Best Chinese-Language Films of the 2000s: One Voter’s Thoughtful Ballot
Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)
In conducting the one-of-a-kind poll of the Best Chinese-Language Films of the 2000s, we received ballots from nearly 50 participants from around the world, including filmmakers, programmers, critics and other experts. One of our participants, Peter Rist, who teaches at the School of Cinema in Concordia University, sent a particularly lengthy account of his rationale for his selections, which we felt deserve an entry of their own. We’re also pleased that he considered both Betelnut by Yang Heng and Oxhide II by Liu Jiayin worthy of his final ten, since dGenerate distributes both Betelnut and the first Oxhide film and consider Yang Heng and Liu Jiayin among the most exceptional young talents working anywhere today.
Here is Peter’s list – his commentary follows after the break, as well as a list of his best films of the decade from around the world.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the full results of the poll, compiled from all of our participants!
Zhantai (Platform), Jia Zhangke (P.R. China/Hong Kong/France/Japan) Suzhou he (Suzhou River), Lou Ye (China/Germany) Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love), Wong Kar-wai (Hong Kong/France) Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, Wang Bing (China), documentary, digital Cha ma gu dao xi lie (Delamu), Tian Zhuangzhuang (China/Japan), digital, doc. McDull, Prince de la Bun, Toe Yuen (Hong Kong), animation Zui hao de shi guang (Three Times), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan/France) Hei yan quan (I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone), Tsai Ming-liang (Malaysia/China/Taiwan/France/Austria) Binglang (Betelnut), Yang Heng (China), digital Niu pi er (Oxhide II), Liu Jiayin (China), digital
Honorable mentions: The Goddess of 1967, Clara Law (Australia); Wo men hai pa (Shanghai Panic), Andrew Y-S Cheng (China), digital; Ren xiao yao (Unknown Pleasures) Jia Zhangke (China/South Korea/France/Japan), digital; PTU, Johnnie To (Hong Kong); Bu san (Goodbye Dragon Inn), Tsai Ming-liang (Taiwan); Niu pi (Oxhide), Liu Jiayin (China), digital; Niqiu ye shi yu (Loach is Fish, Too), Yang Yazhou (China); Le voyage d’un ballon rouge (Flight of the Red Balloon), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Fra); Sanxia haoren (Still Life), Jia Zhangke (China/Hong Kong), digital; He Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, Wang Bing (China), documentary, digital; My Magic, Eric Khoo (Singapore)
So, I have 22 films made in Chinese or by Chinese filmmakers in my 100 picks of the decade, more than all of the English-language films (from the US, UK, Canada and Australia) combined. This is probably the only list in the world with such a line-up!. I am surprised, myself, to see that there is at least one film in every year, made in a Chinese language or by a Chinese director! Hong Kong and Taiwan both suffered declines in quality of their films over the decade, but, I am surprised at how creative Chinese films continue to be!
I have become somewhat disenchanted by Lou Ye, but, Suzhou River remains a very significant film and representative of the director’s refusal to be like any other Chinese director, and, to deal graphically with taboo subject matter.
I could have included even more films by Jia Zhangke, who would probably get my vote for “director of the decade.” He somehow manages to be aware of, and respectful of tradition while pushing the envelope of both documentary and narrative form, and challenging the political status quo.
Wong Kar-wai remains a great director, but, he needs to come up with something … soon.
I could easily have put Hou’s Millenium Mambo on the list, but, I chose Three Times instead because the third part seems to be a kind of summary of the earlier film (if not stylistically). My favourite Hou, though is Café LumiâˆšÃ‰Â¬Â®re in the way it returns to the on-the-street style of his earliest films, pays homage to Ozu (in many ways) and reveals the incredibly complex railway systems of Tokyo. (I used to be a trainspotter.) I also think Flight of the Red Balloon is great, but, it is not “Chinese.”
Wang Bing’s work was a revelation to me – what one could do in the digital documentary form if one kept going back to the same location, over and over again: we see China change before our eyes!
Tian Zhuangzhuang continues to be my favourite 5th generation director, and Delamu is a beautiful example of what one can do with a digital camera, and reflects the ancient art of landscape painting while questioning the future of Tibet.
The McDull films are so inventive and so much fun. It was great to watch the 2nd film together with a Hong Kong audience.
I picked a couple of Tsai films for my top-100, and I chose Sleep Alone, because I was struck by how the director adapted to filming in his home country, Malaysia. I don’t want to let those images of beds floating on water out of my head.
Betelnut is the best-looking “slacker” film I’ve ever seen, and Yang Heng’s recent Sun Spots stretches narrative minimalism even further.
As for Oxhide II, I think it is not only a totally original work of cinema, but also a great work of engineering. I’ve just noticed that four of my top-ten choices are digital! Surely, Chinese filmmakers are in the forefront of digital film aesthetics.
Selecting a ten best out 100 is very difficult, but, I would have to include Platform as well as In the Mood for Love, two really great films to kick of the new millennium, West of the Tracks, the best documentary of the decade and, the best new film of 2009, Oxhide II. (As much as I loved Liu Jiayin’s first film, this is even better. I interviewed her in Vancouver and my interview will be posted on www.offscreen.com, hopefully soon.) The other six spots would be filled by 2001’s Electric Dragon 80,000V directed by Ishii Sogo, who, for me is the most significant of the contemporary, crazily visceral Japanese directors (more so than Miike and Tsukamoto); Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002, Iran), for showing what can be done with a cheap digital camera, a car, a driver and assorted passengers; Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine, Peter Tscherkassky (2005, Austria), as the best short film of the decade; Sang sattawat (Syndromes and a Century), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2006, Thailand/France/Austria), a representative work by the most interesting narrative filmmaker of the decade; Bamako, Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali/USA/France), as the best “political” film, of which I am especially fond, because I saw it at an outdoor theatre in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and last, but certainly not least, La mujer sin cabeza (2008, Argentina/Fr/It/Sp), Lucrecia Martel, who together with Liu and Weerasethakul, is the finest new talent to emerge in the last 10 years. I can’t believe I had to leave off a Hou film – I would have picked his most recent work – and I couldn’t find room for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, my favourite animation of the decade, or films by Claire Denis, Alfonso CuarâˆšÃ‰Â¬â‰¥n, Aleksandr Sokurov, Johnny To, Tsai Ming-liang, Jafar Panahi, Bong Joon-ho – whose Gwoemul (The Host, 2006) is my choice for “entertainment” of the decade – and Gus Van Sant, who along with Wang Bing, Jia Zhangke, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Martel, Kiarostami, and Liu, were the 14 directors who had two or three films in my top-100.