记忆望着我 | Memories Look at Me

Memories Look at Me

Song Fang is the protagonist in her own soberly filmed docudrama, in which she returns from Beijing to the house of her parents in Nanjing. The film is largely set indoors, where Song shares everyday life and many memories with her parents, sister-in-law, brother and niece. Song is always on screen as they talk about relatives living and dead, about more or less successful careers, about old friends, illnesses and accidents, funerals and weddings. A young niece, Diandian, makes disarming comments that provide a lighter note. Between the conversations – that often take place around food – and rare excursions, we catch a glimpse of changing Chinese society. It is obvious that the norms and values of the older generation are being devalued, but that some deep-rooted traditions will probably continue for a very long time.

Directed by Fang Song | Starring : Yu-zhu Ye, Di-jing Song, Fang Song, Song Yuan | Presented at Locarno Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, Entrevues Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival

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夺命金 | Life Without Principle

Life Without Principle

Life Without Principle tells the story of three characters: an ordinary bank teller turned financial analyst is forced to sell high risk securities to her customers in order to meet her sales target; a small-time thug delves into the futures index hoping to earn easy money to post bail for a buddy in trouble with the law; a straight-arrow Police inspector, who has always enjoyed his middle income lifestyle, is suddenly desperate for money when his wife puts a down payment on a luxury flat she can’t afford and his dying father wants him to look after a young half-sister he never knew he had.

Directed by Johnnie To | Starring : Ching Wan Lau, Richie Ren, Denise Ho, Myolie Wu, Hoi-Pang Lo | Presented at Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, San Sebastian Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Pusan Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, Changchun Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival

人山人海 | People Mountain People Sea

People Mountain People Sea

Lao Tie knows in his heart that he must help find his younger brother’s killer, despite his own problems. He has only recently returned home penniless to the remote mountain community after years away working in the city. Although the police identified the murderer as ex-con Xiao Qiang from a neighbouring village, they were not able to stop him from escaping. Lao Tie decides to hunt down his brother’s killer. He begins a journey that will unleash his long-suppressed inner pain and rage.

Directed by Shangjun Cai | Starring : Zhenjiang Bao, Hong Tao, Jianbin Chen, Xiubo Wu, Yanming Li | Presented at Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Nantes Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival

寻欢作乐 | The High Life

The High Life

In Guangzhou, petty con artist Jian Ming scams naive country folk like Xiao Ya out of their cash and keeps a record of them on his bedroom wall. His girlfriend Fang’s relative wealth comes from being a kept woman, but she’s had just about enough of her elderly patron. Jian Ming seems to be coasting along with few moral qualms until he befriends Xiao Ya and realizes that she brightens up his dull life. Nonetheless he sets her up to be assaulted by local gangster Hui, which finally compels him into an emotional reaction.

Directed by Zhao Dayong | Starring : Shaoqiu Shen, Hong Qiu, Yanfei Liu, Qingyi Su, Lei Diao | Presented at Nantes Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, San Sebastian Film Festival

钢的琴 | The Piano in a Factory

The Piano in a Factory

An offbeat ballad of friendship and devotion, The Piano in a Factory captures the tempo of changing times with quiet wisdom and a tinge of nostalgia. Steelworker Chen has a passion for music and plays the accordion in a local band with a close group of friends. When his estranged wife returns one day after years of absence, she demands a divorce and sole custody of their daughter. Chen is at a loss. He doesn’t mind divorcing a woman who has become a stranger, but he can’t bear to part with his daughter. Chen has worked hard to give her a respectable life and has taught her his love of music. When asked if she’d rather stay with her father or go with her mother, the girl gives a practical, devastating answer: she’ll go with whomever can provide her with a piano. Chen cannot afford such a luxury item, but the piano becomes his last hope to save what little is left of his family. With the help of his loyal friends and the support of his lover – the singer in his band – Chen concocts several plans to fulfill his daughter’s wish, from sneaking her into the local music school at night to drawing a fake piano. He even tries to steal the instrument from the school – anything to keep her near him. Nothing works for long, until Chen looks around his fading steel factory town and hits on the perfect solution. The Piano in a Factory is an endearing portrait of a moment when the certainty of state-run industry begins to falter. Simple in its measured and assured direction, The Piano in a Factory establishes Zhang Meng as one of the most vibrant voices in Chinese cinema today.

Directed by Zhang Meng | Starring : Qianyuan Wang, Shin-yeong Jang, Hailu Qin, Yongzhen Guo, Er-yang Luo | Presented at Toronto Film Festival, Tokyo Film Festival, Cinemanila Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Glasgow Film Festival, Miami Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival, Melbourne Film Festival, Hamburg Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival

复仇 | Vengeance

Vengeance

What is vengeance if you can’t remember who it is you’re avenging? Isn’t memory what vengeance is all about? Vengeance is always personal, and usually results in at least a few more deaths than originally intended, many of them more than a little mordantly ironic. That’s part of what makes a revenge thriller thrilling, and Johnnie To’s terrific, slow-burn triad actioner Vengeance, adds a memory glitch to those thrills. Vengeance is a rich, fragrant reduction of To’s favorite themes (male bonding and codes of loyalty, the triad underworld, vengeance) trademarks (slow-motion clouds of blood, unforgettable set-pieces, impossibly sleek cinematography, brooding men, black humor) and actors. One splendid difference: Vengeance stars French actor and singer Johnny Hallyday (adding a nice tip of the chapeau to the French noirs of the ‘60s, when Hallyday had his rock and roll heyday). Hallyday plays François Costello, a Parisian restaurant owner who is in Macau at the request of his daughter—to avenge a savage attack on her family. Costello crosses paths with a crack team of triad hit men, whom he then hires to carry out his own revenge plan—a plan growing increasingly hazy due to his deteriorating memory. The craggy, lived-in face of Hallyday is as riveting as To’s mad scenes of mayhem, which include a fierce nighttime shootout as clouds pass over the full moon and—shootouts being To’s stock in trade—an epic battle in a junkyard that has to be seen to be believed. Vengeance, indeed, is a dish best served by Johnnie To.

Directed by Johnnie To | Starring : Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Ka Tung Lam, Simon Yam, Suet Lam | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Oldenburg Film Festival, San Sebastian Film Festival, Pusan Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Milwaukee 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