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Chinese Movies

China Book Reviews: Chinese Movies

Farewell
My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine

directed by Chen Kaige

starring Zhang Fengyi & Zhang Guorong

ISBN: B000W0H5EM

Farewell My Concubine, winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or, is a classic, epic Chinese movie of the 1990s focusing on the friendship of two friends, who meet as young trainees in a Beijing Opera company. The film follows the pair's tumultous relationship through the upheavals of the Japanese invasion of World War II and the later Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Opposites in character and personality, Dieyi (Leslie Cheung) plays female characters in the opera while Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi) takes on the roles of strong, masculine men. A visually stunning, epic movie that brilliantly re-creates the performances of Beijing Opera and the enormous social changes that took place in China in the last century and the effect of these changes on ordinary Chinese people.

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Yellow Earth

Yellow Earth

directed by Chen Kaige

starring Bai Xue & Quiang Liu

ISBN: 6302917050

Yellow Earth, which was released in 1984, was director Chen Kaige's debut film and was the first modern Chinese movie to create a lasting impact with Western audiences.
Set during the war with Japan in 1939, a young, idealist, communist cadre journeys to a poor, remote Chinese village in Northern Shaanxi province to collect folk songs for the revolutionary effort. He stays with an impoverished family and meets a young woman about to be married off to an older man. The young soldier inspires her with tales of socialist equality and freedom to flee her traditional, feudal fate. The evocative cinematography and music brilliantly capture the harsh, dry landscape of the area and the haunting beauty of traditional Chinese folk songs.

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Raise The
Red Lantern

Raise The Red Lantern

directed by Zhang Yimou

starring Li Gong & Caifei He

ISBN: B000PMFS6O

Set in 1920s China Raise The Red Lantern is hailed as a masterpiece of Chinese cinema and the pinnacle film of director Zhang Yimou's illustrious career. The movie has a fable-like quality as the story unfolds of an intelligent, young woman, Songlian (Gong Li), who sells herself into the harem of a wealthy man to escape the poverty of her family. Her new husband, Master Chen (Ma Jingwu), already has three other wives and the red lantern of the title refers to the lantern which is lit outside the dwelling of the wife he chooses to spend the night with. Deeply feminist, the movie's drama derives from the intrigues of the rival wives who plot to win their Master's affection from day to day.

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Red Sorghum

Red Sorghum

directed by Zhang Yimou

starring Li Gong & Cunhua Ji

ISBN: 6302263948

Red Sorghum, made in 1987, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1988 and introduced the talents of the then 21-year-old actress Li Gong to western moviegoers.
As with Chen Kaige's Yellow Earth, Red Sorghum is the director's debut and the movie is also set during the Second World War amid China's brutal conflict with the invading Japanese army.
Based a novel of the same name by Mo Yan the plot involves the selling of the young girl 'Nine' (Li Gong) as a bride to a leprous wine merchant. Being carried and jostled in her sedan on the way to the betrothal, 'Nine' sees and falls in love with one of the muscular sedan porters, and after the mysterious death of her new husband, 'Nine' inherits the winery. The second half of the film focuses on the brutality of the Japanese intrusion into the lives of the main characters. Beautifully shot and full of hidden symbolism and inner meaning Red Sorghum launched director Zhang Yimou's career as one of China's greatest modern directors.

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Ju Dou

Ju Dou

directed by Zhang Yimou

starring Li Gong & Jia Jin

ISBN: B000BBOU54

Zhang Yimou's next movie after the critical acclaim of Red Sorghum, was Ju Dou, released in 1990, and also starring Li Gong in the title role.
The story, set in 1920s' rural China, is the almost familar one of the poor young woman sold as a concubine to a cruel (and sterile) older man Yang Jin-shan (Li Wei), the owner of a dye mill. The young wife is expected to produce a son and heir for her aging and abusive tyrant, but instead she falls in love with his nephew Yang Tianqing (Li Baotian) and bears his child with tragic consequences. After Yang Jin-shan is paralysed in an accident, the two lovers flaunt their relationship in front of the old man, who has accepted the boy as his own son to save face. However, the sullen boy grows up with the same psychopathic and violent tendencies as Yang Jin-shan and when he learns the truth of his real parentage, tragedy ensues. Zhang Yimou's trademark use of colors and overt symbolism in the beautiful cinematography are the highlights of the movie - and a ravishing Li Gong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor

directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

starring Joan Chen & Dennis Dun

ISBN: B000ZM1MIW

Released in 1984, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci's lavish epic The Last Emperor scooped nine Academy awards, including best director, best costume design and best cinematography.
The film details the story of Pu Yi (John Lone), the last emperor of Qing dynasty China, who ascended the throne in 1908 aged not yet 3 and was deposed just four years later. Pu Yi was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924 and was later installed as the puppet ruler of Manchuko by the Japanese from 19321945. In later life Pu Yi was imprisioned in a re-education camp before his release and eventual acceptance into the Communist party.
Pu Yi's quite amazing life from Emperor, to prisoner and finally gardener and literary editor, is portrayed by an all-star cast including Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole (as Reginald Johnston, Pu Yi's English tutor), Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Vivian Wu, and Chen Kaige. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, with help from David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, is remembered as one of the Japanese composer's best. The Last Emperor was the first western production to be allowed access to The Forbidden City and the film remains both a visually stunning production and an important introduction for Western audiences in to modern Chinese history.

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Books on Beijing & China