Intrigue in 1913 – Brigitte Lin is a general’s daughter working secretly for the rebellion along with opera daughter Sally Yeh (also of the unrelated Shanghai Blues, blind girl in The Killer). Cherie Chung (Winners & Sinners, Once a Thief) is just trying to steal some jewels and gets involved, not unlike Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible. Pretty cool movie with overcomplicated plot, and the audio commentary wasn’t doing much for me (it’s some podcasters with dodgy mics) so I’ll defer to letterboxers Matt and MDF.

A few doomed people in a Chinese megasuburb gradually intersect over a fateful day, captured in fluid long takes, followed and circled by the camera. Each of their lives was ruined this morning, now they’re in a slow simmering funk, deciding whether they should stay and fight, stay and surrender, or leave town for Manzhouli (near Hailar where the Taming The Horse kids wanted to go) to see a depressed elephant.

Schoolboy Bu pushes the school bully down the stairs, fatally. The bully’s older brother (Yu Cheng of Year of the Everlasting Storm and Snipers) was found sleeping with his best friend’s girl, so the friend threw himself out a window. Schoolgirl Ling has been caught in an affair with an administrator. And an older guy (Li Congxi of Devils on the Doorstep) is being kicked out of his kid’s apartment and sent to a home – and his dog got killed.

Movie feels massive, the long takes and stretched-out day usually working to great effect. Sometimes we’re simply killing time, walking from one place to another, looking at the backs of heads and shirt collars, but then there’s a great moment when we realize time has rewound and we’re seeing the opposite angle on a previous scene.

By the end of the day the old guy gives up his escape plan and heads back home, saying things are just as bad everywhere. Red-jacketed boy with a stolen gun stupidly involves himself, and dies. Floppy-hair guy ends up injured and outcast, and the younger two take a train trip to maybe witness a creature even more despondent than themselves.

with the old man’s granddaughter:

Jonathan Romney:

It’s inevitably tempting to read the film as some sort of suicide note, as an expression of a desperation that envisaged no remedy. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find no shortage of evidence in a film built around four deaths (one accidental, one canine, two suicides); in its final moments, a character yells at the people around him (and essentially, at the entire world), “You are all going to hell!” Indeed, everyone here seems already to inhabit an earthly hell; yet the journey that some characters take in its closing stretch suggests some hope, insofar as they’re at least curious enough to go and take a look at an unfamiliar corner of their desolate world.

Romney also ties the elephant to the Werckmeister Harmonies whale and says Hu “was briefly a student of Tarr, traces of whose influence are visible,” and I’m in the middle of reading the Werckmeister source novel so this all tracks.

Celluloid Liberation Front:

But whereas Tarr’s cinema articulates itself through metaphysical absorption, Hu’s films retain the carnality of punk and operate on a lower stratum of perception, like an obsessive bassline from a Joy Division song. Despite his very young age, the craft and style of his opera prima are anything but derivative, and are in fact the outcome of an uncompromising vision.

The level of emotional repression is such that virtually every exchange in the film implies the possibility of an aggressive confrontation, with the film’s livid photography chromatically translating a ubiquitous feeling of resentment.
With human agency reduced to its basest instincts, the only way for the four protagonists to come together is by mere coincidence. Their convergence towards the sitting elephant is inertial rather than proactive, as much of their previous lives must presumably have been. The only moments where life is not stoically endured but actually lived are when the characters plot to or deliberately harm someone, be it a random passerby or a next of kin.

Vadim Rizov:

The film takes place over a single day but doesn’t sweat continuity, veering between morning, afternoon and evening light throughout. Unmoored in time, viewers are stuck in a perpetual morass. The context for this bad mood is not unfamiliar: with its emphasis on chaos and sudden invitations to violence, Elephant recalls Huang Weikei’s Disorder and Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin.

A prize winner in Berlin – Xie Fei’s followup, with the supremely uncatchy title Woman Sesame Oil Maker, would win the golden bear. This movie’s star Jiang Wen is better known – as a director and an actor from Zhang Yimou to Star Wars.

Young Jiang is out of jail and back in Beijing, his friends either imprisoned or dead, nobody happy to see him. He gets a tip and starts selling merchandise on the sidewalk, doing an impressive amount of business. Starts giving rides home to a girl who sings at his regular bar. All seems to be going ok until his buddy Chazi escapes from labor camp and comes visiting, then our boy’s life on the edges of the underworld starts catching up to him. The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, part 30506.

I remembered the basics. Come Drink With Me star Cheng Pei-Pei is Jade Fox, Ziyi’s criminal master, who kills a whole bunch of people including, in the end, Chow Yun-Fat. Chang Chen, below, is Ziyi’s desert bandit lover Dark Cloud. Took long enough for this to be available in decent HD.

Rotterdance continues (concludes?) with a Locarno/Rotterdam movie.

Qiu is an apparently dead actor, demons Horsey and Ox come to collect him, we flashback to 1920 and make our way through Q’s life. He gets married in the 1940’s, their adopted daughter dies, their son is sad when his dad is declared a political criminal. Richard Brody: “The movie is filmed as theatrical tableaux, complete with blatantly contrived sets and supernatural fantasy sequences, which virtually shout at viewers not to take the depicted events as literal truth.” In the end it’s another movie about how life under communism was horrible – and it’s a misty, foggy movie, which the streaming video turned into shit soup.

Beautiful right from the start, every scene a marvel. Gorgeous lighting, precise framing, the real deal This kind of discovery is the whole point of Rotterdance… oh, did I mention that it’s Rotterdance? I started it kinda late and am writing it up even later, but we spent a week or two watching movies that played recent editions of Sundance and Rotterdam fests. The Cathedral played both after premiering in Venice, and this one came to Rotterdam after Cannes.

“A gangster on the run sacrifices everything for his family and a woman he meets while on the lam,” sure, let’s leave it at that. He’ll (probably) star in Wong’s Blossoms movie/series/whatever. The girl helping him and the cop chasing him costarred in Diao’s Black Coal, Thin Ice.

Sammo plays a thief and killer and master bullshitter. Terrific opening scene – he finds a field of dead soldiers and loots their bodies, but they were only playing dead for a military game, stand up and capture Sammo, take him back to base and humiliate him, then he blows them all up.

The point is supposed to be a train robbery, but nobody can stand still long enough to wait for the train; buildings are burned down and a bank is robbed before it even arrives. Too many characters and factions to keep track of. James Tien was in there somewhere, and Rosamund Kwan of the Once Upon a Time in China series, and Hwang Jang-Lee (the “dead” friend/villain of Game of Death II). Wong Fei-hung is in this, meets his rival Kien, both as little kids. People can’t stop jumping out of two-story buildings. Whenever the pace is less than frantic, he simply speeds up the film… this is cheating, but the result is absolutely thrilling, so I’ll allow it.

No revisionist western is complete without one of these:

The protestors and prostitutes team up against the patriarchy:

Ma Yongzhen is a tough dude working shitty jobs with his useless friend Cheng Kang-Yeh. Ma is introduced beating up a landlord, so he’s got our sympathy, though he seems to beat up pretty much everyone he comes across… this is fine, since it’s established that everyone in town’s a crook. Ma has annoyingly high standards, is poor and homeless and will accept nothing from anyone – though as principled as he seems, his dream is to ride in his own carriage with a fancy cigarette holder. He wanders into a brutal gang fight and takes on 20 guys armed with knives and hatchets, which gains him the attention of the local bosses, beginning his brief, violent career in organized crime. He’s finally ambushed in a teahouse by Boss Yang (Nan Chiang) and takes a hatchet to the torso, but doesn’t go down before killing everyone in the room. Good action scenes – I could watch about 300 more of these movies, and fortunately that’s how many they made.

Ma and his idol David Chiang (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires):

Scar-faced Boss Fan (Yi Feng of Fist of Fury the same year) and his yes-man:

We don’t wanna sit around watching covid docs, but after her last movie, we trusted Nanfu Wang to make a good one. The initial hook is her Chinese/American family getting caught a world apart when lockdowns begin, but the family-reunion adventure-film doesn’t play out. Instead, she sends Chinese reporters into hospitals and on other missions, spends all day and night sifting through their footage and various social media posts, piercing the censorship veil to locate real stories of the virus’s initial spread, its early damage and the government’s control over the media, before flipping back to the U.S. to discuss the same kind of political spin doctoring and poor decisions here.