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

Two New Movies and the Song – Week 26

This past week Camila Daya and I watched Beauty and the Beast dubbed in Mandarin twice (and she watched it couple of additional times in English). It’s a great learning source, just like The Little Mermaid, due to its high quality and “watchability”, the straightforward dialogues (not that I understand much of anything haha), and the catchy songs. On a side note, I noticed that buying some of these Mandarin-language Disney DVDs would be a good way to circumvent the lack of availability of Disney classics for regular purchase or legal download, since they have an English language option. I had tried buying Beauty and the Beast in the past for my daughter (regular edition, in English), but it seems to be a Disney marketing strategy to keep them off the market for long periods.

beauty_beast

I also watched a new Chinese movie, Shanghai Triad. It’s an excellent movie and I would highly recommend it, as long as you’re not looking for something to lift your spirits or restore your faith in humanity. Set in 1930s Shanghai, it’s an authentic Chinese gangster movie with some interesting twists. It’s a different style from any of the other Chinese movies I’ve seen to date and the first of this genre. I recognized the actress Gong Li from The Emperor and the Assassin and I subsequently realized I’ve also seen her in Farewell My Concubine and Memoirs of a Geisha (the Japanese movie). Gong Li is clearly one of China’s top actresses from the past three decades and I’m sure I’ll see a few more movies from her filmography in coming months.

shanghai_triad

Finally, I am persevering with THE SONG. Of course, I’m referring to Make a Man out of You, Mandarin version, from Mulan. I’m happy to report that after three hours of listening to it (over a few weeks) I can now sing along with six whole lines! I would have expected to take about 30 minutes to learn six lines. But no matter … I will stick with it. Who knows how awful my pronunciation may be, but it sounds okay to me! I can sing along to these five lines without missing a syllable. In the video above, I wasn’t very focused, so there are grosser mistakes.

I’ve watched very little Qiao Hu, which is what I should be doing, but I do get a few minutes in from time to time and you can look forward to a new study guide in August.

I will soon have completed 120 hours or 10% of my planned viewing time for the experiment, which will be my first big milestone. If I do that by next week, in my next post I hope to take stock of my progress and reflect on my hypothesis and way forward.