profound impact in China and the government started supporting the protection of local endangered animals.
– Angels Wear White (嘉年华): an independent movie about two primary school girls that are sexually assaulted by a man. Everything happens in a small hotel and the teenager receptionist is a witness, but she doesn’t want to tell because she’s scared of losing her job. In a normal situation, I don’t think this film would have stayed long in the blockbuster-dominated cinemas, or even reach them at all, but it had the “luck” of being released right after a scandal about teachers assaulting kindergarten children broke in the news, so I could watch it in a cinema in Suzhou. The story is based on a real event that happened in Hainan (island in the south of China).
– Chasing the Dragon (追龙): Andy Lau and Donnie Yen in a story about Hong Kong in the 60s, the fights between rival mobsters and their dealings and understandings with the police, which seems to be the worst and most corrupt of them all, especially the British policemen, which were truly disgusting and despicable characters. I couldn’t help but wondering if there wasn’t a bit of Mainland propaganda on the lines of “remember, HK, when you were a British colony things were not rosy at all”. The movie is action-packed and it is mainly set in the Kowloon Walled City.
Chinese movies that left me “meh”:
– The Summer Is Gone (八月): an independent movie that won some prizes in festivals and got a brief spot in cinemas. This doesn’t happen often in China, where blockbusters dominate the cinema chains, so I had to go and support it. It’s one of those movies where nothing really happens, as it is about a 12 year old kid spending the summer in his hometown and what he does all day. I thought the character of the education-obsessed mum was pretty accurate of Chinese mothers.
– Once a Thief (縱橫四海): a John Woo comedy and action movie from 1991 where the three protagonists are art thiefs. They are two guys and one girl, so I guess you can guess what’s going to happen!
– Suddenly Seventeen (28岁未成年): a forgettable romantic movie about a 28 year old woman whose boyfriend doesn’t seem to want to marry her (big problem in China). She then gets a box of chocolates that, when eaten, transform her into her 17 year old self for a short period of time. FYI, the 17 year old version doesn’t look like a real Chinese teenager at all. The movie was directer by Zhang Yimou’s daughter, who doesn’t seem to have inherited his artistic vision.
– Mountains May Depart (山河故人): I was hesitating if I should put this one in “like” or in “meh”. I finally decided for “meh” because I can’t even remember much about it. Jia Zhangke is a very respected director (especially abroad) but his movies never really seem to get to me (well, for the moment I have only watched this one and Platform, which I can honestly say was the most boring film I have ever seen). The story is about a woman and her two childhood friends, she likes both of them but ends up marrying the richer one. They have a son and call him Dollar. The movie explores their lives at 3 different points in time.
– City of Rock (缝纫机乐队): I am a big fan of Da Peng, a comedy actor and director, but his new movie was a disappointment. It’s about a guy who dreams about being in a rock band and play in his city’s Rock Park, where a legendary band played years ago. He contacts that band’s ex manager to help him form a band, resurrect the city’s rock spirit and save the park, which is going to be demolished to build apartment blocks. The film contains cameos from dozens of well-known Chinese rock bands and some funny moments, but it’s not too good.
Chinese movies that I didn’t like:
– Railroad Tigers (铁道飞虎): this movie is about Jackie Chan fighting inside and on the top of moving trains. Why did I even watch it? Ask my husband. According to what I now read online, the plot is about a group of railway workers fighting against the Japanese during the occupation to get food to feed the poor. What?? I only remember Jackie Chan fighting on top of the train. Zzzzz…
– Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (西游伏妖篇): are we seeing a pattern here? All the movies that I didn’t like were chosen by that other person who lives in my apartment? The Journey to the West is China’s most famous story and everybody knows the characters and the things that happen to them, maybe like everybody in Spain knows the characters and what happens in Don Quixote. Well, I don’t even remember what happened in this movie, only that it was awful. Lately, everything that has Stephen Chow’s name attached to it turns out to be a big crap in my opinion (hello, The Mermaid), no matter how idolised he is in China.
Did you watch any Chinese movies last year? Let me know in the comments!