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chinese diaspora radio

by 張大智
Ah Ying, Allen Fong, 1983, Hong Kong Directed by Hong Kong New Wave pioneer Allen Fong, the movie reflects the leading actress’ real life experiences as a 22 year old fish vendor who takes night classes in acting and develops a close relationship with her drama teacher, while simulteneously weaving politics of local cinema. Ah Ying is an essential piece of the New Wave movement which still finds its resonance with contemporary Hong Kong. Rebels of the Neon God, Tsai Ming-Liang, 1992, Taiwan In Ming-Liang’s first feature we see a director already in full command of his material as he explores turbulent youths in their everyday goings on in… Read more

Ah Ying, Allen Fong, 1983, Hong Kong
Directed by Hong Kong New Wave pioneer Allen Fong, the movie reflects the leading actress’ real life experiences as a 22 year old fish vendor who takes night classes in acting and develops a close relationship with her drama teacher, while simulteneously weaving politics of local cinema. Ah Ying is an essential piece of the New Wave movement which still finds its resonance with contemporary Hong Kong.

Rebels of the Neon God, Tsai Ming-Liang, 1992, Taiwan
In Ming-Liang’s first feature we see a director already in full command of his material as he explores turbulent youths in their everyday goings on in the Taipei of the early ’90s, using Lee Kang-sheng in a real to life role as a clerk in a less than legal video game arcade. The recognizable loose narrative does not lack specificity in this highly idiosyncratic debut.

Durian Durian, Fruit Chan, 2000, Hong Kong
Fruit Chan has ingenious ways of scripting and filming the tensions of pre and post hand over Hong Kong. In Durian Durian he puts both sides on the screen with a “Northern Girl” working as a prostitute and her paralleling life with a local little girl living in between the complex borders of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Durian Durian is as culturally relevant to the fractured dream of Hong Kong from the perspective of mainland Chinese as it is a primary example of the city’s “2nd Wave”.

Our Neighbor, Miss Yae, 1934, Japan
Neighbors Keitaro, a handsome law student and Yaeko, a blossoming high school girl, have a long time friendship that is changing into something more in this archetypal Shemin-Geki. Effortlessly blending the flirtatiousness of youth and pathos, Shimazu offers us a timeless slice of life in prewar Japan.

Story of a Discharged Prisoner, Lung Kong, 1967, Hong Kong
A crime film on the surface with a social interwoven dialog in its fabric, Lung Kong’s classic action drama is as much an indelible character driven gangster film as it is a philosophical work imbued with an auteur’s worldview. A gem that went on to inspire many of the New Wave directors including a remake by John Woo; “Hard Boiled”.

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, 2013, Thailand
Thamrongrattanarit is a filmmaker of a new type, showing us youths going through today’s daily routines. Who would have thought that using 410 tweets unedited in content and sequence could make a film so true to adolescence and those humdrum high school years. A pertinent comedy of our times.

Sound of the Mountain, Mikio Naruse, 1954, Japan
Naruse’s personal favorite among his pictures is an adaptation from Yasunari Kawabata’s novel of the same name, refashioned for the screen with the director’s penchant for female pathos. A Noh mask can guise different moods and characters, just like the daughter in law played by the great Setsuko Hara, who in order to co exist with her husband and his family must conceal her true feelings. An enduring showpiece of the Shomin Geki genre.

The Koumiko Mystery, Chris Marker, 1965, Japan
The olympics are but a cultural backdrop for an examination of individuality in the highly techno and hyper urbanized environs of post modern Tokyo, in this yet to be restored classic from Marker.

My Memories of Old Beijing, Wu Yigong, 1983, China
Adapted from Lin Haiyin’s novel of the same title, the film’s centerpiece is a little girl, Yingzi. Coming from Taiwan to Beijing with her parents and settling in a courtyard house she is fascinated by her new surroundings and some curious characters such as a mad woman down the street, a thief and her playmate. Seen through her eyes, these characters reflect a picture of a multi-layered Chinese society.

The Scent of Green Papaya, Tranh Anh Hung, 1993, Vietnam/France
A servant girl grows up observing the smallest details of daily life in this romantic coming age of film. The Vietnamese home circa 1940s to 1960s is expertly staged and fluidly shot by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme.

Home from the Sea, Yoji Yamada, 1972, Japan
On an island in South Japan a family’s source of income comes from an old boat used to carry rocks for construction. Any rock put into it could potentially be its last (the editing giving its material presence in the film an almost sentient protagonist’s role). Eventually the only anchor left on the island is the grandfather, played by the great Chishu Ryu. Great performances from Baisho, and Igawa, frequent Yamada collaborators.

One Day, Chi-Jan Hou, 2010, Taiwan
Who is the boy in uniform that Singing meets? A series of dreams and a peculiar incident on a ferry lead to a surprise. An elegant romantic comedy with a mixture of surrealistic fantasy.

The Road to Mandalay, Midi Z, 2016, Myanmar
In search for a better life, Chinese-Burmese immigrants Lianqing and Ah Guo crossed the border to Bangkok working illegally in a suburban factory. Confronted by the challenges in the Thai capital, their relationship slowly morphs into something detrimental. Z’s direction and control of pace works on different levels; for the highly nuanced characters as well as for shedding light on the broader context of the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia after the KMT/CCP civil war.

A Home Too Far. Kevin Chu, 1990, Taiwan
From 1949 to 1954 the KMT 93rd’s division took refuge in northern Myanmar close to the Chinese border awaiting orders to strike the Mainland from the newly appointed KMT government in Taiwan. Sandwiched in between places and governments they find themselves increasingly estranged and losing the prospect of returning home.

There’s a Strong Wind in Beijing, Ju Anqi, 1999, China
Filming on 16mm stock expired 8 years prior, Anqi has a peculiar question for the Beijingnese. Suddenly the narrative changes when him and his crew encounter a family from the countryside and their sick child. Bold and compassionate Anqi leaves us to experience the aforementioned question for ourselves.

Children in the Wind, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937, Japan
A quiet film about a gripping story of an innocent childhood in a rural Japanese mountain village interrupted by the woes of the adult world. A fine example of Shimizu’s gift for restraint in film making.

Evening Rain, Wu Yigong/Wu Yonggang, 1980, China
A ferry on the Yangtze is turned into a theatre play reflecting the impact of the cultural revolution on individuals; an imprisoned poet being transferred from Sichuan to Wuhan and a cast of supporting characters including a prostitute, a little girl looking for her father, a Peking opera actor come together weaving a plan to help the poet escape. A beam of conscience from the ordinary mass in the face of large scale political campaigns.

Days of Being Wild, Wong Kar-Wai, 1990, Hong Kong
Post colonial memory fetishizes the elusive idea of a home in this sexy, style-soaked film. The great Leslie and Maggie Cheung at their prime in the first from Wong Kar-Wai to get away from Hong Kong genre conventions and to focus on his signature nostalgic Cugat-style nocturnal aesthetic.

Nymph, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2009, Thailand
Auteur Ratanaruang takes a well-known Thai mythology and twists into a commentary on technological alienation and romantic dissatisfaction. An unhurried idiosyncratic film with elements relevant today, Nymph is an excellent example of slow, contemplative cinema.

Shara, Naomi Kawase, 2003, Japan
In the rare class of films whose inexplicable human quality leaves it as a film to be experienced rather than understood. Kawase uses the mold of the Japanese domestic drama and shifts it to something new.

Strawmen, Wang Tung, 1987, Taiwan
A seemingly lighthearted comedy with a quiet irony that lifts to an allegorical level, Tung was in fact already an old industry hand by the time of the Taiwanese New Cinema.
His story telling approach may be more traditional than his contemporaries, but nevertheless he had his own highly distinctive aesthetic, particularly in his use of special effects to manipulate the importance of scenes. In retrospect, years after the movement, Tung’s films retain they feeling of expertly crafted genre films.

Runaway, Wang Tung, 1984, Taiwan
More than a series of perfectly choreographed battles, though they are, Runaway is a finely calibered film in the classic Wuxia mold but with stylistic and narrative touches of the Taiwanese New Cinema. More emphasis on the quiet and the invisible strings connecting characters makes the band of outlaws and the woman they abduct in this late Tang dynasty drama all the more dynamic.

River Without Buoys, Wu Tianming, 1984, China
Fourth Generation director Wu Tianming transposes the Cultural Revolution on the stories of three rafters. They spend their days drifting on the Xiao river from town to town where friendships and romances from the past connect them to the rapidly changing lives on land. Both the political environs and the river project them into a future unknown and unforeseeable.

Une Historie de Vent, Joris Ivens, 1988, Netherlands
76 years after his first film the great documentarian Ivens returns to China to make his final film. A poetic documentary-fantasy attempting to film the impossible, the wind, in different locations in China but with a touching climax in the Gobi desert. With references to the literary classic “A Journey to the West” and frequent visits by Sun Wukong(the Monkey King) Une Histoire is an affecting last film from a director who recorded the Japanese invasion in 1938.

So Close to Paradise, Wang Xiaoshuai, 1998, China
Whatever it is that small time crook Gao Ping is up to is not entirely clear to his roommate Dongzi, but both of them are attracted to a Vietnamese singer at a local bar in the river city of Wuhan. A crime film made with a keen eye for the small time aspirations and fractured desires of migrants in bigger cities.

Ornamental Hairpin, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941, Japan
Shimizu’s gift may have been staging simple dramas with a dynamism of space both near and distant from the lens, in this case to recreate the impalpable passage of the summer months and how the small events taking place, including an incident in the bath with a hairpin, bind a group of city dwellers in a lazy mountain spa.

Disorder, Huang Weikai, 2009, China
The editing has such a pace that these scenes in Guanzhou flash past almost simulteneously in this tightly packed work. The quality of the images evoke a kind of mobile CCTV lens, but with Huang Weikai’s poetic touches. A poignant but expressive documentary.

Au Revoir Taipei, Arvin Chen, 2010, Taiwan
Nicely paced romantic comedy with an interweaved crime story, all wrapped in a night long adventure. Light, clever and fun, Au Revoir Taipei was the jazzy debut by Taiwanese-American director Arvin Chen.

The Tale of Iya, Tetsuichirô Tsuta, 2013, Japan
Though Tsuta was only 28/29 when making this film, The Tale of Iya from the very beginning scenes feels like classic cinema from an old director, though certainly with a signature of its own time, as Tsuta has his pulse both on the perplexing beauty of the forest as well as the contemporary world and angst in this drama with touches of the fantastical.

Claire’s Knee, Eric Rohmer, 1970, France
Perhaps the most accessible of the Nouvelle Vague directors, Claire’s Knee is as fresh now as it was in 1970. Inspired by F.W.Murnau’s film on temptation “Sunrise”, Rohmer made his famous cycle of films Six Moral Tales, of which Claire’s Knee is among the best reviewed; it is a film with a very particular mood that breathes summer air and restrained seduction.

The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975, Italy
The master of the enigma brings us a work on the transience of identity starring a Nicholson in arguably one of his finest roles and certainly his most subdued, supported by Maria Schneider who really comes into her own under Antonioni’s direction in this existential road movie thriller.

La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini, 1960, Italy
Of the few films that every other year or so require by its fans another viewing, and with that viewing the film takes on a new life; still sweet, still dark. From circus like fantasy to the driest realism we follow the adventures of a tabloid reporter, Mastroianni, who is disenchanted with everything; maybe he wants to be a writer? A husband, never. A meditation on aspiration, the meaning of “making it”, which in its conclusion takes whichever meaning the viewer gives it; could this be its magic?

Le Monde Vivant, Eugene Green, 2003, France/Belgium
A classic fairy tale is retold with Green’s idiosyncratic penchant for the close up, and the exploration of the value of the spoken word, which the Le Monde Vivant adopts as a vital theme. Poetic, classical and contemporary, Green’s 2nd feature is a delightful fable/comedy.

Il Pianeta Azzurro, Franco Piavoli, 1981, Italy
The beauty of nature, memory and love opens under the blue, celestial sky. Exemplary of the reach of cinema, made simply and with little in this completely self funded film by Piavoli.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010, Thailand
Based on a book written by a monk in a temple close to Apichatpong’s family home, and collected memories of childhood and comic books, Uncle Boonmee, and his past lives, come to life in Weerasethakul’s familiar landscape in the north. Boonmee is a fine example of Apichatpong’s craft as cinematographer of life as enigma.

Homecoming, Yim Ho, 1984, Hong Kong
After 10 years of living in Hong Kong, ShanShan’s return to her hometown in Sichuan is revelatory in this superbly put together New Wave drama with touches of surrealism. As significant today as it was on its release, Homecoming is a journey back to the rustic, and on the fluidity of indentity.

Postmen in the Mountains, Huo Jianqe, 1999, China
A film about the mountain road and the letters, or sometimes absence there of, which connects the people on this long mail route. Great cinematography by Zhao Lei and performances, including Liu Ye before he graduated from Beijing Central Academy of Drama.

Nomad, Patrick Tam, 1982, Hong Kong
Kathy’s ex boyfriend is involved with the militant group The Japanese Red Army, and all her friends are restless youths looking for the meaning of life, who absorb everything Japanese in this energetic film spewing with New Waveness, and enough bold invention to keep its freshness today and for years to come.

Sacrificed Youth, Zhang Nuanxin, 1986, China
A coming of age story follows a Beijing girl sent to work with the Tai minority in rural Yunnan province. From female filmmaker and essayist Zhang Nuanxin, Sacrificed Youth is a work meditating acclimation to new places and cultures and the individual impact of an important segment of life spent far away.

Vibrator, Ryuichi Hinoki, 2003, Japan
Rei is a writer and Okabe is a truck driver, both are freelancers who connect immediately through their aimless drift in post-industrial life. What better way to understand each other/themselves than on the road? Highly praised including by Japanese cinema historian Donald Richie, Vibrator is a classic of the road movie sub-genre.

Butterfly and Flowers, Euthana Mukdasanit, 1986, Thailand
A child is suddenly forced into a tough adult world in Thailand’s muslim south. Beautiful cinematography by Panya Nimchuareopong in this film where the script alone is a crowning achievement.

Love Conquers All, Tan Chui Mui, 2006, Malaysia
A normal girl from Penang falls for a sweet talker while working at her aunt’s restaurant in Kuala Lumpur in Tai Chui Mui’s feature debut, winner of the Tiger at Rotterdam.

Comrades: Almost a Love Story, Peter Chan, 1996, Hong Kong
An intercontinental story of two people that always miss the chance to kindle their attraction. Some major star power with Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai as well as a short but brilliant appearance by Australian HK adoptee cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

A Man and a Woman, Claude Lelouch, 1966, France
A race car test driver and the widow of a stuntman slowly reveal their affections for each other in one of the great classics of romantic cinema. Lelouch’s decision to cut down on costs by shooting pieces in black and white turned out to be a stylistic success still inspiring filmmakers today.

Cheerful Wind, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1981, Taiwan
Fresh from his assistant directing work, Hou’s first comedies were already good examples of his preferences for the zoom lens and for his particular style of deep staging and blocking. Cheerful Wind is a great example of a director coming into his own while working under industry restrictions, as well as essential viewing for fans of Hou’s New Cinema work.

Maborosi, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1995, Japan
Working off his first script Kore-eda directed a subtle and mature drama on loss, letting go, or the inability to when constantly surrounded by life and nature. A commendable debut from one of Japan’s contemporary greats.

The Soong Sisters, Mabel Cheung, 1997, China
A finely crafted historical film on these three powerful Chinese women, the sequence of events before and after the civil war, and their pivotal influence to the Mainland and Taiwan. Top drawer performances from leading ladies and supporting cast.

Kaili Blues, Gan Bi, 2015, China
The young Gan Bi shows us small town Guizhou through an allegorical lens recording loneliness and broken memories in this brand new and original work where the film itself seems to take control of the camera. From one of the most promising new directors, Kaili Blues went on to win several awards at festivals including Locarno, Nantes, Beijing, Taipei.

When the Tenth Month Comes, Dang Nhat Minh, 1995, Vietnam
Traditional poetry and theatre are blent into this classic work by auteur Dang Nhat Minh on the pressure of tradition on a woman who loses her husband and feels forced to conceal the truth from her family. With its myths and poetry it feels like an ancient film where political criticism of communist society is present but highly subdued in this elegant black and white work.

Unknown Pleasures, Jia Zhangke, 2002, China
One of the first films that put the modern industrialized China with its most recent fractured memories, vicissitudes and ancient habits into context. Using the 3 characters and an excellent supporting cast packed with everyday small town stereotypes, directed with playfulness and less than subtle irony.

Cops and Robbers, Alex Cheung, 1979, Hong Kong
Four officers are dealing with a group of bank robbers led by a mega villain so vile to rival the worst in a Bond film. Filled with everyday realities and subjects, gritty run n’ gun cinematography throughout and some of the greatest tracking shots, this cop film discerns itself as primary HK New Wave material.

The Fourth Dimension, T.T.Minh Ha, United States, 2001
A contemplation on the nature of time between ritual and industrialization, with the railway as a time machine and the consumer video camera as the recording tool of the century. T.T.Minh-ha gives us a reinvented documentary classic that merits careful study, with an almost hypnotizing low resolution video aesthetic.

The Gamble, Luu Trong Ninh, 1993, Vietnam
In a search of new narratives a social realistic style cinema began to emerge in Vietnam during the late 80s to early 90s. The Gamble is an example of this period, made under the grip of the highly regulated filmmaking industry. An Amour Fou story with, yes, plenty of melodrama, but enwrapped in realistic societal and underworld issues supported by a solid supporting cast of believable low life types. Beautiful scenery shot in location in the country’s north.

Shanghai Shimen Lu, Haolun Shu, 2011, China
This muti layered Shanghainese story taking place in its heart, the Shikumen brick lane, manages to include all the dreams of a tired city; the initial trickle of western pop culture, immigration as an escape, the promise of material happiness, etc. Xiaoli and Lanmi are two young people living next to each other on Shimen road searching for a place for themselves in the city before the spring of 1989. Shot in Shu Haolun’s native Shanghai, with many elements true to many families behind the doors in today’s remaining Shikumen lanes.

Ballad of Orin, Masahiro Shinoda, 1977, Japan
Orin is a blind traveling musician expelled from her troupe, eventually we realize that ironically she’s testimony to a mutating Japan at the turn of the century, while being constantly subjected to disgrace and social ostracization. Cinematography by frequent Mizoguchi collaborator Kazoo Miyagana.

Four Nights of a Dreamer, Robert Breton, 1971, France
Adapted from Dostoyevski’s novella “White Nights”, Four Nights is Bresson at his most playful, following Jacques, a young painter who finds both a crush and a muse, in off kilter way, in the despondent Marthe. A nocturnal comedy finally restored by Imagica (in Japan) and supervised by the film’s cinematographer, Pierre Lhomme.

And Quiet Rolls the Dawn, Mrinal Sen, 1979, India
Though educated and bourgeois, Chinu’s family is struggling to make ends meet with her as the sole member with a source of income. When she mysteriously doesn’t return from work, a series of issues laying hidden within the family begin to surface. One of Mrinal Sen’s must see films.

Bumming in Beijing, Wu Wenguang, 1990, China
The events of June 1989 are the central missing piece in this seminal documentary of recent art graduates living in the capital, with humble conditions and big youthful dreams throughout this turbulent year. Wu Wenguang approaches his subjects with ease recording their conversations, confessions and breakdowns.

Here, Then, Mao Mao, 2012, China
Though closely resembling everyday small town tedious and passive realities, the film is neither a drama nor an essay. The central character behave mechanically in enjoyment and crime, and appear apathetic in intimate environments and sparse landscapes in this portrayal of isolation in China’s urban sprawl. A very honest film made with great command of the material at hand, in the director’s spare time with a handful of close friends.

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