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Chinese Films Journeying to the West in 2019

2019-02-08 19:55:17 China Minutes

Chinese Films Journeying To The West

Matthew Hurst

From instant indie classics to popcorn blockbusters, cinemas across the UK are programming more foreign language films than ever before. China’s film industry has rapidly grown to rival Hollywood, exporting a glorious variety of content to the West. Dozens of the best and biggest films will find audiences, making 2019 the best time to pig out on Chinese cinema. Here is just a small selection of titles that are journeying to the West towards the UK’s cinema screens.

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A growing modern tradition in China is releasing a slew of high-profile films around Lunar New Year which play throughout February and into March. The UK’s silver screens will be treated to a selection of these.

The New King of Comedy

Veteran Hong Kong actor-writer-director Stephen Chow (known for Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer, The Mermaid, CJ7 and more) will be playing for laughs in this lucrative slot. His appropriately named The New King of Comedy is a sequel to the 1999 smash hit King of Comedy. The film’s plot has been kept keenly under wraps but is expected to star comic actor Wang Baoqiang (Lost in Thailand, Detective Chinatown). Rumour has it that the film was not Chow’s first choice for this year’s February release; working simultaneously on another sequel - to his 2016 comedy The Mermaid - slipped behind schedule owing to post-production issues.

Pegasus

Also vying for poll position this February is Pegasus. Retired racing driver Zhang Chi becomes determined to beat the young racers at their own game and recapture the former glory days of his past fast life. Reassembling his team, Zhang Chi encounters many difficulties along the way. The film is directed by real-life former rally racer Han Han who recently made a splash with the Deng Chao (The Mermaid) and Eddie Peng (Cold War, Wukong) vehicle Duckweed. It’s sure to see audiences racing to the cinemas this Lunar New Year.

Our Times: The Kiss

Our Times: The Kiss is a loose sequel to the 2015 film Our Times. The film again stars Taiwanese heartthrob actor Wang Talu (Legend of the Naga Pearls) and is directed by ‘Frankie’ Chen Yushan (better known as a producer behind TV’s ‘Destiny Love’). The story centres on an ‘ordinary girl’ Xiangqin who fancies genius Jiang Zhushu. After trying everything to get his attention and finding her feelings are not reciprocated, she is horrified to find that her dad is moving them into the boy’s family home. The film is slated for release on 14 February from Tribe Releasing.

The Wandering Earth

In a change of gear, The Wandering Earth is set to become one small step towards Chinese science fiction filmmaking. Serious sci-fi as a genre has been historically neglected in Chinese cinema. This film is based on multi-award-winning author Liu Cixin’s short story. It follows a group of young people trying to escape the death of the Earth in the wake of the imminent destruction of the Sun. An alternative to the usual fare of Hong Kong comedies, Mainland actioners and serious indie films, all engines are primed for a February release which is suspected to rocket into March and perhaps beyond.

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Some of China’s biggest names and fastest rising stars are also releasing titles that are likely to be shown on the UK’s silver screens with exact dates yet to be revealed. Garnering attention at influential international film festivals, these less commercial titles are nevertheless likely to gain arthouse screenings.

Shadow

Legendary director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Raise the Red Lantern) picked up acclaim for his latest film Shadow. An action film with a period setting, it is the story of a young and unpredictable king whose military commander possesses a ‘shadow’ duplicate of himself, able to dupe the people of the kingdom and the king himself. The film screened at Venice, Toronto and London film festivals, gaining plaudits from the critics. When shown in China, however, the reaction was decidedly more muted. Nevertheless, Texas-based distributor Well Go USA is quoted as saying they intend to give the film a theatrical release in the UK alongside other countries.

Ash is Purest White

With rave reviews coming out of Cannes and London film festivals, Ash is Purest White is the story of a violent love affair played out over almost two decades. Qiao is deeply in love with Bin, who is embroiled in gangs. When Bin is threatened by a rival monster, Qian shoots the aggressor and winds up in prison. Many years pass and, upon release, Qiao hopes - perhaps naïvely - to pick up her life where it left off. Written and directed by the prolific Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart, Still Life), the film features rising star Liao Fan as Bin (Black Coal, Thin Ice, The Final Master) with appearances from Feng Xiaogang (Youth, Kung Fu Hustle) and Xu Zheng (Dying to Survive, Lost in Thailand).

Long Day’s Journey into Night

Another favourite of 2018’s festivals expected to hit the UK’s cinema screens is Long Day’s Journey into Night. The story follows Luo Hongwu as he returns to his home only to be confronted with haunting memories of the woman he killed. Having played at Cannes, this is only the second film of neo-magic realist director Bi Gan. The film has been lauded for a 59-minute unbroken take in 3D which follows the first hour in 2D, prompting audiences to switch between two different realities.

Ip Man 4

Later in the year, we’re likely to see Ip Man 4 directed by Wilson Yip (SPL: Kill Zone), who manned the helm of the other three films in the series. The Ip Man series is a biographical fictionalisation of the eponymous Wing Chun master and is notable for crossing cultural boundaries with its classic wuxia martial arts choreography and bankable star Donnie Yen (Chasing the Dragon, An Empress and the Warriors) in the title role. Featuring some scenes filmed in the UK, Ip Man 4 is expected this summer.

Fans of Chinese film should also look out for staples of the UK film festival calendar which often include UK premiers and Q&As with cast and crew. These include Chinese Visual Festival held each March at the BFI Southbank, Fighting Spirit showcasing the best martial arts and action in September, London East Asian Film Festival in October or November, and Filming East in January 2020.

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Matthew Hurst manages distribution for Cine Asia, bringing Chinese films such as Wolf Warrior II, Youth and Operation Red Sea to UK audiences. Based in London, his extensive film industry experience includes heading the Chinese Visual Festival 2018 Jury, writing for sites including RADII China and assisting Queer Asia Film Festival. He is a member of the China-Hollywood Society and a graduate of The University of Manchester.

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