萧红 | Falling Flowers

Falling Flowers

While bombs destroy 1941 Hong Kong, Xiao Hong lays ill in a nearly abandoned hospital recounting her short life to an admirer.  Falling Flowers is the story of China’s Xiao Hong, a writer who is torn apart by societal expectations of women, fickle lovers, and her own complex needs.  As a young woman faced with the prospect of an arranged marriage, Xiao Hong leaves her family and follows her dream of attending university.  Overwhelmed by her financial situation she finds some support from her fiance but it does not last long.  Out of school, unwed, pregnant and trapped in a hotel for bad debt, Xiao Hong begins to crumble until a dashing reporter, Xiao Jun, visits her.  Their passion for art and literary success helps them overcome their poverty but is it enough to overcome the perils of war and his womanizing ways? Directed by Huo Jiangi, Falling Flowers is a beautifully shot period piece that skillfully tells the tragic tale of one of China’s important modern authors.

Directed by Jianqi Huo | Starring : Jia Song, Jue Huang, Renjun Wang, Chao Wu, Zhang Bo | Presented at Shanghai Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival

狼灾记 | The Warrior and the Wolf

The Warrior and the Wolf

A father figure in contemporary Chinese cinema, controversial avant-garde auteur Tian Zhuang Zhuang is back with a rewarding work of fearless art. A departure from his free-spirited early works and the cautious intimacy of his later films, The Warrior and the Wolf is the captivating adaptation of a short story by the prolific Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue. In the Era of the Warring States, before the unification of China, thousands of soldiers are dispatched to fight the enemy and conquer nomadic tribes. Sent to remote regions at the edges of the known world, the soldiers encounter many adversities, and the brutal challenge of survival often brings out the worst human instincts. But valiant Lu Chenkang belongs to a different breed. He is brave, loyal and extremely skilled in the art of war. Nevertheless, he is kind-hearted and averse to murder. Though he has a pet wolf cub, he keeps his own animal instincts at bay. When his commander and friend, General Zhang Anliang, is badly wounded just before the incipient winter, Lu takes over command of the troops. Forced to find shelter in the village of the mysterious Harran tribe, he discovers a beautiful young woman hiding in his refuge. A widow shunned into solitude, she has a fierce personality and fights Lu in every way she can before surrendering to his passionate embrace, having fallen for him against her better judgement. She seems to possess the strange ability to take his mind to a place where memories collide with dreams and legends – a place where humans were once wolves.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Jô Odagiri, Maggie Q, Chung-Hua Tou, Zhiwen Wang | Presented at Toronto Film Festival, Rome Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival

红河 | Red River

Red River

A love story between a middle-aged Chinese man and a Vietnamese girl who became mentally retarded after witnessing her father’s killing. The backdrop is the Red River in Yunnan, next to the China-Vietnam border, where frequent cultural and social exchanges have profoundly impacted people from both sides for generations.

Directed by Jiarui Zhang | Starring : Jingchu Zhang, Nick Cheung, Loletta Lee, Danny Lee, Weijia Sun | Presented at Hawaii Film Festival

白银帝国 | Empire of Silver

Empire of Silver

With this lush epic Palo Alto–based filmmaker Christina Yao tells a story both timely and timeless: a tale of love, succession and compromised ideals that chronicles the lives of a powerful family of Shanxi bankers during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty. Downright Shakespearean in theme, the film details a little-known piece of Chinese history while offering parallels to the current financial crisis with its shadowy world of unscrupulous market fixing and backroom deals. In the northeastern Chinese province of 19th-century Shanxi, a group of bankers amassed extensive wealth and power that allowed them considerable independence from the state. The fictional Kang family is one such clan, whose fortunes take a sudden turn for the worse when several of the family’s heirs meet tragic fates and civil unrest threatens the nation’s stability. Third Master, a hedonist and the Kang patriarch’s least favorite son, is now called upon to carry on their lineage. Torn between familial obligation and his own desire for love and happiness, he sets out to reform his father’s unethical business practices while shepherding the family through the country’s growing unrest. Full of swooping crane shots, monumental sets and massive landscapes, Yao’s debut recalls the opulent historical sagas of Chinese Fifth Generation filmmakers like Zhang Yimou as it combines a passionate tale of unrequited love and a fascinating glimpse of a rarely related episode in Chinese history.

Directed by Christina Yao | Starring : Aaron Kwok, Tielin Zhang, Lei Hao, Zhicheng Ding, Jennifer Tilly | Presented at Berlin Film Festival, Shanghai Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Mexico Film Festival

好猫 | Good Cats

Good Cats

Luo Liang, a young man trying to meet the expectations of family and work, has come to town looking for something better but is unsure of his lot in life. His snobbish wife nags him to get a proper job and learn some skills. He responds by romancing a prostitute. His role as a driver for ruthless property developer Boss Peng soon is ratcheted up to enforcer, as Peng’s ambitions expand. His former mentor, meanwhile, sees his fortunes sink and heads for a tragic end. Following Taking Father Home, and The Other Half, Ying Liang continues to document the effects of fraud, greed and corruption—capitalism —in his home town of Zigong, charting how economic changes have altered the lives of many Chinese today. Ying’s invocation of the three destinies of modern Chinese man—as wanderer, corrupt boss or tragic loser—is enriched through sly wit, excellent work with nonprofessional actors and his insertion of Chinese rock group Lamb’s Funeral into scenes where the band functions as a kind of Greek chorus to the proceedings. As a putative master of the bleak comedy, Ying finds irony in Deng Xiaoping’s ends-justify-means dictum that a cat’s color is irrelevant: It’s good as long as it catches the rat. But just look how the cats unleashed by Deng have turned out.

Directed by Liang Ying | Starring : Liang Luo, Xiaopei Liu, Deming Peng, Qian Wang, Jing Zhu | Presented at Hawaii Film Festival

盲山 | Blind Mountain

Blind Mountain

There are two ways to take on Li Yang’s potent, concise Blind Mountain, and both have horns: as the howling social-critique screed it was intended to be, and as a Chinese realist version of the “white trash” exploitation epics of the American ’60s and ’70s — which makes the dynamic of the story universally human, not exclusively Chinese. But Chinese it is in actuality, through and through: simply put, unemployed college grad Bai accepts a job to collect medicinal herbs in the remote northern country, and after landing in a secluded village wakes up to find herself literally sold into slavery, as a bought-and-paid-for bride for a local ne’er-do-well.

Directed by Yang Li | Starring : Lu Huang, Youan Yang, Yunle He, Yuling Zhang, Yingao Jia | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival, Bratislava Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, Istanbul Film Festival

季风中的马 | Season of the Horse

Season of the Horse

Under the encouragement of the Chinese government, the traditional way of life of the nomads of the Mongolian plains change. Once a culture with a great emphasis on raising horses on the grassy plains, they are encouraged to move into the cities to work as industrial workers. However, one family tries to resist this change, trying to raise money to send their child to school by selling yogurt. Unfortunately, this is hardly sufficient and they are forced to sell their beloved horses.

Directed by Cai Ning | Starring : Renhua Na, Cai Ning, Lantian Chang, Agudamu | Presented at Durban Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival, Pusan Film Festival, Bangkok Film Festival