Access to the best of contemporary Chinese independent cinema has been a constant challenge for audiences unable to attend the adventurous film festivals that are the main conduit for these films and filmmakers to the world outside of China. This August a new initiative began—partially crowdfunded on Kickstarter—called Cinema on the Edge
, introducing a range of essential, recent independent productions from the mainland across several cinemas in New York City. MUBI is partnering with Cinema on the Edge to extend its theatrical exhibitions to the online world, showing a selection of their films online in the US, allowing audiences outside of New York to explore what is happening right now in indie Chinese filmmaking. These Chinese films will be premiering on MUBI over the next ten days.
Our selection includes:
Er Housheng is a blind musician who travels Inner Mongolia with his lover/partner Liu Lanlan performing the saucy, sensationally bawdy form of musical duet comedy called er ren tai. Er’s female audiences are particularly enthralled with his combination of sensuality, Rabelaisian earthiness, and frankly socially subversive lyrics. Director Xu’s specialty is to train his piercingly observant documentary camera — intimate and complicit, rather than coldly objective — on unique Chinese characters like Er, using them to probe deep beneath the surface of China’s clash of rural traditions with its urbanizing contemporaneity. The result is, on one hand, an enthralling ethnographic showpiece; but it’s at its core a passionate and frenzied psycho-drama of lust, violence, and genius.
Tsering Woeser, the subject of Chinese filmmaker Zhu Rikun’s extraordinary documentary, is a Tibetan writer now based in Beijing. Through her writing and online voice, she has become one of the most eloquent voices on Tibet. Zhu Rikun’s sharply designed, formally innovative documentary is completely in Woeser’s own voice: Zhu alternates formally photographed scenes of Woeser reading excerpts from her secret government “dossier” (which she has somehow gained access to) with scenes of her speaking in her own soft but powerful, eloquent, passionate voice. Woeser’s moving account of her political awakening and current activism makes for a powerful document of a Tibetan woman finding her voice and insisting on her freedom to use it.
Winner of the 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Tiger Award, Huang Ji’s brave personal film is one of the most auspicious debuts in recent Chinese cinema. Set in her home village in rural Hunan province, Egg and Stone is a powerful autobiographical portrait of a 14-year-old girl’s attempts to come to terms with her emerging sexual maturity. Since her parents moved to the city to work, she has been forced to live with her uncle and aunt for seven years. Alone with her own inchoate fears and desires, she grapples with a terrifying world of sexual awakening and danger. Huang Ji’s visual sophistication, narrative fluency, and technical polish belie her youth. Cinematographer Ryuji Otsuka (also the film’s producer and editor) contributes beautifully crafted cinematic images, fearfully intimate, softly pulsing with light, saturated with complex emotional power.
Two brilliant young women, art school graduates with deliciously profane vocabularies and supreme confidence, talk sex, cinema, and power, as they wield their shared video camera like a scalpel. Yang Mingming’s superb debut is hilarious, moving, and subversive: is it documentary or fiction, or something new that violates both modes with gleeful abandon?
This is an experimental, structuralist documentary shot in People’s Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, in one single, bravura take lasting 75 minutes by two young American directors. Their camera captures the fullness of Chinese urban leisure life. As the camera pans side to side and glides relentlessly forward through the park, it catches hundreds of Chinese urbanites out for fun, relaxation, socializing, and a certain kind of freedom: eating, strolling, singing, practicing calligraphy, and watching each other. Watching becomes dancing, as the film slowly gathers an ecstatic, trance-like groove, building to a rapturous climax, as people, movement, music, image, and sound mix together: this is as close to pure pleasure as cinema gets.
Yang Pingdao is one of China’s most exciting emerging filmmakers. His astonishingly creative camera eye brings unexpected beauty to his new feature length film. Using an innovative structure, based on the distinctive texture of family memory through space and time, Yang invents something poised delicately between fiction and documentary to capture crystallized moments in his family history, to recreate in cinematic form its emotional weight and variety, woven around the life and death of his grandmother, and the birth of his child. In order to combine extended family chronicle, implicit national history, and intimate soul-bearing autobiography, Yang employs gentle formal experimentation to invent new cinematic pathways. Opening film and prize winner of BIFF 2014.
(Huang Xiang, Xu Ruotao & J.P. Sniadecki, 2013)
Two Chinese avant-garde artists and an American experimental filmmaker have collaborated on a stunningly beautiful Chinese experimental-fiction-documentary that dazzlingly combines ghost stories and “ruin porn” to form a celluloid psycho-collage. Shot on 16mm film, it’s set in the largely abandoned oil drilling town of Yumen – a place with an ancient, poetic history in China’s western Gansu province – and takes us through trashed, desolate urban spaces abandoned by Chinese socialism. But the filmmakers bring these places alive with their cast of ghosts, artists, vagabond dancers, and singers. It’s a film chock full of fascinating things: massive oil pumps and sun-blasted vistas; nude performance art and impromptu flamenco; fuzzy bunny rabbits and snarling canines; groovy 70s Taiwan pop and contemporary Korean girl bands; socialist nostalgia and postmodern pastiche.