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Chinese Film Festival - June 2000, Melbourne

Following on from the French Film Festival held at the same venue (Como Cinema, Melbourne) a couple of months back, this Chinese Film Festival was presented. It seems to now be a growing trend, having these festivals of national cinemas.

This festival attracted modest crowds, and the brochure presentation was not up to par (the info on years and directors below is taken from the poster, which is missing information), but this was a welcome festival anyway. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to see these films.

Eight films were presented:

(MY RATINGS SYSTEM:   0 = Bottom Ten of all time;  1 = Abysmal;  2 = Very Poor;  3 = Poor;  4 = Below Average;  5 = Average;  6 = Good;  7 = Very Good;  8 = Great;  9 = Masterpiece;  10 = Top Ten of all time.)

Crossroads     (Shen Xiling, no year in program - circa late 1930s)

My impression:    Like much of the cinema of the '30s, a story marked by depression (the financial, but also the spiritual, kind). Shanghai, and graduates can't get jobs, are behind in their rent, etc. But there's a playful, hopeful spirit on show, as our romantic couple tussle and sidle, like in any good '30s romantic comedy. The film has a casual, modest air about it, occasionally hitting some nice emotional peaks (thanks mainly to the coy but radiant performance by Bai Yang). Uneven, but pleasing.           (7)

Early Spring in February    (Tieli Xie, no year in program - around 1963)

That strange, muted early '60s colour on show here, combined with a sparse soundtrack and simple sets, creating a somewhat artificial feel overall. And yet a number of the shots are quite beautiful, of melting snow, blossoming trees, etc. A man returns to a small town, and gets entangled with two different women. He slowly realises that his actions have consequences, but then he begins "vacillating" (a key word). A solidly-made melodrama.        (6)

Xilian         (Sun Sha, no year in program - recent film)

A sprinkling of populism over a story of a feisty, strong-willed woman. Very much a broad drama, somewhat crudely put together, not making (emotional) matters that clear to the audience (the dynamics of the triangle situation are muddled). And the over-acting causes some unintentional comedy. (It's maybe the first time I've heard voice-over which is indistinguishable from the character's normal dialogue voice.) Overall, a good story, basically done.        (5)

The Lin Family Shop       (Shui Hua, no year in program - late 1950s)

Like Crossroads, set in the depressed '30s, but made several decades later. A shopkeeper and his family struggle to survive (economically and psychologically). There's a strong element of realism here, in the rundown buildings, and in the overall design. And the street/crowd scenes are frayed and frantic. Early on, with the snow and the shopkeeper's stocks falling, it builds a momentum of quiet nightmare (á la It's a Wonderful Life), but then settles back into being a conventional drama, adequately directed, adequately acted.         (5)

New Year Sacrifice        (Sang Hu, no year in program - early 1960s)

Bai Yang, from Crossroads, and a lot less radiant, as she suffers through more misfortune. She over-does the acting a bit, especially towards the end, but it is the only thing in the film that is misguided. Sang Hu directs this film with surety, his mise en scène is classical and spacious, and the performances are nuanced and measured. That said, the film is plain emotionally, not really generating much feeling for the characters within the spectator.       (7)

A Beautiful New World 
         (Runjiu Shi, no year in program - recent)

Country bumpkin alights in Shanghai, lives with his cynical aunt (who is younger than him, and a distant aunt). This is a good-natured film, rollicking us through various adventures with our hero. He is someone who wears everything on his sleeve, yet he also has something up his sleeve. And the film finally leans towards a romance, a romance between opposites. Overall, quite nice, but nothing interesting cinematically.         (6)

Lovers' Grief over the Yellow River      (Xiaoning Feng, recent)      and
Genghis Khan     (Sai Fu and Mai Lisi, recent)          also screened, but I did not see them.

© Bill Mousoulis July 2000
This review first appeared in Senses of Cinema, No.8, July-Aug 2000.