HKMDB Daily News

December 21, 2013

Personal Tailor (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 11:02 am

Personal Tailor

December 20, 2013
Justin Chang

Top-grossing Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang has alternated between romantic comedies and big-budget historical epics with remarkable consistency in recent years, padding out two pleasant servings of “If You Are the One” with an earthquake-themed tearjerker (“Aftershock”) and a wartime famine drama (“Back to 1942″). Back in the laffer realm with “Personal Tailor,” a sly bit of satirical whimsy about a company that brings people’s fantasies of wealth and power to life, Feng has not only continued the trend but fashioned an unofficial sequel to one of his early hits, 1997′s “The Dream Factory.” An easy-on-the-eyes trifle with a few pleasingly sharp edges, “Tailor” is likely too mild and episodic to catch on offshore, though domestically it’s off to a fine start with $13 million — the second-highest opening of all time for a mainland release.

The central conceit of “The Dream Factory” — four friends making money by impersonating any characters requested by their clientele — has been taken to more elaborate situational extremes here. “What you don’t dare imagine, we dare to do,” goes the slogan of Personal Tailor, a company that provides a far more benign version of the services offered in David Fincher’s “The Game,” allowing regular men and women to see their wildest dreams temporarily realized. We get a glimpse of their handiwork in the film’s amusing prologue, in which a woman willingly submits to interrogation, detainment and a six-day hunger strike as the star of her own WWII resistance fantasy, playfully shot in black-and-white.

Personal Tailor is run by Zhong Yang (Feng regular Ge You), the “director of dreams,” and his resourceful employees Miss Bai (Bai Baihe), the “fantastician”; Lu Xiaolu (Li Xiaolu), the “caterer of whims”; and Ma Qing (Zheng Kai), the “spiritual anesthetist.” For all their elaborate titles, however, they’re essentially members of a scrappy, high-concept acting troupe, called upon to wear as many hats as possible, literally and figuratively, in order to satisfy their clients’ demands. From this premise, Wang Shuo’s script strings together three vignettes (well, three-and-a-half), getting in a few modest digs at China’s political, artistic and economic values in the process.

In the first segment, “Honest Instincts,” a chauffeur (Fan Wei) whose previous high-ranking employers were all busted for accepting bribes, decides to test his own moral resilience by assuming the role of a village chief. Local peasants, foreign dignitaries and his own staff, all played by the Personal Tailor quartet (outfitted in an array of costumes by Dora Ng Li Lo), do their utmost to tempt him with financial and even sexual favors, though as Yang tartly observes, the “chief” turns out to be susceptible to a much more banal form of corruption.

Feng indulges in some playful self-parody in the second and most overtly comedic yarn, “Bloody Vulgar,” centered around a massively successful commercial filmmaker (Li Chengru) who, tired of winning awards like the “Pacific Rim Pandering Prize” and “Sell-out Screenplay of the Year,” yearns for low-budget art-cinema respectability. Featuring a brief cameo by Jackie Chan (one of the film’s producers), the tale pokes outlandish if somewhat overstretched humor at the differences between high and low culture. Once again Yang supplies a crucial bit of wisdom, and one of the pic’s best lines: “Chinese films, however bad, are never art.”

The most touching and trenchant of the three tales, “Mo’ Money,” finds the Personal Tailor crew returning a favor to the impoverished Mrs. Dan (Song Dandan), allowing her to play the part of a billionaire for a day. Cloaked in expensive finery and perfume, and spending her $14 million daily allowance on swanky real estate, Mrs. Dan gets an ample taste of the high life, as well as a sense of the dissatisfactions and undesirable obligations that it brings. If this development strikes some viewers as an apologia for the rich, or an argument against social mobility, it’s entirely consistent with Feng’s dryly ironic worldview, acknowledging the sheer difficulty of retaining any sort of principles in a position of power.

While Zhao Xiaoshi’s widescreen cinematography and Shi Haiyang’s production design supply no shortage of visual polish, “Personal Tailor” remains a modest, low-pulse endeavor throughout, meandering from one story to the next and never allowing any of its four principal characters to really come into focus. Yet over the course of its generally absorbing if overlong 117-minute running time, it offers a brief and appreciably sympathetic take on the lure of fantasy, the pleasures of role play and the thrill of commanding the multitudes — which is to say that it’s, among other things, a film about filmmaking.

Film Review: ‘Personal Tailor’
Reviewed on DVD, Pasadena, Calif., Dec. 20, 2013. Running time: 117 MIN. Original title: “Si ren ding zhi”

(China) A China Lion Film Distribution (in U.S.) release of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp. and Huayi Brothers Intl. presentation of a Chonqing Film Group, Emperor Film Prod. Co., Sparkle Roll Media Co., Anhui Broadcasting Corp., SMG Pictures, the One Investment Fund Management Co. presentation, in association with China Film Co-Prod. Corp., of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Bon Voyage Film Studio, Huayi Brothers Intl., Beijing Live Planet Film Co. production. Produced by Wang Zhongjun, Liu Guangquan, Albert Yeung, Jackie Chan, Zhang Suzhou, Qiu Xin, Wang Yiyang. Executive producer, Hu Xiaofeng. Co-producers, Zhou Lifang, Li Chaoyang, Su Xiao, Wang Ren. Co-executive producers, Zhang Dajun, Huang Xiang, Albert Lee, Qi Jianhong, Zhao Hongmei, Yang Wenhong, Zhang Jiaming.

Directed by Feng Xiaogang. Screenplay, Wang Shuo. Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), Zhao Xiaoshi; editor, Zhang Weili; music, Luan Shu; production designer, Shi Haiyang; costume designer, Dora Ng Li Lo; sound, Wu Jiang; line producer, Hu Xiaofeng; associate producers, Bernard Yang, Helen Li.

Ge You, Bai Baihe, Li Xiaolu, Zheng Kai, Fan Wei, Song Dandan, Li Chengru, Miao Pu, Du Jiayi, Liang Tian, Li Yong, Guan Xiaotong, Cao Bingkun, Jackie Chan, Wang Baoqiang. (Mandarin dialogue)

December 20, 2013

Personal Tailor (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 4:32 pm

Personal Tailor
12/20/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
The once-almighty social satirist falls flat on return to his favorite genre, with dated jibes, undercooked characters and a lack of empathy for the masses.

“Fulfilling others by debasing ourselves:” so goes the motto of Personal Tailor’s protagonists, a quartet whose business is realizing their clients’ wildest fantasies.

Inadvertently, however, the slogan is oddly prophetic for the filmmaker behind the camera. By delivering a gaudy, incoherent and largely unfunny comedy, director Feng Xiaogang — once the unchallenged master of Chinese festive-season gag-laden blockbusters — has given his rivals much room to shine.

The only people left laughing will probably be Jackie Chan (who actually is one the film’s co-producers and has a cameo here) and Teng Huatao, whose releases next week – the action-thriller Police Story 2013 for the former on Dec. 23; the romantic comedy Up in the Wind for the latter on Dec. 29 – can now unspool without the fear of being overwhelmed by a cultural juggernaut resembling anything like Feng’s output in the 2000s.

Personal Tailor tallied an impressive first-day take of $13.2 million in China on Dec. 19, but critical backlash (which has already been circulating in the country’s vibrant social media) will hamper the producers’ aspirations for the film joining the ranks of China’s big local hits of 2013.

A revisit of the narrative framework of Feng’s own 1997 film The Dream Factory — a sharp satire which propelled the erstwhile first-time director to the forefront of mainland China’s then budding film industry — Personal Tailor belies its bankable A-list cast and lavish production values with ersatz humor and ham-fisted social critique, a despairing mix that underlines the film’s disconnect from the public pulse. Ironically, one of the film’s three stories revolves around a commercial filmmaker’s attempt to attain arthouse credibility by striving break from communal tastes: Personal Tailor is, indeed, a sad example of an once eagle-eyed director losing touch with his audience.

It’s all the more ironic, therefore, that Personal Tailor is Feng’s reaction to the criticism directed at his New Year entry last year, Back to 1942. Based on a catastrophic famine that broke out in central China during the second world war, the dark historical epic was roundly (and wrongly, in my view) condemned for being out-of-sync with the Chinese audience’s cravings for jolly entertainment during the festive period.

The big-budget blockbuster incurred losses for its backers, Feng’s longtime collaborators Huayi Brothers; Feng was derided for turning artistic — yes, artists do take offense from number-crunchers and mainstream filmgoers over such allegations in China. That episode likely contributed to a segment in Personal Tailor where a self-proclaimed “schlock-maker” (Li Chengyu) — who peppers his talk with garbled pseudo-intellectual comments such as “historical fetishism” and “film as the eighth art” — pays for an “authentic” artistic existence by trading in his gaudy lifestyle for a stay in an empty warehouse with only the noise of a metal-grinder for company.

This clichéd and very dated jibe about artistic pretense is hardly the substantial indictment of social mores that Feng once thrived on. Instead, it’s an embittered director venting his anger against anyone (and everyone) who couldn’t understand him. This is where Personal Tailor, written by Feng’s long-time screenwriting partner Wang Shuo, loses its charm: whereas Feng used to laugh with the common people, this time around he’s laughing at them in rowdy rancor.

While The Dream Factory sides with the masses by having four working-class heroes trying their silly best to make everybody happy, Personal Tailor lacks any sense of empathy for the disfranchised. Here, the four largely sneering fantasy-facilitators (with Dream Factory lead Ge You joined by young comediennes du jour Bai Baihe, Li Xiaolu and Zheng Kai) mostly serve as judge and jury for their clueless and unreasonably demanding clients.

This exact situation ends the film’s final segment, as the quartet groans and growls as their customer, a government-employed chauffeur (Fan Wei) paying for an experience of becoming a ranked official, sits in front of them and concedes of his misguided notion of wanting to be tested for his moral integrity (which takes the shape of the team playing help-seeking relatives, bribe-brandishing entrepreneurs and seductive underlings). People will do anything to crack cadres, says Ge’s character, the company leader Yang; just go back to the comfort of driving other people around, chimes in Zheng’s even more cynical upstart Ma Qing. Such is this story’s moral – that the masses could and do everything to corrupt the elite; and that the public needs to be enlightened – as the driver was – about the complex dilemmas faced by those in the upper echelons of power.

The strangely simplistic nature of this message is followed up by the second story about the deluded director — a somewhat pale take on a similar thread in The Dream Factory, in which a film star pays to become an ordinary person and then backtracks because of her inability to ditch the glitz and glamor of celebrity life. Following up on this mockery of the delusions of poverty-stricken grandeur, the third and final story is seemingly designed to bring some cheer to the have-nots; public park cleaner Dan (Song Dandan), who once saved Ma’s life, is gifted a birthday present by being able to play a multi-billionaire for a day – a game that involves her revealing her country-bumpkin traits (when she bumps into an unopened door she is told rich people should never lift a finger to do anything) and suppressed, ugly nouveau riche personality traits (when she really casts her gentle, modest self aside and becomes an all-demanding monster).

After all this charade – which also includes the team going into restaurants and shops after Dan’s visits and apologizing profusely for their “loony aunt” and her proclamations of treating everyone to free meals and buying up all the goods – the decision to end Dan’s day by having her remove her make-up and then slowly amble towards her home down a dark back alley can’t really inject pathos into the bathos.

It’s too late and too little for a film mostly resembling a show of stringed-together skits — it’s perhaps not coincidental that Feng has been recruited to direct the annual Chinese New Year television gala, a variety show comprising an amalgamation of performances from pop and film stars — and one that really never offers a personality study of any kind. Not only are the clients caricatures; the four protagonists are simply sneering ciphers — especially Bai and Li, whose characters (named, unimaginably, as Bai and Li) are simply an underdeveloped extension of their usual on-screen personas (with the former playing her usual rom-com motormouth role, and the latter’s physical features being unhealthily played up).

The awkward (if not excessive formulaic) sentimental final story as embodied in Dan’s fantastic day is followed up by a coda in which the four cynics decide to advocate a “nationwide movement of apology” to ease social tension. And suddenly, the tone changed drastically and the four cynics are seen traveling to different corners of China to say sorry to mother nature: Bai to the Sun for blocking her with all that smog, Li to the woods for excessive lumberjacking, Ma to the ruined grasslands for over-mining of coal, and to a river for having polluted it with all sorts of sewage.

But Feng always seeks the last laugh, with Yang delivering what could have been a punchline – via him talking in a TV vox pop (in the remote rural hinterlands?) about how he actually doesn’t mean what he was saying about doing something about the bigger social good. Nobody’s willing to let go a slight piece of their lot, not to mention to debase themselves, for anyone else, is the idea of what Personal Tailor leaves the viewer with. Whether this actually qualifies as a source of mirth, meanwhile, is anyone’s worrying guess.
Laden with placements for a wide variety of products — from cars to liquor to residential complexes — Personal Tailor offers a sartorial sight (courtesy of Hong Kong costume designer Dora Ng) and visual spectacle (the handiwork of Shi Haiying) to behold, but the style needs some substance. Feng needs to rediscover a fresh way to inject his well-tailored comedy with some soul.

Venue: Public screening, Shenzhen, Dec. 19, 2013
Production Companies: Huayi Brothers Media and Huayi Brothers International, with Chongqing Film Group, Emperor Motion Pictures, Anhui TV, SMG Pictures, The One Investment Fund Management
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Cast: Ge You, Bai Baihe, Li Xiaolu, Zheng Kai
Producer: Huang Chang, Albert Lee, Zhao Hongmei, Yang Wenhong
Executive Producers: Wang Zhongjun, with Liu Guangchun, Albert Yeung, Jackie Chan, Chen Suzhou, Qiu Xin, Wang Yiyang
Executive Producers: Huang Chang, Albert Lee, Zhao Hongmei, Yang Wenhong,
Screenwriter: Wang Shuo
Director of Cinematography: Zhao Xiaoshi
Production Designer: Shi Haiying
Costume Designer: Dora Ng
Editing Director: Xiao Yang
Music: Luan Shu
International Sales: Huayi Brothers Distribution
In Mandarin
120 minutes

November 14, 2012

Back to 1942 (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 11:14 pm

Back to 1942

A Huayi Brothers Media Corp. (in China)/China Lion Film Distribution (in U.S./Canada) release of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Huayi Brothers Intl., China Film Co., Chongqing Film Group, Emperor Film Prod., Media Asia Film Prod., Sil-Metropole Organization, Zhejiang Films & TV Group, Anhui Broadcasting, Hunan Broadcasting System, Shanghai Media Group, Beijing TV Station presentation, in association with China Film Co-Production Corp. of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Huayi Brothers Intl., Bon Voyage Film Studio production. (International sales: Huayi Brothers Intl., Beijing.) Produced by Wang Zhongjun, Han Sanping, Liu Guangquan, Albert Yeung, Peter Lam, Song Dai, Wang Yiyang, Wang Tongyuan, Zhang Suzhou, Ouyang Changlin, Qiu Xin, Wang Xiaodong. Executive producers, Hu Xiaofeng, Chen Kuofu, Wang Zhonglei. Co-producers, Han Xiaoli, Liu Wanli, Shirley Lau, Stephen Lam, Ni Zhengwei, Li Chaoyang, Zhang Yu. Co-executive producers, Zhang Dajun, Zhang Qiang, Zhao Haicheng, Huang Xiang, Albert Lee, Lorraine Ho, Ren Yue, Xia Chen’an, Zhao Hongmei, Zhang Huali, Yang Wenhong, Zhao Duojia, Gao Chengsheng. Directed by Feng Xiaogang. Screenplay, Liu Zhenyun, adapted from his essay-memoir “Remembering 1942.”

With: Zhang Guoli, Chen Daoming, Li Xuejian, Zhang Hanyu, Fan Wei, Feng Yuanzheng, Xu Fan, Adrien Brody, Tim Robbins, Yao Jingyi, Peng Jiale, Li Qian, Yuan Huifang, Zhang Shaohua, Wang Ziwen (Xingxing), Zhang Mo, Zhao Yi, Zhang Shu, Tian Xiaojie, Ke Lan, Zhang Guoqiang, Yu Zhen, Zhang Chen’Guang, Lin Yongjian, Duan Yihong, Ke Lan, Liu Lili, James A. Beattie, Du Chun.

The emotion that was joined to spectacle in Feng Xiaogang’s mega-blockbuster “Aftershock” is exchanged for generic suffering and a few big yet uninvolving fighter-jet strafings in the helmer’s “Back to 1942.” Reportedly costing $35 million, Feng’s epic is set during the horrific Henan famine, when drought and the threat of a Japanese invasion were exacerbated by lamentable judgment from the Nationalist government. Shifting between individual suffering (performed, not felt) and extended political and business deliberations, the pic displays its budget but not its heart. China Lion will release the film in the U.S. and Canada day-and-date with its Nov. 30 mainland rollout.

Adapted from an essay/family memoir by novelist Liu Zhenyun, credited as scriptwriter, “Back to 1942″ shines a light on a chapter of Chinese history little known in the West, overshadowed by WWII (conceded in the narration) and the Great Famine 16 years later. Approximately 3 million people died of starvation in Henan in 1942-43, and while Feng largely sticks with two families, one rich, the other poor, he’s also thrown enough extras into the Korea-lensed scenes to approximate a sense of mass tragedy. If only he’d focused on the drama rather than the spectacle of misery, he might have delivered a genuine heart-tugger instead of this dutifully crafted marathon.

Lord of the manor Fan (Zhang Guoli) is a wheeler-dealer willing to regretfully sell out his starving tenants to keep his wealth. When the locals riot, he and his family hit the road with other refugees in search of food and protection from threatened Japanese attack. Neither comes from the Chinese army, which has received orders from Chiang Kai-shek (Chen Daoming) to commandeer grain for the soldiers.

Time magazine newshound Theodore White (Adrien Brody) tries to convince Chiang of the severity of the famine, but the Generalissimo, as he was known, expresses concern yet does little to alleviate the suffering. Meanwhile, starving refugees flee northwest but find no relief. Fan loses his mother (Liu Lili) and daughter-in-law (Li Qian) to hunger, and his wife to a Japanese air attack. His former tenant Xialu (Feng Yuanzheng), still deferential, has similar tragedies, which force the remaining members of the two families together on an equal basis.

The scenes of suffering have a plodding feel, largely because along with their predictability is a constant awareness that beneath the increasingly threadbare clothes are actors who get to scrub their well-fed faces each evening. Not that the performers should suffer, of course, but “Back to 1942″ rarely gets across true emotion. More believable are the frequent business deals being made, even among people who’ve reached the limit of endurance; the constant horse-trading conveys more about the Chinese character than the pic says about Chiang and his motivations.

Easily disposable are scenes of Tim Robbins half-heartedly attempting an Irish accent as Father Thomas Megan (the real priest was born in Iowa); Brody fares slightly better. Occasional battle sequences, with Japanese planes first bombing and then strafing refugees as well as the city of Chongqing, offer the requisite explosions and noise, but feel thoroughly standard in execution. Similarly, visuals are precisely what’s expected yet nothing more, including the usual muted tonalities, almost black on brown, too often favored by historical epics equating seriousness with a lack of color.

Camera (color, widescreen), Lu Yue; editor, Xiao Yang; music, Xiao Jiping; production designer, Shi Haiying; art director, Sun Li; costume designer, Tim Yip; sound (Dolby Atmos), Wu Jiang; visual effects producer, Chang Hongsong; associate producer, Bernard Yang; line producer, Hu Xiaofeng; assistant director, Ying Tong. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Nov. 11, 2012. Running time: 144 MIN.

November 13, 2012

Back to 1942 (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 12:16 pm

Back to 1942
by Deborah Young

Top box office director Feng Xiaogang depicts the 1942 famine in China in a spectacular epic produced by the Huayi Brothers.

The grand vision and sweeping scope of the Huayi Brothers’ $33 million Back to 1942 yield some stirring scenes but not much emotional impact, in director Feng Xiaogang’s epic reconstruction of the deadly famine that struck Henan Province during China’s war with Japan, leaving 3 million dead of starvation while Chiang Kai-shek’s government largely looked the other way. This is another key piece of historical documentation of the horrors linked to the Second World War and an important political acknowledgement on the part of China. Yet there is surprisingly little emotional resonance with the well-drawn and acted characters, making it a tiring two and a half hour trek for filmgoers who don’t have a stake in the history it recounts.

Obviously aimed at the international marketplace, but ultimately of little avail, are two American actors in the already unwieldy cast: Tim Robbins as a Catholic bishop in China and, more plausibly, Adrien Brody as the noted American journalist and “China Hand” Theodore White. Both characters seem tacked on as an after-thought to Liu Zhenyun’s screenplay, especially Robbins’ walk-on scene as the Irish Father Megan, who consoles a Chinese missionary (Zhang Hanyu) whose faith is shaken by the horrors he has seen. Brody’s White is fitfully woven into the story as the classic eyewitness with a camera; it’s not a very original or compelling role, yet he does seem to influence history by pleading with Chiang Kai-shek to send relief to the starving masses and embarrassing him with his pieces in Time magazine.

But these two men are quite marginal to the epic story, which casts its net wide over a huge cast of historical and fictional characters. Top Chinese boxoffice director Feng, who made a name as an actor in hits like Kung Fu Hustle before directing big budget productions like If You Are the One and the earthquake epic Aftershock, directs this relentless exposé of horrors with panache but less empathy than, say, Wang Bing’s 2010 The Ditch, a memorial to the million Chinese caught in the political purges of the 1950s and deported to forced labor camps.

As the story begins, a great drought is in progress and the walled village of Yanjin in central China is running out of food. When a band of hungry farmers threatens to attack, rich property owner Fan (Zhang Guoli) agrees to feed them, but secretly sends for the guards. This sets the stage for the first big action sequence, a spectacularly filmed fight for food in which many are killed and the village is torched.

Fan, his family, their stubborn servant Shuang Zhu (Zhang Mo) and his tenant Hua Zhi (Xu Fan) are forced to set on the road with the other survivors or starve to death. (Some 10 million became displaced persons in this period.) Though they have a cart and more millet than the other wretched refugees, their supplies dwindle fearfully after a month on the road and the social distance between the Fans, their tenants and servants begins to evaporate. Their long march eastwards to the province of Shaanxi is filled with death and misery. Falling in with some retreating Nationalist Chinese soldiers, they are targeted by Japanese warplanes and are almost wiped out in an extended, edge-of-seat bombing sequence that is masterfully shot and edited.

Intercut with the refugees’ march, political figures of the day meet and make fateful decisions. There is proud, image-conscious Chiang Kai-shek (Chen Daoming) and his elegant wife Soong May-ling, the dismissive American ambassador Clarence E. Gauss, the dignified but helpless Henan governor Li Peiji (Li Xuejian) and others who fail to relieve the human disaster.

It is curious that, despite the fine cast lead by Zhang Guoli as the humbled landowner Fan and many touching scenes underlining their tragic plight, the story unfolds more like a reconstructed documentary with thrilling battle scenes, than a heart-wrenching tale about the Chinese people’s capacity for resistance in the tradition of Zhang Yimou. In the absence of important female characters, the story has only the stoic, dignified Fan to provide the viewer with an emotional link to the refugees and doesn’t offer the pay-off needed for this long a film.

Tech work is very high quality throughout and rises to the challenge of filming what looks like thousands of extras on screen at the same time. Adding convincing realism to the visuals is sure-footed cinematography in restrained grays and browns by Lu Yue, known for his work with Zhang Yimou, and costume designer Timmy Yip’s padded rags which envelope the refugees head to foot.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (competition)
Production companies: Huayi Brothers
Cast: Zhang Guoli, Adrien Brody, Tim Robbins, Xu Fan, Li Xuejian, Zhang Mo, Wang Ziwen, Chen Daoming, Alec Su, Hsing Alfred, Zhang Hanyu, Duan Yihong, Qiao Zhenyu, Lin Yongjian, Du Chun, Zhang Guoqiang, Zhang Shaohua, Lu Zhong
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Screenwriter: Liu Zhenyun based on his novel
Producers: Wang Zhonglei, Zhang Heping
Executive producers: Wang Zhonjun, Chen Kuo-fu, Wang Zhonglei
Director of photography: LuYue
Music: Zhao Jiping
Costume designer: Timmy Yip
Editor: Xiao Jang
Sales: Huayi Brothers
No rating, 143 minutes

November 12, 2012

Back to 1942 (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 8:19 pm

Back to 1942

12 November, 2012
By Dan Fainaru

One of the two Far East surprise films on display at the Rome Film Festival, Feng Xiaogang’s sprawling $35 million production, the most elaborate, richly endowed effort of the Chinese film industry this year, is likely to mark up another success in the director’s long list of national hits.

The production spares no effort in reconstructing the ravages of the 1942 Henan famine which claimed the lives of more than three million people, spelling in great detail all the atrocities endured by the victims of the three year drought, which combined with locusts, earthquakes and epidemics to plague the province.

At the same time, Liu Zhengyun’s script, based on his own essay Remembering 1942, beyond evoking the terrible events also underlines the responsibility of the corrupt Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime, which, instead of doing something about it, was busy debating how to keep the tragedy out of the world’s eyes while exploiting it to its advantage in the war against Japan and in its struggle to grab a place among the nations deciding the future of the world after WW2.

An imposing, technically sophisticated achievement, Back To 1942 (Yi Wu Si Er) covers a lot of ground and deals with a large cast of characters, but somehow, as if to confirm the old saying that one man dying is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic figure, it is rather the size of his film and the dexterity that went into its making which will affect Western audiences more than its contents.

Feng, whose past record includes such Chinese blockbusters as Assembly and Aftershock, selects a series of representative characters to follow on the harrowing 105 day march from Henan to Shaanxi in the west. First there is a rich landlord, Fan (Zhang Guoli) who will be forced to join the convoy of destitute refugees going westward, and his loyal servant Shuang Zhu (Zhang Mo) who follows him almost to the end of the journey. Fam will lose not only his properties but also his son, then his daughter-in-law, his wife and his newborn grandson, before having to sell his beloved younger daughter, Xingxing (Fiona Wang) in order to survive another day. Shuang will share all of his master’s miseries and marry - for one day only - a widow who he must sell out the next morning in exchange for the food that will keep her children alive.

And there’s more. Time Magazine reporter Theodore White (Adrien Brody) who breaks the famine story in the west to the great embarrassment of the Kuomintang regime; Father Sim (Zhang Hanyu) who loses his faith in a God that allows such miseries to take place, and Catholic priest Thomas Megan (Tim Robbins) who helplessly looks for a satisfactory answer. The discussion between these two is not unrelated to topics associated with the Holocaust in Europe.

And finally, among the rulers, there is province governor Li Peiji (Li Xuejian) whose half-hearted attempts to bring some relief to the suffering are sardonically thwarted and Chiang Kai-Shek himself (Chen Daoming), the all-powerful Generalissimo manipulating through wars and natural disasters with only one goal in mind, preserving his own power and reputation at whatever cost, even if it means sacrificing a whole starving province to the Japanese armies so that the responsibility rest on their shoulders.

Labels are inevitable in these conditions. The masses of tattered, emaciated peasants are obviously the heroes, the ruling class sampling delicacies while millions are wasting away around them are the villains and the Japanese are the soulless murderers.

Splendid camera work and richly imaginative production design offer a breathtaking study in grey – the entire picture takes place in winter with the sun entirely banished from it – with flashes of red fire and black smoke adding to the terrifying images. Though both American actors look rather uncomfortable in their roles, the Chinese cast is mostly up to the challenge, with Chen Daoming’s Choang Kai-Shek a particularly blood-curling performance as the man to fear and hate. A saga that will, no doubt, be cherished at home but most likely be filed abroad as yet another lesson in modern Chinese history. Finally, for the film publicists’ records, this was not the most tragic famine China has experienced - that one took place later, between 1958 and 1962, when at least 15 million (to quote official numbers) lost their lives.

Productions companies: Huayi Brothers Media, Huayi Brothers International, Bon Voyage Film Studio

International sales: Huayi Brothers Media,

Producers: Wang Zhonglei, Chen Kuo-fu

Executive producer: Wang Zhongjun

Screenplay: Liu Zhenyun

Cinematography: Lu Yue

Editor: Xiao Yang

Production designer: Sun Li

Music: Zhao Jiping

Main cast: Zhang Guoli, Chen Daoming, Li Xuejian, Zhang Hanyu, Zhang Mo, Fan Wei, Feng Yuanzheng, Tim Robbins, Adrien Brody, Fiona Wang

July 21, 2010

July 21, 2010

Curse of the Deserted poster

The film stars Shawn Yu and Zhang Yuqi directed by Law Chi-Leung (Inner Senses, Double Tap). The horror film opens Aug. 13 and is based on a series of three novels, The Deserted Inn, The Deserted Apartment, and The Deserted Return. (Sina)

In a press conference held in Chengdu, it was revealed that Let the Bullets Fly would be released in two versions, Mandarin and Sichuanese. While Jiang Wen and Ge You’s native dialects are not too different, they would dub there own voices in Sichuanese. However, it is not possible for Chow Yun-Fat. Possibly Xuan Xiaoming would dub him but also a possibility, it was teased, was China Film Group’s boss Han Sanping himself may dub Fat Gor’s voice. (Xinhua)

CRI: Chinese Film “Kill Paul Octopus” Set for August Release

Feng Xiaogang blew up at a female reporter when questioned about the accuracy of a plot point in Aftershock. The point at issue, I think, was whether the character really remained a widow after the earthquake in memory of her husband or not.

Elsewhere, during a TV interview, Feng said that he was contemplating retiring from film after completing his contractual obligations with Huayi Brothers which is for five more films. Feng cited three reasons for retiring: 1) Lack of rest. He will be 60 when he finishes the 5 films. He admires Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige but he misses time to play, drink with friends. 2) He is disappointed in the entertainment industry. When he directed an army art troupe it was like an art and literary circle with dedicated artists. Now, it is different. A lot of it is packaging young actors, etc. It’s exhausting. 3) Lack of privacy.  He expressed his hatred of being hounded by paparazzi. They are always following and filming. He wants to kick them again and again. But since he cannot, it is more tiring. (Xinhua)2(Sina)

Jackie Chan - Berlin

Jackie Chan was in Berlin promoting The Karate Kid. He reportedly looked tired as news of ‘endorsement-gate’ has reached him, no doubt. (Xinhua)

Danwei: Bawang Group in license-sharing scandal

Yu Man-Fung, Stephen Chow

Stephen Chow and long-time girlfriend Yu Man-Fung have broken up. Their low-key relationship since 1998 has finally dissolved according to news reports. Yu was the financial wizard behind Chow’s real estate investments and earned him hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Yu and Chow will maintain their business relationship but marriage was not to be as Chow’s mother apparently did not accept her. Yu Man-Fung has since began dating a wealthy banker’s son.

(Xinhua) (baidu-profile)

Richard Li has reportedly give Isabella Leong cash, stock and properties in Toronto and San Francisco worth a value of 300M yuan so far. Yet, insiders say that Isabella currently is not as anxious for a marriage certificate as people think. One spokesman said, she is still ‘Miss Leong’. Friends say that Isabella is still in the US and has received many offers to return to film but with children to raise she is not interested in a comeback yet. .(Xinhua)2

Carina Lau’s 2 year quest to get pregnant has been abandoned. In a wedding anniversary dinner, Carina is said to have told Tony Leung’s mother that she has tried to give her a grandchild, but do not expect it. Tony’s mother supports the decision. (Xinhua)

Aishwarya Rai, Lin Chi-Ling, Kate Winslet - Rome

(July 20) Lin Chi-Ling was in Rome to shoot an advert for Longines brand watch. (Xinhua)(CRI)

SG: A-Sa seriously ill?

{Belated, but in English. SG Yahoo translates Chinese reports and are often many days after the fact. I post them for the sake of having the more accurate and detailed English version, not their timeliness.]

SG: Love for Gillian Chung turns into hate

SG: Cecilia Cheung: Parenting is more tiring than farming!

SG: Farewell to renowned vocal coach Tai Sze Chung

SG: Jay wants to stay single

Brazen behaviour from would-be singer

Mark Lee fulfills directorial dreams with ‘The Ghost Bride’

Also The Ghosts Must Be Crazy

January 4, 2010

January 4, 2010

Surprising news: Faye Wong will sing the theme song to Confucius thus marking her comeback, even ahead of her reported Spring Festival appearance. The song (’Orchids Parade’?) is to be released on Jan.6. Faye was contacted back in April and the lyrics and music were constantly revised. The recording was only just completed on New Year’s Eve. Orchids Parade is an adaptation of Tang Dynasty poet Han Yu masterpiece and contains only 64 words. (Xinhua) Lyrics (2)

CRI: Pop Queen Faye Wong Back for Confucius

Release delayed

Scheduled for a Feb.5 release, Future Cop/Future X-Cops is now further delayed due to post-production not being completed. (Sina)


5 new stills from 14 Blades HD (Sina)

Barbie Hsu


CRI: Barbie Hsu’s Motorcycle Fetish in ‘Hot Summer Days’

9 new stills from Hot Summer Days featuring Barbie Hsu HD (Sina)

Feng Xiaogang’s guest cameo in Yuen Wo-Ping’s True Legend

Chinese Film: Happy Noodle Year

2009 has come to an end, but the battle for movie-goers has just begun.This season, the competition is more intense than ever. Take this downtown cinema; by mid-February it will have screened four dozen films since late-November. Film makers believe it’s this bumper holiday period, taking in Valentine’s Day and Spring Festival, that will lay the golden eggs…

The film market is like a highway. If too many cars take to it at the same time, there will be a traffic jam. In that case, even a BMW can’t drive at top speed.

The head of the cinema chain said to make the maximum profit out of the market, a film must enjoy at least one week free of competition before it’s joined by a new one. But now, cinemas are getting much busier than in previous years, as it’s common to put on several new films in a single day, resulting in vicious competition…

Francis Ng was released on bail while at the same time his wife was released from the hospital


Francis Ng to be charged with ‘wounding’ for New Year’s Day fracas?

Now, also a red light scofflaw. (Sina)

Sammi Cheng celebrates end of a 10 show run of concerts

Guests Michelle Reis and husband

Isabella Leong first appearance after childbirth (Xinhua)

France - Fan Bingbing photo shoot for Bazaar Jewelry

(Xinhua) Slide show (HunanTV)

Aaron Kwok, New Year’s Eve, begins the countdown to the Shanghai World Expo (Sina)

Huang Yi and Expo mascot Hai Bao (Ocean Treasure)

Huang Yi (HunanTV)

Vivian Hsu

Vivian Hsu was in Taipei to promote her new TV series ‘Love Strategy’. The series costars Korean Kim Jung-Hoon.

(HunanTV) HD slide show (Sina)

July 29, 2009

July 29, 2009

Lau Ching-Wan and wife,Amy KwokLau Ching-Wan, Zhang Jingchu, Alex Fong

Daniel Wu, Louis Koo, Lau Ching-WanDaniel Wu

Anita YuenMichelle Ye

Overheard cast and guests attend Hong Kong premiere
Michael Wong and wife
Michael Wong and wife

“Overheard” Premieres in Hong Kong
Hollywood Reporter: Alan Mak hopes for hit in China

‘Chengdu’ to close Venice festival
Fruit Chan, Cui Jian unveil sci-fi film
Chengdu, I Love You to close Venice Film Festival
[ I wonder, did the third part get cut out because Hur Jin-ho expanded his segment to a full length feature?]
Previously: Hur Jin-ho wraps feature-length Season Of Good Rain
‘Chengdu’ to Close Venice Film Festival

Variety: SPC to distribute Yimou’s ‘Blood’ [Amazing Tales: Three Guns]
Sony Pictures Classics is continuing its relationship with filmmaker Zhang Yimou, agreeing to distribute his planned remake of the Coen brothers’ comedic thriller “Blood Simple” domestically and in several major foreign territories
Screen Daily: Sony Classics on board for Zhang Yimou’s Blood Simple remake

China welcomes ‘Haeundae’ wave
Korean disaster film looks for success onshore in China

Lee Byung-hun Returns With Film ‘G.I. Joe’
Kwon Sang-woo May Make Hollywood Debut
Hollywood’s Korean ninjas
Sandra Ng
Barbie Hsu
Sandra Ng and Barbie Hsu - On His Majesty’s Secret Service

Xu Fan and husband Feng Xiaogang
Chen Daoming, Chen Jin

Does Feng Xiaogang have vitiligo?

Aftershock officially launches production

Ceremony held at Tangshan Earthquake Memorial Square

HK actress Michelle Reis returns to the big screen

Anthony Wong
Anthony Wong, Yin Tao to Lead Epic Tang Drama

Jia Zhangke: In fact it is the President of the World Uighur Congress Kadeer, a documentary film, and invited me to attend the film premiere, it is known that political figures in the film will appear, too political, and I am not sure about the history of Xinjiang, so it is not the time to attend the film festival a good time, so I choose not to participate. ”
Jia Zhangke speaking at the Hong Kong Book Fair

Jet Li’s Singapore citizenship confirmed

Shing Fui-On (file photo)
Shing Fui-On gives a thumbs up

Young Shing Fui-On and Andy Lau
Shing Fui-On’s cancer has spread to his lungs. He entered the hospital last week and only weighs 45kgs (not lost 45kgs as previously reported)

86 year-old Lam Kau enters hospital with foot injury

Nick Cheung
Nick Cheung films a tourism program in Finland

Vivian Chow
Peter Chan
I spy: Vivian Chow secretly meeting with Peter Chan in Shanghai

Sparks rumors of plans for comeback

England: Family made £7m in fake DVD scam

July 23, 2009

July 23, 2009

The Storm Warriors to create new Wuxia world with more special effects

Preview of the Set in Zhang Yimou’s “Three Guns”
Three Guns

‘Sick’ Detective Deng Smells out Clues

Chinese actor Deng Chao plays an albino detective who finds clues with the help of his super strong sense of smell in the new martial-arts and mystery film “Detective Dee”.

Fan Bingbing, Wang Xueqi
Fan Bingbing, Wang Xueqi - Bodyguards and Assassins photos

Cecilia Cheung visits set of Bodyguards and Assassins - photos

Replacing Song Hye-Kyo?

‘Overheard’ the best Chinese film this summer
“Overheard” will premiere on the mainland tomorrow, one week ahead of Hong Kong.

Shanghai Blues remake?
Reportedly, Kwak Jae-Yong (My Sassy Girl) and Tsui Hark will team together again to remake Shanghai Blues. Kwak, who wrote All About Women, will direct while Tsui will write this time. Kwak also directed the recent Cyborg She. A number of Korean actors will likely be involved as well.

Stanley Kwan filming the solar eclipse in rainy, overcast Shanghai

Feng Xiaogang slams MIFF over Uighur doc
Top Chinese director decries calls subject ‘a political liar.’
Film directors’ withdrawal supported at home
Stanley Tong, a well-known Hong Kong director, said he was shocked by the news because it was “extremely inappropriate” for a film festival to play a documentary about a “terrorist.”

Exhilarating ‘Take-Off’ in Korean Sports Drama

Vivian Chow

Vivian Chow promoting cosmetics brand in Shanghai

More photos

SCMP: Lynn Xiong poses for Harper’s Bazaar

SCMP: Anti-model activists protest at HK Book Fair

Check out the 1st Hong Kong International Kung Fu Festival

Asia witnesses solar eclipse

June 17, 2009

June 17, 2009

Francis Ng: not cursing (at actors) is not good directing

Hu Jun
‘Bodyguards and Assassins’ Opens Shooting Base

Zhou Xun wins Asian Star of the Year award from Asian Producers Association

Chen Hao
Chen Hao voice of duck for Magic Aster

Lynn Xiong, Donnie Yen
Lynn Xiong, Donnie Yen promote for Nokia

Feng Xiaogang’s Quake Film in IMAX
Feng Xiaogang
Feng Xiaogang hopes for $500M box office for Tangshan Earthquake aka Aftershock

The plot revolves around a 7 year-old survivor and is scheduled for a 2010 summer release
Imax, Huayi Brothers strike three-picture pact
The film [Aftershock] will be released in IMAX cinemas in China, other parts of Asia and key North American markets in July 2010.
IMAX readies Huayi film trio

Ciwen, Asian Union (Underdog Knight) unveil German, Italian co-productions
Co-productions the way to go, China says

Director Jeon Soo-il Talks About `Himalaya’

Cherie Chung

Additional photos of Cherie Chung’s skin care advert

Cherie is reported to appear for another client on the 25th

Shu Qi
I spy: Shu Qi at the airport

By chance, Shu Qi shared a flight to Taiwan with Anita Yuen and her baby. Out of concern of mother and child Shu Qi diverted the press allowing Anita to escape by going in opposite directions

Josie Ho denies separation from Conroy Chan

Said he was only taking a toy to a family friend and going to New York with friend to visit family. ;)
More Josie

English versions of the Five Conditions on Isabella Leung story
Isabella Leong a few obstacles away from becoming a Li
Isabella Leong to undergo five trials before becoming Mrs. Li

Chinese star Jet Li ‘takes Singapore citizenship’

Gillian Chung slide show

Jennifer Tse (Nic's sister)Gaile Lai
Jennifer Tse and Gaile Lai promote Huggies

Obesity breakthrough leads to Shaw Prize for two

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress