Article by Patricia Pieterse
Outside, the weather is gloomy and miserable but inside is nice and toasty, provided you’ve paid your heating bill. Why bother going out at all? Here’s a grab bag of four Chinese movies to entertain you on some long, dark nights.
Lost in thailand (2012)
Whenever I ask my students to recommend a Chinese movie to me, they invariably mention this one. It was the highest-grossing movie in China when it came out, so whether you enjoy it or not, it’s an interesting glimpse into what locals enjoy. It’s a typical odd couple tale about an uptight businessman (Zheng Xu, who also directed) and dim pancake maker (Baoqiang Wang) who are bound together by fate on a trip to Thailand. As they both try to reach their goals, they help each other and learn all about themselves along the way. It’s entertaining enough for an evening when you don’t feel like anything too challenging or heavy, and there are a few genuinely enjoyable moments. Even though I saw the emotional resolution coming a mile away, I still cried a little. Although, to be honest, I cry during ads for asset management companies.
let the bullets fly (2010)
This fun action/dark comedy set in 1920 is full of absurdly funny moments and witty repartee. It has the feel of a western, and as full of bandits, guns and corrupt politicians as it is, it’s way less gory than I thought it would be. The story is about a bandit leader (played by Wen Jiang, who also wrote and directed) who goes to a small town to impersonate the governor. Once there, his Robin Hood-style of justice rubs the wealthy families the wrong way, especially the de facto leader Huang, played by Chow Yun-Fat. It’s got some enjoyable performances and the humour is right up my alley, but the things that let this movie down are the CGI, which is understandable, and the running time, which is not. At 132 minutes, it could easily have been tightened by at least half an hour. Sure, they’d need to sacrifice “wtf” moments, like a man repeatedly kicking a noodle seller into a ceremonial drum, but still, some things should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Directed by Yimou Zhang (House of the Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower), this historical epic is the most beautiful to watch. All billowing fabrics and vast landscapes, you can just put it on mute at a party for some at mosphere. It’s the story of a nameless warrior (Jet Li) who defeats three master assassins (Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen) to save Emperor Qin. Most of the film takes place in flashbacks, as the warrior tells Qin how he defeated the assassins, and each flash back has a distinctive colour palette to set it apart. Rashômon-syle, you’re never quite sure which flashback is true, as the warrior and emperor talk about swordplay, honour and calligraphy. If you’re looking for things to criticise, some action scenes might seem a bit cheesy, but on the whole it’s a solid, beautifully told story.
Chungking Express (1994)
It’s just not possible to talk about Chinese cinema without bringing up Wong Kar-Wai. This slow, arty meditation on love and loneliness is bewitching. This tells two stories of poetic Hong Kong policemen (Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro) who think in metaphors and fall in love with mysterious new women after their respective break-ups. After watching it, it’s hard not to see the whole world as full of poetry and longing and perfect moments. It’s the movie on this list with the best pedigree – Criterion collection, numerous film festival nominations, an IMDb rating above 8 – and it’s my favourite of these four.Although there’s a glimmer of a happy ending, this is a melancholy film that will make you long for sweltering summer nights when your whole life can change with a glance from a stranger.
Patricia is a voracious watcher of movies and also handles copy-editing duties for Xianease.