HKMDB Daily News

January 31, 2014

Web Junkie (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 3:59 pm

Web Junkie

1/26/2014 by Duane Byrge

The Bottom Line
A startling look at China’s Internet addiction centers.

China has declared that “Internet addiction” is a clinical disorder. It is called “electronic heroin,” befitting the seriousness of the malady. To counter this spreading malaise, the Chinese government has established a network of rehab centers to “reform” the “junkies.”

Filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia probe this phenomenon, jarring viewers with an inside look at one of these “reform” centers, as well as shedding light on the mindset of these Internet “addicts.”

The usual suspects: lonely, introverted teenage boys. The motive: virtual reality exceeds their humdrum lives. Characteristically, they are alienated from their parents and, thanks to China’s one-child law, they have no siblings. In short, this so-called “Internet Addiction” is both a social phenomenon and obsessive disorder.

These “addicts’” social and personal life is embedded in the Web. On the Internet, they can triumph and establish relationships, which they seem incapable of doing in “real” life. In this provocative film, we see the centers are, essentially, boot camps. The facilities are a combination jail and military barracks. The “patients” wear camouflage-style uniforms and are regimented. Their rehab is relentless: a grueling mix of exercise, discussions and, on occasion, meetings with staff and parents.

Not surprisingly, most are hostile to the degradation, which only seems to intensify their dissatisfaction with the “real” world. While Web Junkie reboots to a “happy” ending — one inmate leaves the compound, presumably cured — we can only expect that the rate of recidivism will be high for this dubious “cure.”

Production companies: Shlam Prods., Know Prods.
Directors: Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia
Producers: Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia, Neta Zwebner-Zaibert
Director of photography: Sun Shaoguang
Music: Ran Bagno
Editor: Enat Sidi
No rating, 74 minutes


Web Junkie (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 3:45 pm

Web Junkie
January 26, 2014
A bizarre and entertaining documentary about China’s attempts to reprogram its Internet-addicted youth.

Dennis Harvey

Set in the first nation to classify Web addiction as a clinical diagnosis, “Web Junkie” takes a look at the Chinese government’s attempt to stem this “No. 1 public health threat to teenagers” via rehabilitation camps, where such afflicted youth (apparently mostly boys) are subjected to a mix of traditional therapy and militaristic discipline. From what we see, these rather old-school attempts to address a very 21st-century problem are none too successful. But with filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia granted extraordinary access to one facility, they make for a bizarre and entertaining documentary that should appeal to fest programmers and arts/educational broadcasters around the globe.

This particular center on the outskirts of Beijing is among more than 400 built so far to treat “troubled” teens. Of course, they don’t think they’ve got a problem, even if some confess to going days on end without food or sleep to play “World of War,” neglecting their studies, lying to their parents to sneak off to the Internet cafe, etc. But the elephant in the room appears to be a generation gap: Parents raised in strict service to the Communist Party, family and work are utterly baffled by their disrespectful offspring, whose exposure to other cultures and consumerist values online makes those priorities seem boring or irrelevant.

Nonetheless, all this is taken very seriously by the adults — albeit much less so by the youngsters, who abide by the facility’s rules only because it makes life easier and will probably get them home faster. It’s hard not to wince (and laugh) when one boy, asked “What did you do (to be sent here)?” sobs, “I used the Internet!” Certainly none of them fit a Western notion of delinquency beyond standard adolescent rebelliousness. As the gap widens between this society’s interest in controlling a conformist population, and the encouragement toward free (if often frivolous) thought that Internet access spurs, China faces a crisis: How can it continue to globalize its economy without the next generation of citizens globalizing themselves?

The group therapy sessions we see between children and parents seem a genuine if sometimes clunky attempt at bridge building. On the other hand, some of the instruction feels as corny to the kids as it does to us, cautioning that the Internet is “electronic heroin” and that friendships with other alienated kids online are illusory. Nor does it help that most of the residents have been tricked, drugged and/or physically forced to come here, pitting them further against their parents. When we see the seemingly average, personable teens talk among themselves in their dorm rooms, their bonding under adversity and ridiculing of the program don’t suggest major behavior modification is imminent. As they see it, the world their elders live in is the real problem. “Reality is too fake,” one says.

The brisk, lively technical package is well turned in all departments.

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 19, 2014. Running time: 79 MIN.

(Documentary — Israel-U.S.) A Schlam Prods. and Know Prods. presentation in association with Yes Docu, Impact Partners, Warrior Poets, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Tribeca Gucci, New Foundation for Film and TV. (International sales: Dogwoof, London.) Produced by Hilla Medalia, Shosh Shlam, Neta Zwebner-Zaiberg. Executive producers, Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Eve Ensler.

Directed by Shosh Shlam, Hilla Medalia. Camera (color, HD), Sun Shaogang; editor, Enat Sidi; music, Ran Bagno; sound, Li Zhe.

Wang Yuchao, Xi Wang, Gao Qunce, Tao Ran. (Mandarin dialogue)

December 3, 2013

The Road to Fame (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , , — dleedlee @ 5:11 pm

The Road to Fame

December 2, 2013
Ronnie Scheib

A showcase performance of “Fame” at Beijing’s prestigious Central Academy of Drama turns into a portrait of the first generation affected by China’s one-child policy in “The Road to Fame,” Hao Wu’s documentary about the first China-Broadway collaboration. These students — simultaneously “spoiled” and under tremendous pressure, raised in relative affluence but embodying all their parents’ hopes and fears — bring different levels of emotional baggage to the desperate-to-make-it ethos belted out over the course of the show. Empathetic pic could click with assorted TV auds, including China watchers, musical-theater aficionados and connoisseurs of cross-cultural phenomena.

Though Wu never belabors the obvious parallels between the play’s school-set plot and the Chinese drama students’ own situations, he nevertheless bookends his documentary with two moments of congruence between real life and make-believe. At the opening, he films hopeful candidates anxiously scanning the acceptance list for the exclusive academy, then cuts to a scene onstage where fictional “Fame” characters rejoice in their admittance to New York’s High School of Performing Arts. (At the end, the play’s mortarboard-tossing finale also closes the Academy’s graduation performance.)

Wu’s coverage of the students’ “Fame” rehearsals is multifaceted, but what registers most palpably is the desire of these aspiring actors to get noticed by visiting pros from China’s entertainment industry. Curiously, early run-throughs are in English, the troupers thoroughly familiarizing themselves with the original material before transitioning to Mandarin translations. “A” and “B” casts are chosen, a two-tiered strategy somehow at odds with the musical’s inclusive, aspirational spirit. Wu freely intercuts between the two ensembles, sometimes even mid-song. But despite the school’s proviso that later casting changes might be made, time constraints nix any switching, and although both casts are accorded almost the same number of performances, studio recruiters only come out for the “A” team.

Wu’s emphasis on the Academy’s students as representatives of the first generation of one-child families is echoed throughout in interviews with the kids and parents. One rich boy, Zhang Xiao, matter-of-factly shows off his ritzy apartment and myriad pairs of shoes, knowing that his father, a big shot in the music world, will pull strings to pave his way. At the other end of the spectrum, Chen Lei’s parents are poor, cannot understand her ambition and expect to eventually move in with her; Chen, who dreams of emigrating abroad, feels torn, unwilling to hurt them but unable to conform to their expectations. Somewhere in the middle, Fei has a father who proudly celebrates his son’s matriculation at the Academy with a lavish banquet but, at the same time, writes poetry advising him toward modesty and moderation.

Oddly, the parent/child split recalls the mutual incomprehension between the baby boomers of 1960s America, raised in affluence, and their Depression-era elders. But here, a general reverence for family, heightened by only-child interdependence, leads to tension and compromise rather than rebellion.

The instructors at the Academy, who have known severe hardship themselves, consider the students overindulged and unrealistic in their expectations. Liu Hongmei, the main Chinese director of the play, talks about the difficulty of achieving success in a fascinating montage of action scenes from her brief film career as a martial-arts actress, before she opted for teaching. Together with Jasper Grant, the young, gung-ho, impossibly upbeat-sounding American musical director who joins the production midstream, the teachers collude to bring the students down a peg. Grant holds auditions to see which lucky winners will accompany him to Broadway and chooses eight students. Then Liu announces that the promise was a hoax, an illusion — a life lesson, as it were — to the bitter disappointment of Chen, who sees her dream come true and then turn to dust.

Throughout, Hao’s focus on individual students struggling to secure key roles in the production invites viewer identification. A coda, shot three years after graduation, updates their roads to fame, or to its opposite.

Film Review: ‘The Road to Fame’
Reviewed at Doc NYC, New York, Nov. 16, 2013. Running time: 80 MIN.

(Documentary — China) A Tripod Media production in co-production with BBC, VPRO, CNEZ, DR. Produced by Liu Changying, Hao Wu. Executive producers, Jean Tsien, Nick Fraser, Kate Townsend, Barbara Truyen, Ben Tsiang, Ruby Chen, Chao-Wei Chang, Mette Hoffman Meyer. Co-producer, Eric Wong; co-executive producer, Don Frantz.

Directed by Hao Wu. Camera (color, HD), Kai P. Yang, Hao; editors, Jean Tsien, Hao; supervising sound editor, Peter Levin; sound editors, Barbara Parks, William Hsieh.

Zhang Xiao, Chen Lei, Yaoyao, Wu Heng, Fei, Liu Hongmei, Jasper Grant, Xionghui. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

September 24, 2013

Mothers (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:52 pm

9/24/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A riveting documentary that speaks volumes about mainland China’s official family-planning policies and the insensitivity they breed among apparatchiks — and the pain among the masses.

The mind-boggling thing about Xu Huijin’s new documentary Mothers doesn’t lie with the the cynicism which drives low-level apparatchiks in coaxing or coercing women in a small Chinese village to be sterilized. What astounds is the officials’ lack of qualms in allowing their modus operandi to be recorded on tape — they are shown agitating for a longtime refusenik’s children to be kicked out of school so as to get her to relent, and later joke about just grabbing her to go under the knife in the van they’re travelling in — and their on-screen admission how their work is more about fulfilling quotas than the state’s high-sounding population-policy objectives.

This indifference about having their indifference and inhumanity caught on camera illustrates how such dysfunction is now very much ingrained into the bureaucratic or even social psyche; what could have been positioned as villains in melodrama are now shown as just banal servants to a cold political order. And when the film also features the cadres as toddler-loving beings while off duty — one of them oversees a temple commemorating a goddess of child-giving, another dotes on his baby at home when he’s not trying to get women sterilized at work — it’s evident that Xu’s indictment lies with the system rather than just individual antagonists.

Revealing yet restraining from simplistic judgements, Mothers — who has just won second prize at the annual Chinese Documentary Festival in Hong Kong on Sep. 20 — is poised to feature in more festivals and international human-rights-themed programs, after its appearance at home at the Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival and then abroad at the Jeonju International Film Festival and then the Sheffield Doc/Fest in Britain.

In the film’s prologue, Xu appears briefly on camera as his voiceover explains how his mother had told him how he, as a second child, “wasn’t supposed to be born”. But he was, amidst a time when the Chinese government was frantic in implementing their family planning policies: city-dwellers could only have one child, and rural citizens have the leeway of having two. Extra babies would bring about a fine; but for those living in villages, women who have given birth to two children are legally bound for sterilization — and just like many of Beijing’s directives, this opens the way to confusion and chaos on the ground, as municipal officials demand party cadres set a definite quota of women which have to be operated on every year.

And Mothers is about how a group of low-level cadres in a small hamlet in the northwestern Chinese province of Shanxi struggle to fulfill that request, as if it’s a divine message they could not defy — a religious metaphor brought to mind when the film begins with images of a bombastic rite celebrating the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Leading the way is Zhang Qingmei (pictured), the village’s “director of women’s care” who is at once the officer responsible for getting women sterilized, and also the shaman taking care of the local fertility-themed temple: showing the director and his camera around the shrine, she freely talked about Mao as having “attained sainthood” and is “akin to an emperor” — descriptions which could readily be seen as reactionary, superstitious talk in official party discourse.

Zhang’s beliefs in Mao is just part of the retrogressive attitudes being perpetuated in the village: the film also shows children singing a ditty about a man who tries to kill himself for not being able to “buy a wife”, while the deputy village head Zhang Guohong (yes, the people actually allowed themselves to be named in full) deploys every trick in his bureaucrats’ book in forcing reluctant young mothers to be operated on. What this means is constant bargaining with his charges about the approval of hukou,a domestic registration without which individuals could not enjoy full citizens’ rights in their locale; in another instance, the man is seen actually offering to pay the women to get operated on, so that he could come up with the numbers as dictated to him from above.

With its abundance of telling DV-filmed sequences about the desperation of these officials, and an edit which brings everything together as if it’s a documentary-style thriller, Mothers offers a riveting viewing and a revealing picture of the pain brought about by insensitive political dictums. And the torment can be very real: the documentary ends with the officials’ elusive quarry, a young woman called Rongrong, finally apprehended (probably because of her children being suspended from their studies) and limping her way off the cadres’ van, and then lying sullen and pained in bed.

Xu’s final voiceover — delivered over a static image of the brown, rustic landscape in which the village is located – stated how a leading Chinese government official has hinted at a possible rethink over the now almost three-decades-old “one-child policy”. For the mothers in Mothers and the society they are supposed to be part of, it’s perhaps too late.

Venue: Chinese Documentary Festival, Hong Kong

Production Companies: EVO Productions, CNEX Foundation Limited

Director: Xu Huijing

Producers: Ben Tsiang, Hai Zhiqiang

Associate Producer: Warren Chien

Executive Producers: Shijian, Chang Chao-wei, Ruby Chen

Cinematographer: Xu Huijing

Editors: Liao Qingsong, Xu Huijing, Huang Yiling

Music: Liu Qi

International Distributor: CNEX Foundation Limited

In Mandarin

No ratings, 68 minutes

September 23, 2013

Emergency Room China (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:58 pm

Emergency Room China
9/23/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A gritty, low-budget documentary offering yet another nuanced look at how civil servants — well-meaning medical staff this time — operate amidst red tape and rough and tumble members of the Chinese public.

More than a decade after completing his directorial debut Housie Township, Zhou Hao has established himself as one of mainland China’s most important documentary makers with films that survey the different aspects of how the state works, and also how those working for the state navigate (and exploit) a system addled with fundamental flaws.

Starting in 2010 with The Transition Period (which tracks the daily life of a municipal-level party cadre — complete with sequences about dodgy dealings and all — and then in 2011 and 2012 with the Cop Shop diptych (which explore how police officers perform their duties with a very flexible approach to citizens’ rights), Zhou is seemingly working his way down the power chain. With Emergency Room China — which just won the Best Feature award at Hong Kong’s annual Chinese Documentary Festival on Saturday — he has reached the frontline of social schisms with a look at life among doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and ever-returning patients at a hospital in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou.

With its revealing observations about the circumstances in which the ER medics operate, Zhou’s film can be read as a microcosmic view of the problems in mainland China in general: while red tape bounds hospital staff from doing their best to meet their patients’ needs, spiraling social problems add to their woes as they deal with contraband-liquor-related fatalities, a drug addict falling to his death in the presence of undercover cops, people ringing hotlines for help and then refusing to be transported to the hospital, and phony patients (or hypochondriacs?) who hang around the ER every day, requesting medication for imaginary illnesses and talking about pills as if they are bread and butter.

Largely devoid of voiceovers or expositional text providing a context in which these real-life characters go about their business — and hospitals are indeed businesses, given how they are self-financed to the extent that, for example, ambulance drivers and medics earn a living directly from fees paid by patients using their services — Emergency Room China is the gritty observational-style mainland Chinese documentary that is expected to travel widely to festivals. Having first premiered at the Chinese Visual Festival in London in May before returning to Asia with two screenings in Hong Kong last week, the film could well follow The Transition Period (which was picked up by dGenerate Films) to odd bookings in documentary programs in the U.S.

It’s a challenging film, still, both in terms of engaging with the documentation of the mundane and its potentially disturbing imagery of the dying and the dead. But Zhou’s heart as a filmmaker is very much throbbing on his sleeve, a spirit brought to life with the help of Peng Xin’s deft editing of the raw material. The film’s minor aesthetic pitfalls — debate could ensue about how Zhou’s presence might have dictated some confessional chit-chats, and hindered the development of other threads — are easily overshadowed by that enthusiasm.

Venue: Chinese Documentary Festival, Hong Kong
Production Companies: 21stCentury Media, Shanghai Media Group
Director: Zhou Hao
Producers: Shen Hao, Gan Chao
Cinematographers: Qiu Haorun, Zhou Hao
Editor: Peng Xin
In Mandarin and Cantonese
No ratings, 89 minutes

September 10, 2013

Unveil the Truth II – State Apparatus (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 1:41 pm

Unveil the Truth II – State Apparatus

9/10/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A no-frills documentary driven by straightforward confrontation between an activist-director and his bureaucrat quarry, which unfolds like a black farce

Taiwan has always boasted of the most vibrant and uninhibited documentary-making scene in the various Chinese-speaking territories of East Asia. That position is given another boost by Kevin H.J. Lee’s latest documentary, tackling – nearly literally – official wrongdoing in the island’s long-running containment of avian flu outbreaks.

Beyond the sometimes hard-to-digest technicalities and the slightly limited visual template — such as the television-style rolling-tape-recorder graphic which accompanies telephone conversations — the TV-journalist-turned-filmmaker’s dogged pursuit and unflinching confrontations with evasive bureaucrats produces not only hilarious drama, but also a revealing picture of the downside of modern-day political machinations.

As its full title suggests, Unveil the Truth II – State Apparatus, is Lee’s follow-up on a previous outing (Unveil the Truth – Government Virus, a Chinese-subtitled version of which is still available on YouTube). That film saw the director spending six years in collecting information and statistics — including some gleaned from dissections and tests he took part in — so as to reveal the presence of high-pathological strains of avian flu in Taiwan. While the tracking of the outbreak is still very much central to the proceedings this time round, State Machine has its sights set on asking why officials were hell-bent in dialing down the threat. The results will certainly resonate with audiences at international independent documentary festivals — even those uninitiated with the epidemic itself.

Admittedly, these viewers might find the first third of the film a bit challenging, as the narrative takes up where the first film left off and Lee lodges complaints about what he sees as local agricultural officials’ bungled attempts in identifying and containing the spiraling epidemic. But the message becomes clearer and more easily comprehensible as Lee proceeds with his investigation — sending dead chickens to officials, with requests that they be tested for infection, and secretly taping what he sees as the health inspectorate’s less-than-stringent approach to engaging an infected farm. In the process, he finds himself stonewalled by nearly everyone in the administration. Having attained some notoriety in the national-hygiene circuit, Lee gets variously brushed off by officials, while a press spokesman actually begs him for mercy. (Later in the film, a press briefing is actually called off at the last minute after media attaches learn of Lee’s presence in the room.)

What emerges from the farce is a closing of the official ranks, as Lee finally arrives at what he deems as the politically-fuelled raison d’etre of the whole cover-up: that an academic advisory body might have been “advised” to postpone signing off on reports stating the existence of high-pathological avian flu virus until the incumbent agricultural chief leaves office. And all this only after Lee gets to feel the brunt of the “state apparatus,” with internal memos revealing official plans to discredit Lee’s claims. Indeed, at the same time that officials were finally censured last August, an official report also made suggestions about how to restrict civilian interference in public-health investigations.

Financed by Lee himself, Unveil the Truth – State Apparatus offers very basic production values. That the documentary remains riveting throughout speaks volumes about Lee’s ability to clearly map his discourse through simple sequences, and how he and his fellow editor Li Tsing-wei concisely and precisely lace it all together. A solidarity of sorts among Lee and his peers also helps – a few of Lee’s fellow journalists are also featured in the piece and their talking-head interviews provide another perspective about how the government and the media operate in Taiwan today. Such advocacy strengthens State Apparatus’ aesthetic and moral pedigree, which arguably propels Lee to worthy comparisons with foreign counterparts, such as Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield.

Such allusions reflect Lee’s divisive approach in tackling his subject — an interventional path, which might draw scorn from purists who frown on documentary-makers allowing their presence to be felt – but it’s also easy to view Unveil the Truth as a very black comedy — one with real people suffering from the on-screen mishaps committed by the forever bumbling and scheming politicians.

Venue: Chinese Documentary Festival, Hong Kong

Production Unit: Kevin H.J. Lee
Director: Kevin H.J. Lee
Producer: Liu Wei
Cinematographers: Chang Wei-tung, Yang Chi-tai, Jao Chen-ming, Kevin H.J. Lee
Editors: Kevin H.J. Lee, Li Tsing-wei
International Distribution: TOSEE Publisher

February 12, 2013

Linsanity (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 5:01 pm

Linsanity: Sundance Review

1/21/2013 by Justin Lowe

The Bottom Line
A sports doc with abundant heart persuasively chronicles the emergence of a global phenomenon.

Evan Jackson Leong’s film adds significant new perspective to point guard Jeremy Lin’s breakout NBA season.

PARK CITY – When pro basketball player Jeremy Lin burst into the national consciousness in a flurry of record-setting games with the New York Knicks last winter, most fans — and even many sports professionals — had little clue about who he even was. While a surge of global enthusiasm, quickly dubbed “Linsanity,” pushed him to international celebrity, in reality Lin was struggling for the opportunity to sign a multiyear NBA contract.

Chinese-American filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong already was shooting a documentary about Lin’s career well before the stardom stage, which allows him to bring an insider’s perspective to one of the NBA’s most memorable career starts. With Lin’s worldwide following already firmly in place, broadcast play for Linsanity is practically a lock, while basketball’s already notable popularity throughout much of Asia could assure the delivery of multiple territories for a variety of formats.

The middle son of Taiwanese immigrant parents who settled in Palo Alto, Calif., Lin started playing basketball from an early age, modeling his moves on Michael Jordan and encouraged by his NBA-fanatic father and tirelessly supportive mom, who observes in an interview that “Jeremy will do anything he can to get what he wants.” Local media began tracking Lin when he played point guard for the Palo Alto Vikings high school team, leading them to a state championship.

Coaches, players and sports correspondents considered him a likely candidate for a major university scholarship, but when none materialized, he entered Harvard, playing on the varsity team that went on to the Crimson’s first NCAA tournament since 1946. Although Lin accumulated impressive stats at Harvard, he got passed over again in the 2010 NBA draft.

Accepting an offer to play in the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league, Lin subsequently signed with his hometown Golden State Warriors for the 2010-11 season. Although he’d finally accomplished his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA, he rarely saw game action. As the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent, there were whispers that the team had picked him up primarily to capitalize on ticket sales and marketing opportunities with Northern California’s substantial Asian-American population.

When Lin was dropped by the Warriors, the Houston Rockets picked him up, then quickly cut him again. Lin was facing the expiration of his contract when the New York Knicks came calling, putting him into a memorable series of games in February 2012 as a substitute for injured-list point guards.

In his first five career games, Lin scored a record-setting 136 points, including 38 in a single game against Kobe Bryant’s L.A. Lakers. Fans both old and new instantly responded to the point guard’s historic run, flooding social media platforms with praise and showing up at games with hand-lettered signs or wearing slogan-emblazoned T-shirts. Perhaps the strongest wave of support came from Asian-American fans nationwide who finally had a hero to cheer for and helped launch the Linsanity craze, as well as basketball fanatics all over Asia who responded to both his professional talent and his family heritage.

From promotional spots, endorsements and Facebook tributes to the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time, Lin had the sports world’s undivided attention. And as Leong continued to shoot his documentary, the story suddenly blew up to global proportions.

With a mix of personal interviews — including extensive on-camera discussions with Lin, combined with more informal scenes – home-video footage from Lin’s childhood and clips from his high school and college careers, as well as game-play commentary from ESPN and other broadcasters, Leong has assembled a film that’s not just a stirring sports drama but also a classic immigrant-family success story, presented in an entirely new context.

With Leong skillfully orchestrating the interview segments and actor Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O, Lost) narrating a voice-over that occasionally tends toward an overly dramatic tone, the film is attractively packaged and superlatively edited by Greg Louie, who impressively distills the disparate formats and source materials. Since the film’s title emphasizes public reaction to Lin’s rise to stardom, some additional footage featuring fan reactions and social media trends would have been welcome, however.

Ironically, Lin attributes both the adversity and success he’s experienced to his ethnic heritage, crediting his Chinese-American upbringing for cultivating his discipline and perseverance and frankly discussing the taunts and racial slurs directed at him in both collegiate and pro ball, as well as the racial stereotypes perpetuated by the media. As a devout Christian, he says he’s been gradually able to deal with that adversity, as well as the many other challenges of his career. Leong’s film recognizes that Lin’s religion plays the pre-eminent role in his personal hierarchy of “God, family, basketball,” but it doesn’t dwell unduly on either his faith or his ethnicity, instead integrating these themes into the narrative, which is foremost a sporting tribute.

Recapturing the joy Lin experiences while excelling on the court in that incomparable season — as fans at first discovered, then promoted and finally celebrated his accomplishments — Linsanity reaffirms that the best sports stories originate with dimensional, relatable subjects who earn respect and admiration through their personal struggles and triumphs. Lin’s three-year $25 million contract with the Rockets, signed following his season with the Knicks, confirms that he’ll continue to be a player to follow.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres
Production companies: 408 Films, Arowana Films
Director: Evan Jackson Leong
Producers: Christopher C. Chen, Allen Lu, Brian Yang
Executive Producers: Sam Kwok. Patricia Sun, James D. Stern
Music: The Newton Brothers
Editor: Greg Louie
Sales: CAA
No rating, 88 minutes

Berlin 2013: Fortissimo Catches ‘Linsanity’
The Hong Kong-Amsterdam company lands world rights, excluding North America and China, for the well-received documentary about the rise of Taiwanese-American NBA star Jeremy Lin.

January 11, 2013

The Fruit Hunters (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 3:28 pm

The Fruit Hunters
9 January, 2013
By Mark Adams

Dir: Yung Chang. Canada. 2012. 95mins

If ever a documentary would have benefitted from ‘smell-o-vision’ it is Yung Chang’s fascinating and rather tasty film, which is a filmic feast in a number of ways, and certainly makes any viewer want to head out of and wallow in the wonderful world of exotic – and even rather ordinary – fruit.

As well as following ‘fruit hunters’ as they criss-cross the world in search of new or lost variations the film also takes a few subtle digs at multinationals and monoculture.

Taking its inspiration from Adam Gollner’s 2010 book of the same name, Montreal filmmaker Chang (who made Up The Yangtze) travels the world in pursuit of some of the world’s most unusual, and often most tasty, fruit, drawing attention to its sensual nature while also celebrating those who have an obsession for growing and searching for fruit. The film screened at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

And while stars of the film are the fruit themselves, The Fruit Hunters even has a dash of Hollywood class, with actor Bill Pullman featuring prominently through the film. He is a fruit obsessed fellow – though admits to having lost his sense of smell – and tries to convince his neighbours to create a community orchard in the Hollywood Hills. He is a genial and charming personality, and in amidst the search for exotic fruits offers a nice sense of down-to-earth enjoyment for the product.

As well as following ‘fruit hunters’ as they criss-cross the world in search of new or lost variations (as one comments, “it is exhausting to love a mango”) the film also takes a few subtle digs at multinationals and monoculture, and the fact that many fruits that appear in supermarkets are grown in a ‘permanent global summertime’ and grown to look - rather than often taste - the part.

Chang also delves into the history of social impact of fruit. The fact that Haas avocadoes came from a tree owned by postman Rudolph Haas; Bing cherries named after Chinese immigrant Ah Bing, who was sent back to China from the US; clementines were grown by French missionary in Algeria Father Clément Rodier and that a Chinese emperor saw his dynasty ruined because of his concubine’s obsession with the finest lychees.

Where Chang makes a slight misstep is when he turns to actors and effects animation for a series of historical re-enactments, but while these scenes tend to hamper the flow of the film rather than enhance it they don’t detract from the fact that The Fruit Hunters is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable documentary that is likely to find a welcoming home at festivals around the world as well as intriguing niche distributors.

Production companies: Eye Steel Film, National Film Board of Canada

Contact: National Film Board of Canada,

Producers: Mila Aung-Thwin, Katherine Baulu, Bob Moore

Screenplay: Yung Chang, Mark Slutsky, Mila Aung-Thwin

Editors: Hannele Halm, Omar Majeed, Mila Aung-Thwin

Cinematography: Mark Ó Fearghail

Music: Olivier Alary, Johannes Malfatti

With: Bill Pullman, Marie-Alice Depestre, Li Li, Kyle Allatt


December 22, 2012

Fallen City (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 1:31 pm

Fallen City
12/22/2012 by Neil Young

The Bottom Line
Straightforwardly sensitive study of post-trauma grief steadily expands into a sly microcosm of the changes afoot in 21st-century China.

Chinese writer-director-producer Qi Zhao’s debut, selected for Sundance’s International Documentary Competition, follows the aftermath of a shattering 2008 earthquake.

The reconstruction of an earthquake-leveled town takes on intriguing allegorical aspects in Qi Zhao’s dutiful but deft documentary Fallen City. One of the more notable world premieres at Amsterdam’s IDFA, whose own Bertha Fund contributed to its production, it’s secured a North American bow as part of the International Documentary Competition at Sundance in January. This will doubtless lead to exposure at numerous non-fiction showcases through 2013, with small-screen sales a given.

Beijing-based writer-director Qi also acts as his own producer here, a role he filled on Lixin Fan’s well-traveled 2009 documentary Last Train Home. That film showed how a specific phenomenon could with proper handling speak volumes about general problems facing contemporary, fast-changing China. Lixin in turn takes an executive producer credit here, alongside U.K.-born Michelle Ho and prominent Canadian documentarian Peter Wintonick.

Already the focus of several documentaries and fictional treatments, the quake of May 12, 2008 was China’s deadliest for more than three decades, killing nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province in the country’s mid-west. Among the communities devastated by the temblor was Beichuan, a town of 20,000 residents which was virtually wiped off the map in a matter of minutes.

Qi catches up with several of the survivors, following three stories over the course of four years: teenager Hong, who lost his father in the disaster; thirtysomething couple the Pengs, whose 11-year-old daughter was among the fatalities; and fortyish divorcee Mrs. Li who cares for her paralyzed mother in between rehousing her fellow townsfolk in her job as a community organizer.

The approach is suitably somber and respectful, each of the participants given time and space to verbalize their grief and explain how they go about picking up the pieces. This is absorbingly tough material, conventionally presented by means of talking-head testimony amid surveys of the wrecked landscape, with mournful musical accompaniment courtesy of the inevitable tinkling piano and sonorous strings.

But as Fallen City goes on, Qi does move toward establishing his own distinctive voice. From the very first shot - what looks like a leaf, but turns out to be a gentle mantis - he displays a Malick-esque fascination with flora and fauna, putting human suffering in the context of a natural world whose delicate fragility is more resilient than it might first appear. Cats and dogs play their part, but it’s those mantises which really steal the show, photogenic little critters whose gracefully jointed limbs encourage anthropomorphic speculation.

These grace-notes punctuate a wider narrative development in which Qi and his three editors devote considerable time to how the famously controlling Chinese government uses the crisis of Beichuan as an opportunity to start afresh. The stoically fatalistic residents are housed in temporary accommodation some 40 miles from home while a gleaming new city takes shape, with striking alacrity, in their absence.

The boosterish tones of officialdom become a wry running feature: “The new Beichuan will be a safe, beautiful and culturally rich city,” assures a spokesperson on state television. And once the modern, rigidly right-angled buildings and roads are constructed, the broadcasters crow: “We have made progress because we have a great party and a powerful country.”

Unsurprisingly, Qi and company find the reality to be more complex and problematic: complaints are heard that the new apartments are too expensive to rent or buy, and that the new city has “no feeling.” The supposed servants of the people emerge as less than entirely altruistic, notably in a third-act twist concerning one of the main protagonists which knocks the unsuspecting viewer off-balance.

Corruption, the discontents of youth, inter-generational strife, shortages of cash and the harsh effects of a tough labor-market all come under the microscope in a documentary which occasionally feels like it’s trying to cover too many aspects of 21st-century China within the confines of a standard 90-minute running-time. As a quiet paean to human resourcefulness and resilience in the worst of circumstances, however, Fallen City takes its place among a rich current run of east Asian documentaries that find illumination amid heart-rending desolation.

Venue: IDFA - International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (First Appearance Competition), November 21, 2012.

Production company: YFM (YuanFang Media)
Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Qi Zhao
Executive producers: Lixin Fan, Michelle Ho, Peter Wintonick
Directors of photography: Shaogang Sun, Xiaoyu Niu
Editors: Matthieu Laclau, Peicong Meng, Xiaoyo Niu

Sales agent: YFM, Beijing
No MPAA rating, 89 minutes

December 12, 2012

Fallen City (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:46 pm

Fallen City
(Documentary - China)
Dec. 12, 2012

A YFM presentation of a YuanFang Media production in association with Ikon, in co-production with ITVS Intl., NHK, with the support of the Sundance Documentary Film Program, the IDFA Fund, NRK, Knowledge Network, YLE. (International sales: YuanFang Media.) Produced by Zhao Qi. Executive producers, Fan Lixin, Michelle Ho, Peter Wintonick. Directed, written by Zhao Qi.

With: Peng Xiaoguan, Li Xiaorong, Hong Shihao, Niu Rong, Li Guihua, Li Shanming. (Sichuan dialogue)

Three families from the decimated Chinese city of Beichuan who lost loved ones in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake struggle to cope with more than just the emotional aftermath in Zhao Qi’s absorbing docu “Fallen City.” Strictly as a depiction of ordinary people working through grief after horrific loss, the pic is expectedly moving, if nothing radically new, but it gets much more interesting when its focus expands to encompass broader issues about the protagonists’ lives. Selected to compete at Sundance after its IDFA premiere, Zhao’s debut could build limited theatrical prospects, but will be most at home on upscale TV.

The magnitude 8.0 quake killed nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province, and reduced the city of Beichuan to splinters in a matter of minutes. Quickly spliced-in news footage, shot immediately after the quake, captures wailing survivors digging bodies out of the rubble, and underscores the scale of the disaster. Quieter and more effective, however, is the elegiac original material showing what’s left of the town now, where shattered buildings are ornamented by flowers and makeshift shrines, still-standing walls bear traces of lives erased, and abandoned cats and dogs roam free, indifferent to the loss of human life.

After a montage of static cinematic “portraits” of survivors holding pictures of the dead, the narrative zeroes in on three main families: Peng Xiaoguan and his wife, Li Xiaorong, who lost their only child, an 11-year-old girl; 14-year-old Hong Shihao, who lost his father; and middle-aged community leader Li Guihua, who lost three sisters, a daughter and a granddaughter, leaving her alone to look after her dementia-afflicted mother.

What makes “Fallen City” more compelling than most documentaries of its kind is its emphasis on how its subjects grapple with the challenges of life still to be lived. Peng and Li face hard choices about their future, such as whether they want to have another child, and if Li should take a lucrative job offer in Shanghai. Hong would much rather drown out his sorrows by playing online games, but his ferocious tiger mother, who’s already remarried and is reconciled to the loss of her first husband, hectors him constantly about his poor grades. Li Guihua throws herself into her work,and caring for her own mother, but a shocking reveal late in the game will force auds to rethink their position on this seemingly noble, Mother Courage-like figure.

All the while, Zhao, who produced the fine and thematically similar docu “Last Train Home,” is careful not to directly criticize the Chinese government for how the tragedy was handled or, perish the thought, lay any of the blame on possibly substandard housing. Nevertheless, there’s a faint but unmistakable note of irony in the occasional cutaways to news reports touting the swift rebuilding of a new Beichuan city, emphasizing in classic Socialist style the physical scale of the project, the number of residential units created and the supposed advantages of the new location.

Tech contributions are highly polished, especially the HD lensing by Sun Shaoguang. The soundtrack, featuring tunes by composer Arvo Part, including the overused “Spiegel im Spiegel,” is at least sparsely deployed.

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Sun Shaoguang; editor, Matthieu Laclau, Meng Peicong; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Fan Liming; sound designer, Meng Peicong. Reviewed online, London, Dec. 7, 2012. (In Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam — First Appearance; 2013 Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 88 MIN.

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