Intensive Mandarin Viewing – Week 49

Besides fertilizing my eucalyptus plantation and spending time with family, my major pursuit for the past couple of weeks has been language study, namely my Mandarin project. It’s great to be on vacation!

This week, I enjoyed sharing three of my favorite movies with my sister Sofia while at the farm. First, we watched my all-time favorite, Dragon or Wu xia, with its impressive acting, gorgeous visuals, cool martial arts sequences, enthralling storyline, psychological duels, and carefully crafted philosophical undertones. Next, we viewed the visually matchless House of Flying Daggers. The colors in the autumnal birch and bamboo forests, the luxurious bordello, and the historical costumes of soldiers and rebels delight the eye, as does the actress Zhang Ziyi. For those that prefer gazing at men, Takeshi Kaneshiro is a good-looking fellow and an excellent actor, who happens to also star in Dragon. Finally, we watched Hero, probably the overall highest quality Chinese film I’ve seen. Like House of Flying Daggers, it is visually stunning and is directed by Zhang Yimou and features Zhang Ziyi (although here she is in a secondary role). Like Dragon, it involves a subtle psychological battle—in this case between the king and Nameless, the hero played by Jet Li.

As a way to focus my viewing, I sometimes reference my word-a-day list as I watch movies. It is easy to do, since when I record terms I include the exact source in a simple database, allowing me to produce queried lists. Here is an example from the movie Dragon—probably my longest movie list, ready to use for beginning students of Mandarin. Please note I am watching the abridged version of Dragon for Western audiences, downloaded from Amazon, and the notation is not pin yin, but rather my own invention, based loosely on English phonetics.

TERM BEGIN TIME END TIME DAY
yinze 05:12 05:56 18-Oct-14
shu(r) 10:05 04-Oct-14
tjien 10:12 16-Nov-14
shee 10:22 05-Oct-14
chahng 10:28 06-Oct-14
ying shiung 12:30 07-Oct-14
fatzu 30:00 30:15 08-Oct-14
fa 30:48 30:55 17-Oct-14
yuan 31:34 28-Nov-14
bye 35:25 29-Nov-14
kan 35:52 02-Dec-14
cheezuh 48:50 19-Oct-14
guh 52:00 52:08 03-Dec-14
ju 53:00 20-Oct-14
hi 58:57 04-Aug-14
yao 1:11:27 31-Aug-14
jia 1:18:10 21-Oct-14

I have also been enjoying the sadistic machinations of the Boonie Bears recently, logging many hours of viewing without subtitles. Less enjoyable, but highly profitable, is the time spent on Qiao Hu. The following graph shows my erratic weekly viewing from October through December, followed by my traditional hours-of-viewing graph, which now spans over 11 months. hours_oct-nov-14       hours_25-dez-14

To conclude this week’s post, I’d like to mention my excitement about the Christmas present my wife gave me—a shortwave radio. This technology may have made a lot more sense 20 or 30 years, before the advent of the Internet and online radio. Nonetheless, here in Brazil and especially when out at the farm, camping, or backpacking, reliable Internet is not ubiquitous.

Thus, if I am able to tune in to foreign-language radio, it will be great for my language studies. For now, I am interested in finding and listening to French-language radio for my French fluency recovery project. In the future, however, when I understand a lot more Mandarin, Chinese radio may be a great listening source. In my preliminary dabbling with the radio, I was surprised not to hear any French, but to pick up several Mandarin stations! It’s a new world.

Rottentofu.com and Zhang Yimou – Week 37

A side benefit of my experiment is that by the time I’m done I may be hired by The New York Times as their official Chinese film critic. If not, I can at least be a top critic at rottentofu.com (Hmmm, I wonder if that domain has already been registered. Let me check . . . No! It was available, so I just registered it myself – haha! If you don’t believe me, go ahead and search for the registration information at http://www.register.com/whois.rcmx). Best $5 I ever spent!

So let me know if you have any ideas for my new website, www.rottentofu.com. I’m not sure when I’ll actually set it up, but the basic idea, that I have been carefully crafting over the past few seconds, is to create a website specializing in reviews of Asian films.

Of course, I’m joking about becoming a film critic (not about the website), but I am gradually becoming a Chinese cinephile. I’ve begun paying more attention to Chinese actors and directors than I ever did with Hollywood. In the past, I’ve rarely chosen to watch movies primarily because of the cast, much less the director. However, as it becomes increasingly difficult for me, as a Westerner living in Brazil, to find high-quality films in Mandarin, I think I will begin doing just that: searching for all the films made by the directors I admire, and to a lesser extent starring the actors that I most enjoy watching.

Fortunately, I have my Chinese films table, which I have reworked to start analyzing—and to share with you—the cast and directors from the movies I’ve watched thus far. You can see the results at the end of this post.

I didn’t even realize until I began tabulating this data that I already have a clear favorite as a director: Zhang Yimou. Out of the 20 Chinese movies that I have watched so far and consider good cinema, an astounding seven of them were directed by Zhang. Here’s a short biography, mostly based on information available from Wikipedia.

Zhang was born in Shaanxi Province. His father had fought for Chiang Kai-Shek’s army during the Chinese Civil War, and his uncle and older brother fled to Taiwan, leading to problems for Zhang early in life. He worked as a farm laborer and in a textile mill for many years before studying photography and cinema and subsequently becoming a successful director.

Seven of his films have been the Chinese submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film and one was the Hong Kong submission; three of these were nominated, although none took first prize.

An interesting fact is that Zhang’s career grew in tandem with that of actress Gong Li. His first seven films, between 1987 and 1995, starred Gong Li as lead actress. By the time they were making Shanghai Triad together, in 1995, they were also romantically involved, but their personal and professional relationship ended with that film. Gong Li would appear in a Zhang Yimou film again only in 2006.

In the interim, Zhang made three great movies from my list with another gorgeous and talented actress, Zhang Ziyi: The Road Home, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers. Meanwhile, Gong Li continued her stellar acting career with other directors, including the film The Emperor and the Assassin, which I enjoyed and also recommend. Interestingly, she also worked alongside Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha—which generated intense controversy, since the geishas were played by star Chinese, and not Japanese, actresses in this Steven Spielberg film!

Curse of the Golden Flower reinstated Gong Li and Zhang Yimou’s professional relationship. Zhang’s latest movie, Coming Home (which I have not watched as it is apparently not yet available for download) also stars Gong Li. I can’t wait to see it!

Here is the list of my recommended Chinese movies in Mandarin. I’ve grouped the list by director. You will note that another director is quite prominent on my list, Ang Lee (a Taiwanese American). It’s surprising that more than half of my 20 recommended Chinese Mandarin-language films were directed by just two people. For those not yet familiar with my complete list, the aggregate score is based on a variety of factors—the most heavily weighted being my personal ratings, Rotten Tomatoes critics ratings, and IMDb users ratings.

Name of Movie Aggregate Score Order watched Year Director Star 1 Star 2
Hero 9.8 3 2002 Zhang Yimou Jet Li Ziyi Zhang
House of Flying Daggers 8.8 13 2004 Zhang Yimou Ziyi Zhang Takeshi Kaneshiro
Shanghai Triad 8.6 25 1995 Zhang Yimou Li Gong
The Road Home 8.4 10 1999 Zhang Yimou Ziyi Zhang
The Story of Qiu Ju 7.9 32 1992 Zhang Yimou Li Gong
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 7.2 11 2005 Zhang Yimou
Curse of the Golden Flower 7.0 27 2006 Zhang Yimou Li Gong Yun-Fat Chow
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 8.5 6 2000 Ang Lee Ziyi Zhang Yun-Fat Chow
The Wedding Banquet 8.4 30 1993 Ang Lee
Eat Drink Man Woman 8.2 31 1994 Ang Lee
Lust, Caution 7.8 28 2007 Ang Lee Tony Chiu Wai Leung
Journey to the West 9.1 8 2013 Stephen Chow
Shower 8.9 22 2000 Yang Zhang
The Emperor and the Assassin 8.3 14 1998 Kaige Chen Li Gong
Farewell my Concubine 7.6 1 1993 Kaige Chen Li Gong
A Touch of Sin 8.3 12 2013 Zhangke Jia
Fearless 7.9 9 2006 Ronny Yu Jet Li
Warlords 7.1 18 2007 Peter Chan Jet Li Andy Lau
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon 7.0 19 2013 Hark Tsui
Red Cliff 2 6.9 16 2009 John Woo
Red Cliff 1 6.9 15 2008 John Woo Tony Chiu Wai Leung Takeshi Kanemoro

By Camila Daya (6 years old) – Week 8

I’m 6 years old and my name is Camila. I speak English and Portuguese and I’m learning Spanish. This experiment [is] for [me] to learn Chinese. Maybe I will learn Chinese. I love doing the experiment. One day I would like to go to China.

I watched Boonie Bears to the Rescue and Hero. The Boonie Bears show, too. I watched [episodes] 1 to 30, 40, and 90 of Boonie Bears. I love Boonie Bears. I like [another show] so-so—I don’t know what’s the name, but I know that it has sheep and wolves.

[Here are some words and expressions I have learned.] Loushasha means sir (e “senhor” [in Portuguese]). Ao means ouch. Puna is no. Shere is yes. And ginger means today. Wa means I. Ni means you. Shei means who. Nishishei means who are you.

My six-year-old daughter is going full steam ahead with the Mandarin acquisition experiment, and is gradually catching up to me on viewing time, as you can see in the graph below. Therefore, I asked her to write the blog entry this week.

In the first version above, I changed the order of the sentences, corrected spelling and punctuation, and added some text in brackets for clarity. The original text, as she wrote it by herself, without any help, follows below.

Louxaxa means sir e sinhor I wach boonie bers to the rsqeu and hero ao means ouch .

Puna is no shere is yes . boonie bears show to 1 day I wad. like to go to china and ginger means today wa .means I ni means you shei means who. nishishei means. whow are you. I .wach  1 to 30 and 40 and 99 of boonie bears  this experiment is for I to learn  chines  maybe I wil learn chines  I love boonie bears .

I like soso  I don’t now wats the name but I now that has a sheeps and wolfs.

I’m 6 years old and my name is Camila I speek inglish and portiguis and i’m learning Spanish.

I love doing the experiment

hours_8