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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

China’s New Hit Drama ‘Nothing But Thirty’ Thrives in the “She Era”

Chinese latest hit drama ‘Nothing but Thirty’ has 20 billion views on its Weibo hashtag page.

Yin Lin Tan

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China’s latest TV drama hit Nothing But Thirty is flooding Weibo discussions. With over 20 billion views on its hashtag page, the show is one of the most popular shows of the season and demonstrates that China’s ‘she era’ (ta shidai 她时代) dramas are all the rage. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin Tan explains.

“Have you heard of ‘independent at the age of thirty’ (sān shí ér lì 三十而立)?” Wang Manni asks, her hair pulled back neatly and white shirt cleanly pressed. “I hope that, before I’m thirty, I’ll be promoted to supervisor.”

Riding on the wave of female protagonist (‘heroine’ 大女主) shows that have been taking over China’s entertainment scene, Nothing But Thirty (三十而已) is a 43-episode drama by Dragon Television that follows the challenges of three different women who have reached the ever-important age of thirty.

In a society where women are often expected to be married by their late twenties, a show like this, which tackles women’s present-day struggles, both in their personal and professional lives, has resonated with many.

In fact, the show is so popular that at the time of writing, the show’s hashtag (“Nothing But Thirty”, #三十而已#) has over 20 billion (!) views on Weibo.

 

Depicting the struggles of China’s thirty-something women

 

Nothing But Thirty revolves around the lives of three female leads from different walks of life. Gu Jia (Tong Yao) is a capable businesswoman turned full-time housewife; Wang Manni (Jiang Shuying) is an independent, career-oriented sales assistant; and Zhong Xiaoqin (Mao Xiaotong) is your run-of-the-mill office lady.

For Gu Jia, the birth of her son was what truly transformed her into a full-fledged housewife. In many ways, she seems like a perfect wife and mother: well-educated, capable, and thoughtful. But, eventually, she too has to face life’s challenges.

Driven and hardworking, Wang Manni is confident in both her looks and abilities. Her immediate goal, at least at the start of the show, is to achieve professional success. Throughout the show, her resilience is put to the test, personally and professionally.

Zhong Xiaoqin is described by many netizens as the most “average” or “normal” character. She is kind-hearted -sometimes to the point of being a pushover -, and has spent years at the same company without rising the ranks. Though her story might seem mundane at first, this peace is disrupted when her marriage takes a turn for the worse.

 

A story that resonates with the masses

 

“The show attracted wide attention, and it strongly resonated with female audiences. Many thirty-something working women saw their own lives reflected in the show,” Xinhua recently wrote about the show.

Nothing but Thirty currently carries a 7.6 out of 10 rating on Douban, an online reviewing platform.

Though some reviewers criticized how the later episodes of the show were unnecessarily draggy, most praised it for its portrayal of strong female characters, good acting, and largely realistic depiction of women above the age of thirty.

“I saw myself, and also saw the friends beside me,” a reviewer notes.

In China, women are, more often than not, burdened with expectations of getting married and settling down by the time they are in their late twenties. If you’re single and thirty, that’s made even worse.

Those who fall into this category carry the derogatory label of “leftover women” (剩女), a term that reflects how single women above the age of thirty are seen as consolation prizes or even unwanted goods.

Thirty is thus an incredibly important number, especially for women — something that’s clearly reflected in the show’s concept trailer.

Aside from societal expectations of starting a family, some women now also take it upon themselves to build their careers. In fact, you can chase after professional success without burdening yourself with the idea that you must be married – a notion exemplified by the character of Wang Manni.

Nothing But Thirty also showcases the sheer diversity of experiences for women above thirty: you don’t have to be married, you don’t have to be super capable, and you don’t have to be thinking about having children. Each woman goes through her own unique struggles and isn’t necessarily endowed with the so-called “protagonist’s halo.”

Ultimately, the popularity of the show is driven by the three female leads and the actresses who bring these strong characters to life.

By telling a story that is relatable and touches on relevant social issues, namely on expectations of women in society, Nothing But Thirty was able to achieve widespread popularity and is adding another notch on the trend of China’s ta shidai (她时代) dramas. 

 

The rise of ta shidai shows

 

Ta shidai literally translates to “her era” or “the ‘she’ era.”

Ta shidai shows explore what it’s like to be a woman in China today. The female characters are diverse when it comes to both their backgrounds and character arcs; they might have different jobs, different levels of education, or different personalities. These shows mostly center around a strong female lead and/or a main cast that is primarily female.

More importantly, they often feature capable women and how these women overcame the odds to achieve success.

Recent shows like The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊) and Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐) also fall under this category, as do somewhat older hit shows such as Ode to Joy (欢乐颂) and Women in Beijing (北京女子图鉴).

The Romance of Tiger and Rose is set in a society in which women are in charge and men are subordinate, in a daring reversal of gender roles. Though the show has been criticized for using social issues to attract attention, it gained a decent following for tackling topics like gender inequality and women’s rights.

The Romance of Tiger and Rose (传闻中的陈芊芊)

A reality TV competition that swept the Chinese entertainment scene, Sisters Who Make Waves attempted to rebuke stereotypes of women over 30 as “leftover women.”

The show brought together female celebrities above the age of 30 (the oldest competitor was 52), and had them go through a series of challenges, culminating in a girl group formed by the final competitors.

Nothing But Thirty is just another example of a show that’s attempted to depict the realistic struggles of women in modern-day China.

More Chinese dramas that feature women — specifically, their struggles and the expectations that society places on them — are slated to be released in 2020.

Over the past few years, more attention has been focused on women’s rights in China. As feminism becomes an increasingly important topic of discussion in China, strongly facilitated by social media and not without controversy, companies are likely to hop on the bandwagon and continue producing shows that fall squarely in the ta shidai category, given the genre’s rising popularity.

Though we can’t expect every single show to perfectly, accurately, and realistically portray women’s struggles, the fact that more stories like these are being produced already helps bring such conversations into the mainstream. 

Hopefully, the trend of ta shidai shows is a sign that these issues won’t just be tackled on camera, but in real life as well. 

 
Read more about Chinese TV dramas here.
 

By Yin Lin Tan

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China Arts & Entertainment

Two Hour Time Limit for KTV: China’s Latest Covid-19 Measures Draw Online Criticism

China’s latest COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures are drawing criticism from social media users.

Manya Koetse

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First published

No more never-ending nights filled with singing and drinking at the karaoke bar for now, as new pandemic containment measures put a time limit as to how long people can stay inside entertainment locations and wangba (internet cafes).

On June 22nd, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism (文旅部) issued an adjusted version to earlier published guidelines on Covid-19-related prevention and control measures for theaters, internet cafes, and other indoor entertainment venues.

Some of the added regulations have become big news on Chinese social media today.

According to the latest guidelines, it will not be allowed for Chinese consumers to stay at various entertainment locations and wangba for more than two hours.

Singing and dancing entertainment venues, such as KTV bars, can only operate at no greater than 50% maximum occupancy. This also means that private karaoke rooms will be much emptier, as they will also only be able to operate at 50% capacity.

On Weibo, the news drew wide attention today, with the hashtag “KTV, Internet Cafe Time Limit of Two Hours” (#KTV网吧消费时间不得超2小时#) receiving over 220 million views at the time of writing. One news post reporting on the latest measures published on the People’s Daily Weibo account received over 7000 comments and 108,000 likes.

One popular comment, receiving over 9000 likes, criticized the current anti-coronavirus measures for entertainment locations, suggesting that dining venues – that have reopened across the country – actually pose a much greater risk than karaoke rooms due to the groups of people gathering in one space without a mask and the “saliva [drops] flying around.”

The comment, that was posted by popular comic blogger Xuexi, further argues that cinemas – that have suffered greatly from nationwide closures – are much safer, as people could wear masks inside and the maximum amount of seats could be minimized by 50%. Karaoke rooms are even safer, Xuexi writes, as the private rooms are only shared by friends or colleagues – people who don’t wear face masks around each other anyway.

Many people agree with the criticism, arguing that the latest guidelines do not make sense at all and that two hours is not nearly enough for singing songs at the karaoke bar or for playing online games at the internet cafe. Some wonder why (regular) bars are not closed instead, or why there is no two-hour time limit for their work at the office.

Most comments are about China’s cinemas, with Weibo users wondering why a karaoke bar, where people open their mouths to sing and talk, would be allowed to open, while the cinemas, where people sit quietly and watch the screen, remain closed.

Others also suggest that a two-hour limit would actually increase the number of individuals visiting one place in one night, saying that this would only increase the risks of spreading the virus.

“Where’s the scientific evidence?”, some wonder: “What’s the difference between staying there for two hours or one day?”

“As a wangba owner, this really fills me with sorrow,” one commenter writes: “Nobody cares about the financial losses we suffered over the past six months. Our landlord can’t reduce our rent. During the epidemic we fully conformed to the disease prevention measures, we haven’t opened our doors at all, and now there’s this policy. We don’t know what to do anymore.”

Among the more serious worries and fears, there are also some who are concerned about more trivial things: “There’s just no way we can eat all our food at the KTV place within a two-hour time frame!”

By Manya Koetse

*” 餐饮其实才更严重,一群人聚在一起,而且不戴口罩,唾沫横飞的。开了空调一样也是密闭空间。电影院完全可以要求必须戴口罩,而且座位可以只出售一半。KTV其实更安全,都是同事朋友的,本身在一起都不戴口罩了,在包间也无所谓。最危险的餐饮反而都不在意了”

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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