A Century of Chinese Cinema

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in partnership with TIFF   June to early October 2014

London, April 2014

This summer the BFI is presenting the largest and most comprehensive exploration of Chinese cinema ever to be undertaken in the UK. A Century of Chinese Cinema programmed in partnership with TIFF, with the generous support of our season sponsors Lycamobile and Shangri-La and with special thanks to Cathay Pacific Airways, forms a key part of Electric Shadows, the Chinese term for movies or 电影“diànyĭng” and the name of the BFI’s extensive year-long programme of business, trade, creative and cultural collaborations with China.  2014 will see the BFI opening up previously hard-to-see Chinese cinema to UK audiences and making UK film accessible in China, to what will soon become the world’s biggest box office nation.

The BFI is making a wealth of Chinese cinema available across the UK.  In addition to an extended major four-month retrospective, A Century of Chinese Cinema at BFI Southbank from June to early October 2014, this wide-ranging celebration also features the nationwide release (20 June) of Spring in a Small Town (1948) plus screenings of other Chinese classic films in key cities throughout the UK, DVD releases, a lavishly illustrated new BFI Compendium publication on the history of Chinese cinema, written by many of the world’s foremost authorities on Chinese film, and digital content on the BFI Player of incredibly rare non-fiction films of China from 1901 to 1949 from the BFI National Archive including early actuality footage, travelogues, newsreels and home movies.

Highlights of the 80-plus film programme at BFI Southbank include a variety of offerings under five distinct strands:

The Golden Age – June 2014

The first golden age of Chinese cinema was defined by the classics of Shanghai cinema from the 1930s and 1940s which depicted the seedy yet sophisticated East-meets-West reputation of the cosmopolitan city.  Some of the best known films of this era include New Women (China 1935, Cai Chusheng) starring the ‘Greta Garbo of China’ Ruan Lingyu whose tragic early death at the age of 24 led her to become an icon of Chinese cinema, and the musical Street Angel (China 1937, Yuan Muzhi) portraying the daily struggles of Shanghai’s underclasses featuring popular Chinese singer and actress of the time, Zhou Xuan.  Regarded as the finest work from the first great era of Chinese filmmaking, Spring in a Small Town (China 1948, Fei Mu) was produced in 1948 prior to the Communist takeover in China and subsequently long suppressed by the regime.  It is now seen as a masterpiece and one of the greatest Chinese films ever made.  It will be released by the BFI in a new digital restoration at selected cinemas nationwide from 20 June.

A New China – June 2014

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 the cinematic output of the new nation saw filmmakers contend with the volatile years leading up to the Cultural Revolution in 1966.  Major films of this era include the gritty war film Shangrao Concentration Camp (Mainland 1951, Meng Sha & Zhang Ke) set in the hellish confines of a Guomindang (Nationalist) prison; the Shaw Brothers’ legendary musical The Love Eterne (Hong Kong 1963, Li Han-hsiang) based on the Chinese classic story The Butterfly Lovers which made a star of its lead Ivy Ling Po, sparked fanaticism amongst audiences and broke box-office records throughout Asia on its release; and Two Stage Sisters (Mainland 1964, Xie Jin) chronicling the different financial and political fortunes of two actresses in pre-revolutionary China.

Swordsmen, Gangsters and Ghosts – The Evolution of Chinese Genre Cinema – July 2014

This programme highlights the genre films that first brought Chinese cinema to international attention including the wuxia (swordplay) films that date back to China’s earliest filmmaking days, gangster movies which became a trademark of Hong Kong cinema and kung fu films such as Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection) (Hong Kong 1972, Lo Wei) starring the legendary Bruce Lee.  Other key titles include A Chinese Odyssey Part I: Pandora’s Box/Part II Cinderella (Hong Kong 1995, Jeffrey Lau) the fantasy martial arts comedy featuring comedian Stephen Chow, Police Story (Hong Kong 1985, Jackie Chan) showcasing international superstar Jackie Chan at his physical, comedic and creative peak, and Ang Lee’s exhilarating martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan/Hong Kong/USA/Mainland 2000) which brought global acclaim for Chinese cinema in the new millennium.

New Waves – August 2014

During the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese film dominated the international art-film scene with work from the Mainland’s Fifth Generation directors such as Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang and Zhang Yimou. Highlights include Chen’s Yellow Earth (Mainland 1984), a true milestone which helped propel China to the top ranks of global cinema, Tian’s The Horse Thief (Mainland 1986) one of the greatest achievements of Fifth Generation cinema famously praised by Martin Scorsese as the best film he saw in the 1990s, and Zhang’s neorealist-influenced The Story of Qiu Ju (Mainland 1992) which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and starred Zhang’s muse Gong Li which established her reputation as one of the world's most talented film actresses.

New Directions – September/October 2014

Leading up to and during the early years of the new century, a series of sexy, provocative and daring new films directed by acclaimed filmmakers such as Wong Kar-wai,

Jia Zhang-Ke and Wang Xiaoshuai built on the innovations of the New Wave era and ignited a renewed global interest in Chinese cinema.  Signature films of New Directions include Wong Kar-wai’s dazzling, offbeat romantic-comedy Chungking Express (Hong Kong 1994) and his sublime masterpiece of romantic longing In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong 2000) starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung which is a love letter to much of Chinese cinema history.

Check out the link here to the BFI website

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