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China Arts & Entertainment

9 Chinese Films of 2017 You Need to Know About

As the new year is around the corner, it is time to look back at 9 Chinese movies from 2017 that are unforgettable.

Angela Heng-hsuan Su

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From patriotic to banned – these are the Chinese releases that moviegoers have been talking about this year.

With the year’s end in sight, it is time to look back at what 2017 has brought, and cinema is undoubtedly one of the good things worth remembering about 2017.

Whether you fancy action, comedy, or drama, there are certain Chinese films that were released in 2017 that are must-sees for both movie-lovers and China watchers. Some of them are important to know about because they broke box office records, some are masterpieces with profound cultural meaning, others are simply entertaining – and then there are those that just fall in between.

Before 2017 ends, we list 9 Chinese releases of the year that you should go and watch if you haven’t done so yet, just because they are worth it.

 
#1 Wolf Warriors II 战狼2
 

Even if you’re not a fan of Chinese films, chances are high that you’ve heard of Wolf Warrior II for its staggering box office numbers. Released in July 2017, the action thriller became the top-grossing film of all time in China in only ten days time. It has grossed nearly 825 million USD so far.

Chinese action star Wu Jing directed the film and also plays the main character: a military hero of the People’s Liberation Army who sets on avenging the capture of his lover in a disease-riddled and war-torn unnamed African nation where China has built hospitals and provided factory jobs for the locals. As if that weren’t enough, the bad guys that are fought by this unstoppable hero – to save and protect innocent civilians – are revolutionaries and Western mercenaries.

Whether you like the politics of Wolf Warrior II or not, this film is relevant for multiple reasons. Besides its record-breaking box office numbers, it was also chosen to represent China in the Oscar’s best foreign film 2018 competition, which is uncommon for action movies. The film was also widely discussed as a work of nationalist propaganda.

 
#2 Duckweed 乘风破浪
 

Duckweed tells the sweet story of a champion racer who time-travels back to the late 90s, meeting his estranged father and never-seen mother and sets out on a comical adventure with them.

Besides displaying a touching father-son ‘bromance’ and featuring witty plot twists, Duckweed vividly portrays some yesteryear scenes in a small town near Shanghai in 1990s China; a pre-mobile phone era where petty gang members carried beepers as talismans of power. Some features of this film might remind you of Back to the Future.

Directed by the talented blogger/author/entrepreneur/car-racer Han Han and starring some of the most well-known actors and actresses in China such as Deng Chao, Zhao Liying, and Eddie Peng, this easy-going and nostalgic comedy became a holiday hit in China during Chinese Spring Festival in early 2017. With the refined acting and well-written storyline, this time-traveling film presents a coming-of-age tale that is worth your laughter (and tears).

 
#3 Have A Nice Day 大世界
 

As the very first Chinese animation film that was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Have A Nice Day is one of the very few Chinese films that stood out at the major international film award events this year.

The film is set in suburban China, where a chauffeur steals a large amount of money from a local gangster to help his girlfriend fix a failed plastic surgery operation. Later on, this turns into a bloody conflict involving several people from diverse backgrounds with different personal motives.

Despite the fact that Have A Nice Day premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year and has since been released in multiple countries, this animated dark comedy still has not been officially released in mainland China yet.

The film was also withdrawn from a film festival in France in June of this year because of “official pressures.” The 77-minutes animation was allegedly blocked after not passing China’s film censorship.

Although the director Liu Jian claimed his work has nothing to do with politics but is just focused on people’s desires and fates, the brilliantly ironic and cynical way Have A Nice Day portrays its characters, their lifestyles, and the landscape of contemporary China, with dark humor script and sharp dialogs which were bound to touch a nerve.

 
#4 The Founding of an Army 建军大业
 

With its all-star cast and glorious depiction of the early history of the Communist Party of China, The Founding of an Army is the third Chinese nationalist film produced by the state-owned China Film Group Corporation, following The Founding of a Republic (2009) and The Founding of a Party (2011).

To commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s establishment, The Founding of an Army recaps moments of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and other founding fathers of China who fought against the KMT-led government during the Chinese Civil War.

Despite all of these factors, this government-backed propaganda film struggled hard for both box office numbers and media attention. Unfortunately for this film, it coincided with the other patriotic work Wolf Warrior II during the same screening period in the summer. This history-based war film was also criticised for casting a lot Chinese teenage idols and popular young actors who arguably did not have the adequate acting skills to play those military leaders in the movie.

 
#5 Paths of the Soul 冈仁波齐
 

Paths of the Soul is directed by Yang Zhang, whose film Shower received high critic ratings in 1999. This film, Paths of the Soul, first premiered back in 2015 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it took this film two years to make it onto cinemas in mainland China.

This documentary-drama film blurs the lines between cinematography and photography as it captures the devout and daunting undertaking journey of a group of Tibetan villagers who make a 1,200-kilometer pilgrimage to Lhasa, the holy city of Tibetan Buddhism.

During this over-10-months travel to Lhasa, the changes of seasons and landscapes not only show the distance and time span, but also every obstacle these pilgrims face; natural disasters, financial problems, and internal quarrels.

Paths of the Soul touches the potentially sensitive issue of minority ethnicities in China and their religion. This focus is also rather unpopular on the mainstream Chinese film market, and all actors starring in the film are generally unknown to the majority of Chinese audiences — they are all Tibetans while some of them weren’t even actors before starring in this movie.

Despite all odds, to the surprise of many, Paths of the Soul has successfully grossed over 14.9 million USD and became one of the very few independent productions that was able to make over 100 million RMB box office in China. Perhaps it is this movie’s ability to trigger viewers to think about the smaller and bigger questions of life that has turned it into an unexpected success.

 
#6 Never Say Die 羞羞的铁拳
 

Never Say Die revolves around the story of a male boxer swapping bodies with a female reporter who exposed his bribes, after which they have to help each other to win the UFC championship.

The plot of soul-exchanging may already be a cliche, but this fantasy comedy still managed to dominate the Golden Week holiday box offices and has grossed over 325 million USD so far, coming along as the second big Chinese film box office success of 2017 following Wolf Warrior II, while becoming the highest-grossing comedy in China ever.

Without any big-name cast or large production, Never Say Die uses an easy-going plot and commonly-understood jokes to catch the Chinese audience. And this may signal that the lower-cost Chinese folk comedies are heading in a new direction.

 
#7 Twenty Two 二十二
 

Twenty Two is the title of this documentary and refers to the number of Chinese WWII ‘comfort women’ who are still alive and willing to share their story with the public.

After nearly a century, this documentary focuses on the voices of these 22 women during the last stage of their lives, revisiting the traumas they experienced during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

The documentary shows how these brave and strong elder women talk about their history, perspectives on life, sufferings, and how they found personal happiness despite all hardships. Unlike most film and television works in China relating to Sino-Japanese War, the heart of Twenty Two doesn’t seem to lie in narrow nationalistic purposes; instead, it succeeds in letting the general public know and understand this specific group of war victims, permanently preserving a crucial part of war history.

 
#8 Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield 绣春刀II修罗战场
 

It can’t be compared to the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield is definitely the only Chinese wuxia film in 2017 that was able to do well in the box-offices while also earning great critic reviews.

The film is set in the late Ming Dynasty, when minors and weaklings occupied the throne; neglecting their duties, relying on power-hungry palace eunuchs, and isolating themselves from government ministers.

Shen Lian is an elite guard of the palace who gets framed for treason. In order to prove his innocence, he seeks the truth behind this conspiracy together with a mysterious artist.

Brotherhood of Blades II features a mix of amazing martial arts, beautiful scenery, exquisite costume design, and tasteful drama, all the while carrying a sociopolitical undertone. Through the furious and thrilling martial arts extravaganza, this wuxia sequel presents the audience with the styles and lives, the fate and determination, and the toughness and loyalty of the fighters within Chinese tradition.

 
#9 Love Education 相爱相亲
 

This sensitive generational drama starts with the 60-year-old Hui Ying deciding to move her father’s grave from his hometown to a place beside her mother’s grave in the city.

However, the first wife of Hui Ying’s father, who has looked after the grave for years, doesn’t approve of her decision. When Hui’s journalist daughter Wei Wei gets involved, the disagreement ends up becoming a problem for the whole town community.

Love Education is a work that touches upon issues of generational gaps, love, and womanhood in modern-day China. Throughout the grave-moving issue, the film highlights contemporary Chinese family values and shows how women at 30, 60, 90 years old see and learn to deal with the relationships and bonds between mother-daughter, husband-wife, and grandmother-daughter while facing different hardships in their professional and personal lives at their various life stages.

Filled with sophisticated irony and wisdom regarding the topic of love, Love Education is a pleasant and innocuous highbrow lifetime drama. When it opened in the first week of November in China, the film scored a rare 8.6 points on Douban, the biggest Chinese website for film, music, and book reviews, becoming the highest-rated Chinese film in 2017.

Angela is a Shanghai-based freelance writer focusing on a wide range of sociopolitical topics in China, including social media pop culture, and gender issues. Born and raised in Taiwan, Angela holds a BA in sociology from National Taiwan University and an MA from Goldsmiths, University of London in media & communication.

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China Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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China Celebs

Angelababy, Huang Xiaoming, Li Fei’er: Love Triangle Rumors From Decade Ago Revisited

Weibo explodes after Angelababy addresses rumors that have been going on for over ten years.

Manya Koetse

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On Wednesday afternoon, Beijing time, Weibo exploded when Chinese celebrity couple Huang Xiaoming and Angelababy addressed some strong rumors about the start of their relationship.

Their posts resulted in various hashtags and search terms going viral, including the phrases “When Angelababy Met Huang Xiaoming, He Said He Was Single” and “Angelababy Was Not My Mistress.” At least three out of today’s top trending Weibo topics are related to Angelababy and Huang Xiaoming.

Angelababy (nickname for Yang Ying 杨颖) is practically a household name in China. The famous actress and model married actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) in 2015, and ever since, their marriage and relationship status is a popular gossip topic on social media. The two have a son together.

With Angelababy having over 100 million fans on her Weibo page (@angelababy) and Huang Xiaoming having over 61 million followers on his (@黄晓明), the two are practically Weibo’s most followed couple. Their $31 million wedding is probably the most-discussed Chinese weddings of the past decade.

Chinese actress Li Fei’er (李菲儿) previously dated Huang Xiaoming after working with him in the 2008 television series Royal Tramp (鹿鼎记). The two are said to have started a relationship in 2007, and to have broken up in 2010 – the same year when Huang got together with Angelababy. The ending of the relationship with Li and the start of the new love affair with Angelababy has been a source of gossip for over a decade.

In a 2011 interview with a Hong Kong magazine, Li had hinted that Angelababy was previously ‘the other woman’ during her relationship with Huang.

The rumors surrounding that alleged love triangle between Angelababy, Li, and Huang reached a new peak this week when Huang Xiaoming and Li Fei’er shared a stage on the super popular reality series Sisters Who Make Waves 2, which features 30 female celebrities over the age of 30. Huang hosts the show.

Apparently, Angelababy felt that the waves of rumors became too strong for her not to speak out. In the late afternoon of January 6, she posted a Weibo post in which she stated that Huang Xiaoming told her he was single when they first met. When Li made ‘groundless’ comments about Angelababy in a magazine interview, she asked Huang about it, and “he told me they had broken up.”

“A decade has passed by. Today, I’ve chosen to stand up for myself and to explain the entire thing clearly. I don’t want to take the blame anymore,” Angelababy writes.

She also added that she felt this is “a matter between Mister Huang and Li Fei’er,” suggesting that Huang is the person who needs to clarify the matter to the public.

Angelababy’s post was followed up by a post by Huang just an hour later, in which he stated the success of the Sister Who Make Waves tv show lies in the values it conveys to respect women, suggesting that the recent flood of rumors is harmful to the show’s central theme, the women participating in it, as well as to his own family.

He further clarifies that Angelababy “was not a mistress,” refuting ongoing rumors about the start of their relationship.

The huge attention for this matter seemed to temporarily put a strain on Weibo’s servers, with the site momentarily showing a notification that its servers were too busy. In 2017, Weibo servers could no longer handle the peak in traffic after Chinese singer ad actor Lu Han announced his new relationship.

Weibo servers were busy after Angelababy posted about the decade-old ‘love triangle’ rumors.

For now, the statements by Angelababy and Huang have only brought about more speculation. The fact that Angelababy refers to her husband as “Mr. Huang” in her post intensifies ongoing rumors that Huang and Angelababy might already be separated.

Meanwhile, Li Fei’er, who has over 11 million followers on her Weibo page (@李菲儿love) has not posted anything about the recent developments. In her last post on January 1st, she wished her followers a happy new year.

By Wednesday night, Beijing time, Angelababy’s post had received over 1,3 million likes and 100,000 comments; Huang’s post got over 850,000 likes, already making this celebrity news one of the most talked-about topics this week.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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