The Film Society of Lincoln Center will feature the best in Chinese contemporary cinema with On the Edge: New Independent Cinema from China 2009, at the Walter Reade Theater from Friday, April 24 through Sunday, April 26, (Three Days). A weekend series of seven films, with directors in person at many screenings, this short but thoughtful compendium opens with Zhang Lü’s Chongqing, a panoramic, multi-generational portrait of the titular city and Ying Liang’s The Other Half, a highlight of the 2007 New Directors/New Films. This series follows up the 2007 edition which hosted auteurs Jia Zhang-ke introducing The World and Li Yang with Blind Shaft, amongst others.
Although privately financed cinema has been allowed in China since the mid-1990s, the nation’s films and filmmakers continue to face both strained relations with the government and limited opportunities to be shown at home. On the Edge offers direct, often controversial looks at a society undergoing an unprecedented transformation, taking international viewers to parts of the country that are almost never seen by foreigners. Though little known in China itself, these unique works have made an impressive mark on the international state, winning major festival awards.
Other highlights in the series include Peng Tao’s Little Moth (Sat, April 25), which, in the words of Robert Koehler of Variety, “melds the anger and storytelling scope of Dickens [and] the documentary-influenced immediacy and sensitive gaze of the Dardenne brothers”; Zhang Lü’s Iri, a companion to Chongqing (the two were originally to be a single feature) about the Korean city Iksan (known as Iri before a destructive 1977 train station explosion); and Ying Liang’s newest, Good Cats (both playing Sun, April 26).
Directors Zhang Lu, Ying Liang and Yang Lin (Er Dong) will all appear in person. See below for schedule.
In conjunction with this series, a panel discussion on new Chinese cinema will be held at Dodge Hall, Columbia University on Sunday, April 26. Speakers will include Richard Peña, The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Program Director and co-curator of the series; Lydia Liu, Columbia Professor in the Humanities; and Zhang Zhen, Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
This series has been selected by Bao Weihong in association with Richard Peña. It is made possible through the support of The Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, The Arts Initiative at Columbia University, The Columbia University Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, The Film Studies Program at Columbia University.
Friday, April 24
9:00 The Other Half
Saturday, April 25
1:30 Er Dong
4:30 Ma Wu Jia
6:45 Little Moth
Sunday, April 26
6:20 Good Cats
Zhang Lü, South Korea/Japan, 2008; 95m HD Panoramic
Chinese-Korean director Zhang Lü’s specialty is stories that deal with China’s intercultural or cross-border issues. Chongqing, originally meant to be a prologue within Iri, was born from the plentiful footage he shot in the eponymous Chinese city, the country’s most populated urban conglomerate. Weaving together several separate episodes, Zhang provides a panoramic, multi-generational portrait of those left out of the Chinese miracle. He depicts the city as a restless, ever-expanding creature, ready to devour any inhabitant that falls out of line.
Fri Apr 24: 6:45pm
Yang Jin, China, 2008; 150m Digibeta
Yang Jin’s second feature is a documentary-flavored portrait spanning several years in the life of simple country boy Er Dong (“winter child”). He lives in a small village with his mother, who, frustrated with his misbehavior, takes him to a Christian school to find God and a new direction in life. Instead, he finds a girlfriend, Chang’e. When they are expelled from school, they must face up to the tough economic reality of contemporary China, as well as the demons of Er Dong's past.
Sat Apr 25: 1:30pm
Good Cats / Hao mao
Ying Liang, China, 2008; 103m DVCAM
Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously maintained that a cat’s color doesn’t matter, so long as it catches mice. Director Ying Liang’s newest film Good Cats takes Deng’s dictum to heart, following a chauffeur for a dubious real estate magnate who has plans to move into the economic driver’s seat regardless the means. Set in the rapidly urbanizing Sichuan, Ying's provocative vision frames everyday life within a series of inescapable paradoxes infused with surreal events that play out on the border between reality, absurdity, and hallucination.
Sun Apr 26: 6:20pm
Zhang Lü, South Korea, 2008; 108m HD Panoramic
Zhang Lü’s beautifully acted Korean film is set in the industrial city of Iksan, formerly Iri, which suffered a devastating and still unexplained train station explosion in 1977. The 30th anniversary of the tragedy launches this glimpse at a society still struggling with its aftermath. Jin-seo (Yoon Jin-seo), born shortly after the disaster, has the mental capabilities of a child. She is easy prey for the men in town, and her quiet suffering soon takes its toll on her brother Tae-woong (Eum Tae-woong).
Sun Apr 26: 8:45pm
Little Moth / Xue chan
Peng Tao, China, 2007; 99m Digibeta
“Little Moth…melds the anger and storytelling scope of Dickens, the documentary-influenced immediacy and sensitive gaze of the Dardenne brothers, and the best tendencies of recent Chinese cinema.”—Robert Koehler, Variety
An impoverished country couple adopts a young girl who suffers from a crippling blood disease to work with them as a beggar on the city streets. Falling victim themselves to local extortionists, they move into the territory of the unsavory Mr. Wang, whose one-armed boy seems to have been acquired for a similar purpose. But this tale of the poor exploiting the destitute takes a poignant and unexpected turn when the children befriend each other.
Sat Apr 25: 6:45pm
Ma Wu Jia
Zhao Ye, China, 2007; 95m DVCAM
Animator Zhao Ye makes his feature-film debut with this challenging contemporary fable about the wages of personal sacrifice. Ah Jia lives in a small town in Guangxi. Always in trouble with the authorities and neighbors, he is nevertheless obsessed with helping his ailing brother. But how long will it be before family duty clashes with his own desires? Persuasively acted by a non-professional cast, Ma Wu Jia offers a poignant counterpoint between serene, small-town beauty and the gripping drama that envelops Ah Jia and his family.
Sat Apr 25: 4:30pm
The Other Half / Ling yi ban
Ying Liang, China, 2006; 111m
“Xiaofen lives in one of the dynamically growing cities in Southwestern China, but her work for a law firm…is merely routine. When not at work, she must deal with her down-and-out boyfriend Deng Geng…Life is also hard for her girlfriends and her mother, and Xiaofen is increasingly distressed by what she witnesses around her. In his second feature film, Ying Liang playfully pits youth culture against more traditional ways and interrelates one woman's reality to the changing economic and social structures in contemporary China.”—New Directors/New Films 2007
Fri Apr 24: 9:00pm
Single screening tickets for On the Edge: New Independent Cinema from China 2009 are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at filmlinc.com. For more information, call (212) 875-5601.