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Friday, 13 January 2012

12 Chinese films I'm looking forward to in 2012 (part two)

Right, I'm back again. Here's the second (and final) part of my list of the most interesting looking Chinese films of 2012

7. I Not Naughty
Right, keep this one quiet: it's from Singapore and thus not exactly Chinese. If my wife finds out I'm watching Singaporean films, I'll be subject to a lengthy lecture about the inferiority of the Singaporeans. So let's just keep this between me and you, okay?

This is a followup to the enormously successful I Not Stupid and I Not Stupid Too. Jack Neo (again with the names) made a simple little film about thick kids at a Singaporean school. Now you'd think that would make for one of those standard Hollywood films about a class of kids at a failing school having their lives turned around by an unconventional teacher, but you'd be wrong.

After watching the amazing Iranian film Children of Heaven, Neo wanted to make a film that evoked a similar spirit. In Singapore, academic achievement is all-important and their educational system separates children into 'streams' according to academic ability. In a society not famous for allowing criticism of the government, Neo's resulting film satirising the education system created quite a stir and became one of the highest grossing films in Singaporean history. So great an impact did it have that it led to much public debate about the stigmatisation of academically-poor kids and even actual reform of the education system. Now you'd think that would make for a heavy and emotional film, but it's actually quite light-hearted in its approach and quite enjoyable to watch. That's not to say it's without some deeply distressing scenes and it can be quite uncomfortable to watch in places. It's a genuine make-you-laugh, make-you-cry, change-your-life film.

After an equally-successful sequel and a TV drama series, 2012 will see another sequel. Nothing is really known about it at the moment, but it's likely to be every bit as good and thought-provoking as the original.

8. Game of Assassins

Now this is a bit of a return to the old school. Beijing-based American stunt man Ian Powers and director Seven Miao (uh... yeah) are collaborating on a film very much in the style of so many Shaw Brothers classics.

The film features veteran actor Chen Kuan-tai as General Tu Jia who trains a trio of young fighters to seek revenge on the villainous King of Wei (Leung Kar-yen), only for one of them to be tempted from his mission by wealth and power.

There's no trailer for this one yet. So in the meantime here's Ian Power's impressive 2010 showreel

9. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Jet Li. Do I need to say anything more? Directed by Tsui Hark. It's a remake of a remake of a classic Taiwanese film. Yeah, that's definitely enough. Sure-fire swords and flying brilliance.

10. Qian Xuesen

Ah, now this one's a bit odd. I don't know the name of the film or anything about it other than it's based on the life story of Qian Xuesen.

You probably haven't heard of Qian Xuesen (or Hsue-Shen Tsien as the yankees tended to call him), but he's one of the most important people in the history of space flight. Back in the 1940s, he attended MIT and later Caltech, studying under von Karman (regarded as the foremost aerodynamic theoretician) and went on to become one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was the lead developer of America's first real rocket, the multi-stage Private A.

Americans being the paranoid dicks that they are, when Qian Xuesen applied for full citizenship in 1949, they decided he was a communist and rescinded his security clearance and stuck him in prison. Charming. Five years later, the Americans swapped him for some pilots the Chinese had captured during the Korean War and Qian headed home to start China's space programme instead.

I love space stuff and have right since I was a kid. Every school project where I had a choice of subject matter was about space. I love reading Starblazer comics partly because the back page always featured a satellite or spacecraft. Yep, I love space, but I hate NASA. They've managed to take a fascinating and exciting subject and make it dull as fuck. Oh yay, yet another Space Shuttle launch. Where's it going? Oh, the International Space Station. What's the ISS for? So the Space Shuttle's got somewhere to go. And what's the Space Shuttle for? To service the ISS. Ah...
Remember Starblazers? Then we ain't friends any more
Apart from the odd Mars probe, NASA have failed to do anything exciting since I was a young child. They complain about the public not being interested in what they're doing, but there's only so many communications satellite launches and weather probes you can watch before it becomes boring as hell.

I like China for a number of reasons, but one thing I'm so very pleased about is the Chinese space programme. Oh yes, they know how to do it right. I want to see people going to places and doing shit, not some glorified minivan that failed its own design brief going to low earth orbit (yet again) to tinker about with a fucking weather satellite. So when China went from chucking up unmanned flights to putting a guy in orbit in just a few years, I got interested again. China is working on its own space station and already has the first bit up there (bet you didn't know that) and has the thing scheduled to be completed just as the white elephant that is the ISS is retired. For extra fun, China's sending probes to the Moon shortly afterwards and plans to have an observatory on the lunar surface just after that. That's more like it! Heck, China's even got plans to send probes to Mars with a manned mission to follow up on that. Now that's proper space exploration. Fuck NASA.

Fei Tian aka Wentian I Wentian II
One of my favourite films of 2011 was Fei Tian. It wasn't terribly good as a film, with a story about Chinese taikonauts (astronauts) training to go into space, but the level of realism was fantastic. The Chinese space programme is considerably assisted by the Russians and their new-found desperation for cash and Fei Tian had unprecedented access to various Russian and Chinese space facilities which made for an amazing bit of space porn. Oh, it almost had me in tears at times.

So I'm very much looking forward to a film about the life of Qian Xuesen - the unsung hero of the American space programme and the father of Chinese rocketry. He was one of the first people who made space flight possible and one of the last to make it exciting.

11. The Warring States

Before China was unified by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang, there was what's called the Warring States Period. China was split into seven kingdoms, each led by a warlord intent on a bit of border expansion. It was a period of almost constant war and a lot of really cool military innovation took place during this time.

So director Chen Jin has decided to concentrate on the rivalry between two generals: Pang Juan and Sun Bin. Theirs is an interesting tale with Pang conspiring to imprison Sun in order to force him to reveal his military strategies and tactics. He succeeded, but Sun feigned insanity, to the point of living in a pigsty and eating pigshit (no, really) before escaping and uniting with a rival kingdom to fight Pang.

I should say that this film is very much made for a Chinese audience who are all familiar with the history and legends of the period. If you don't know the background, it's probably going to be a bit confusing. But if you enjoy massive battles, billions of arrows, espionage, zinjas (what the Chinese call ninjas), torture and some insanely clever military tactics, you'll at least be able to sit back and enjoy the excellent visuals.

War porn. It's a thing

12. The Great Magician

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (not to be confused with Tony Leung Ka-fai), The Great Magician is set during a turbulent period in Chinese history (the 1920s). Despite looking like a heavy period drama, it's actually a comedy about political intrigue and shifting alliances.

In the middle of it all is Tony Leung's character, returning to Beijing to reclaim his former love. It's bad timing as she's been taken as wife number seven by local warlord, General Lei who has coincidentally imprisoned Tony's former mentor. So with a cunning mix of tricks, both magic and martial, Tony Leung sets out to rescue everyone without getting himself (and everyone else) killed. Yeah, now I know that doesn't sound like a comedy and I know the trailer doesn't make it look like one either, but trust me on this. There's some daft bits in it like General Lei ordering his soldiers to drive a tank backwards down a street because the back end looks prettier. There's lots of fun little moments as the General bickers and fights with rival warlords (one of them played by Tsui Hark) and the General getting bullied by his six other wives. Yeah, there's a serious story in the midst of it all, but director Derek Yee retains the humour of Zhang Haifan's original book. Oh and Jackie Chan's in there in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance

And there we go. Those are the 12 (well, the other six) Chinese films I'm most looking forward to in 2012. Those and Jackie Chan's Chinese Zodiac film that I don't know anything about yet.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sick of English language film at the moment - if you can't abide CGI action films written by and for morons, you're expected to want upper/middle class people whinging and sleeping with each other's spouses for 120 minutes, possibly in period costumes. I don't believe I'm that difficult to please, and films with fantastic armour, Asian chicks with swords, and a bit of intrigue seem like a good idea to me. I need to watch more Chinese films.