Video Essays on New Chinese Cinema – Screenings This Weekend at MOMI
By Kevin B. Lee
In conjunction with the screening series New Tales of Chinese Cinema screening this weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image, here are two video essays exploring films from the series, both published at Moving Image Source. The series includes Disorder by Huang Weikai and Oxhide II by Liu Jiayin, both distributed by dGenerate. Oxhide II screens Saturday, April 30 at 2pm. Disorder screens Saturday, April 30 at 5pm
Descriptions of each video can be found at the Moving Image Source, and after the break.
Notes on New Beginnings: Opening moments from contemporary Chinese cinema:
For decades, Chinese cinema was understood in generational blocks, each with its own defining characteristics: the Fifth Generation rejected socialist realist propaganda in favor of lushly filmed, socially critical allegories; the Sixth Generation rebuffed the Fifth by embracing gritty urbanism. We may now be at a point where Chinese cinema is too diverse to define. The etymology of the generational concept – used to characterize waves of Beijing Film Academy graduates, who for years were China’s only trained filmmakers – is now obsolete in an age where digital filmmaking equipment is widely accessible. The independent scene is as prolific as ever, producing hundreds of features a year outside of state supervision, particularly in the documentary realm.
The explosive activity generated by this new technology is overturning other truisms and assumptions of Chinese cinema. The state-sponsored system was long an object of ridicule, as its lackluster product was routinely trounced by Hollywood imports, whether in Chinese theaters or the pirate DVD market. But signs of creativity and innovation are sprouting, enabled to some extent by the state film industry’s redoubled efforts to compete in the world market, whether by upgrading its CGI prowess or encouraging fresh approaches to storytelling.
Some of the most vivid examples of this diversification are on display in “Tales From the New Chinese Cinema,” a series curated by Cheng-Sim Lim and Bérénice Reynaud, that recently screened in in Los Angeles and will screen at the Museum of the Moving Image from April 29 to May 1. This video essay looks at the six films in the program, demonstrating their collective range of stylistic approaches and thematic interests by focusing solely on their opening moments. Even within these minute samplings, there’s a wealth of detail to be discovered, both cinematic and cultural. In many cases the film’s special cinematic qualities are informed by specific cultural subtexts, which this video attempts to uncover. Of course, there’s much more to be said about these films than what their opening moments can contain: for example, read Reynaud’s extensive commentary on several of these films, published in Senses of Cinema. We’ve only scratched the surface of these and many other works from today’s Chinese cinema.
Notes on Slow Food: Oxhide II and the art of dumpling making
“Every festival that’s serious about the art of cinema should pledge to show Oxhide II.” That’s what David Bordwell had to say about the second feature by Chinese independent filmmaker Liu Jiayin. A follow-up to her debut family saga Oxhide, this homemade epic (shot in makeshift Cinemascope by masking the top and bottom sections of Liu’s camera lens with tape) consists of nine shots and a cast of three people (Liu and her parents), a thoroughly utilized table, and over 100 dumplings whose construction and consumption are meticulously documented. While Oxhide II enjoyed exposure at Cannes and Rotterdam, no major American fests heeded Bordwell’s call; it was the Wisconsin Film Fest (in Bordwell’s hometown of Madison) that held its U.S. premiere last April.
Oxhide II is enjoying a resurgence this spring, with one-off showings in Oregon, Los Angeles, and at the Museum of the Moving Image, thanks to the curatorial efforts of Shelly Kraicer, Cheng-Sim Lim, and Bérénice Reynaud. This video essay uses Bordwell’s notes on Oxhide II, originally published on his blog Observations on Film Art, as a script to examine the film in depth. Additionally, we’ve translated Bordwell’s analysis into Chinese to produce a bilingual commentary that alternates between spoken Mandarin with English text and spoken English with simplified Chinese text. We hope these efforts might make Bordwell’s insights more accessible to the film’s native language audience – and perhaps induce a much-needed Chinese language edition of Bordwell’s invaluable study Planet Hong Kong.