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An Overview of Chinese Nominations at Busan Film Festival (Part II)

Three Chinese blockbusters & two films touching upon gender issues; these Chinese films at Busan are definitely worth watching.

Gabi Verberg

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Image from 'Ash is the Purest White'

From Chinese dissident filmmakers to government-funded films, you can find it all at Busan, Asia’s biggest film festival. In the weeks leading up to the event, What’s on Weibo’s Gabi Verberg provides an overview of the Chinese nominees. This week: Part II (See Part I here).

On the 4th of October, the 23th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea will roll out its red carpet to open this year’s film festival season in Asia. With the screening of 323 films from 79 countries, it is one of Asia’s biggest international film festivals, with China as one of the main suppliers of films.

This week, we will introduce to you to the second batch of the Chinese nominees.

 

1. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (Yèwèn Wàizhuàn: Zhāngtiānzhì 叶问外传:张天志)

Mainland China/Hong Kong
Genre: Action
Selected in the category: Opening Night Film
Director: Woo-ping Yuen (袁和平)
Weibo Hashtag: #张天志# (19.600.000+ views)
Premiere: October 2018, Busan International Film Festival

Starring: Max Zhang (张晋), Dave Bautista (戴夫·巴蒂斯塔), Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼), Tony Jaa (托尼·贾), Chrissie Chaw (周秀娜)

About the Director:

Woo-ping Yuen was born in 1945, making him the oldest nominated Chinese director at this years’ Busan Film Festival. In 1978, Woo-ping Yuen was recognized by the film industry for the first time for his works Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (Shé xíng diāo shǒu 蛇形刁手) and Drunken Master (Zuì quán 醉拳).

With Jackie Chan starring as the male protagonist in Drunken Master, the film was nominated for the Golden Horse awards at the Taiwan International Film Festival. In the 40 years that followed, Woo-ping Yuan’s films received numerous nominations and awards at film festivals all over the world.

His most famous contributions to film are as the action director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill: vol.2, and as a Kung-fu choreographer for the film The Matrix.

Storyline:

This spinoff focuses on Cheung Tin Chi (a pivotal character from Ip Man 3, played by Zhang), who has been defated by Ip Man and had his house burned down to the ground. He decides to seek shelter on Bar Street, where he quickly finds solace from his neighbors. But when Tin Chi discovers a gang is peddling drugs on Bar street, he takes it upon himself to intervene and gets into a fight with a powerful foreign villain.

Check out the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The main actors are internationally renowned. Michelle Yeoh showed off her beautiful martial arts skills in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Max Zhang’s showed his mastery of wushu in films such as The Grandmaster and Ip Man 3.

On their website, the organization of the Busan International Film Festival calls the film “dazzling, gripping, and an astonishingly action-driven film that will satisfy the audiences who are looking for great action scenes especially on a big screen.” They also call it one of the “most essential martial art films” that Hong Kong has ever seen.

 

2. The Island (Yīchū Hǎoxì 一出好戏)

China Mainland
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Selected in the category: : A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Bo Huang (黄渤)
Premiere: 10th August 2018

Starring: Bo Huang (黄渤), Qi Shu (舒淇),Baoqiang Wang (王宝强),Yixing Zhang (张艺兴), Hewei Yu (于和伟), Xun Wang (王迅), Qinqin Li (李勤勤), You-lin Li (李又麟 ), Hao Ning (宁浩), Hu Guan (管虎), Jing Liang (梁静), Zheng Xu (徐峥), Teddy Chan (陈德森), Lei Zhang (张磊)

About the Director:

Bo Huang is one of China’s most famous comic actors. Except for acting, he is also a singer, tv host, choreographer, and now a film director. Over the last decade, he received nominations for his acting at almost every big Asian Film Festival, such as the Hong Kong Film Festival or the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. As an actor, Bo Huang starred in, among others, Journey to the West (Xīyóu Jiàngmópiān 西游降魔篇), No Man’s Land (Wúrénqū 无人区), and My Dearest.. The Island is Huang Bo’s first work as a director.

Storyline:

News of a meteorite coming towards the earth doesn’t seem to affect Ma Jin’s everyday life, as he goes about his days; going to work, obsessing over his pretty colleague, and even winning a grand prize lottery during his company’s team-building cruise. But Ma Jin’s life is about to drastically change, bringing him and his collegues to a deserted island, where they have to remake the world as they know it. This story is a surprisingly funny but critical fable of modern society.

See the trailer with English subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The film is already worth watching for its beautiful locations and its spectacular special effects. But another reason to watch the film is for the interaction between Bo Huang and his cast. For the production of The Island, Bo Huang’s budget seemed to be endless, allowing him to freely select his cast. As a consequence, almost all of his cast members are former colleagues. For the film Mr. Six (Lǎopào’er 老炮儿), Bo Huang worked with Hu Guan, Jing Liang, Hewei Ju, Hao Ning, and Yi Zhang, who are now all also featuring in The Island.

The Island is the 29th highest-grossing film in China of all time, with a total gross of 1.343 billion yuan ($195+ million).

 

3. Ash is the Purest White (Jiānghú érnǚ 江湖儿女)

China Mainland/France
Genre: Romance, Crime
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Zhangke Jia (贾樟柯)
Premiere: 11th May 2018, Cannes Film Festival
Weibo Hashtag: #江湖儿女# (44.860.000+ views)

Starring: Tao Zhao (赵涛), Fan Liao (廖凡), Zheng Lu (徐峥), Casper Liang (梁嘉艳), Xiaogang Feng (冯小刚), Yi’nan Diao (刁亦男), Yibai Zhang (张一白), Jiali Ding (丁嘉丽), Yi Zhang (张译), Zijian Dong (董子健), Jiamei Feng (冯家妹), Xuan Li (李宣)

Note:According to some news sources, Xiaogang Feng has been edited out of the movie. The film showed at the Toronto Film Festival was five minutes shorter than the film showed at the Cannes Film Festival in May earlier this year. Xiaogang Feng is alleged of tax evasion and having close ties with actress Fan Bingbing, who hasn’t been seen in public since July first after also being accused of tax evasion.

About the Director:

The award-winning Zhangke Jia is one of China’s most famous film directors. His debut feature film, The Pickpocket (Xiǎowǔ 小武), won the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998. Ever since, Zhangke Jia is one of the few Asian directors to be a regular at the big international film festivals such as Venice Film Festival, where he won three prices and was nominated five times, or Cannes, where Jia won one award and was nominated five times. Among Zhangke Jia’s significant works are movies such as The World (Shìjiè 世界), I Wish I Knew (Hǎishàng chuánqí 海上传奇), A Touch of Sin (Tiān zhùdìng 天注定) or Mountains May Depart
(Shānhé Gùrén 山河故人).

Last year, the very first edition of the ‘Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival’ (平遥国际电影展), an initiative by Zhangke Jia, was held successfully. The film festival celebrates the latest achievements in international cinema and promotes the work of young Chinese directors. The second edition of this festival will be held in October of this year.

Storyline:

This movie, set in China’s underworld, tells the story of love and betrayal between gangster Bin and dancer Qiao. The two lovers have a very strong emotional connection, but their love is severely tested when Qiao winds up going to prison after a violent altercation in which she tried to protect her gangster boyfriend.

See the trailer with Chinese subtitles here.

Why you should watch it:

The Guardian awarded the film four out of five stars calling it an “glorious drama” which feels like a “gripping parable for the vanity of human wishes, and another impassioned portrait of national malaise.” Variety called the film a “gangster epic.”

Another reason to watch the film is its outstanding cast. The two protagonists are played by award-winning actress and director’s muse Tao Zhao (赵涛) and Fan Liao (廖凡). The latter won the Berlin Golden Bear Award, which is the highest prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin International Film Festival; The Golden Horse Award at the Taipei International Film Festival for best actor, and the award for best actor at the Singapore International Film Festival.

 

4. My Dear Friend (Hǎoyǒu 好友)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Pingdao Yang (杨平道)
Reads on Weibo: 35.000 (#抵达之谜#)
Premiere: 2016

Starring: Starring: Gabby So (蘇子情), Robert Loh

About the Director:

Pingdao Yang is a relatively unknown independent director and screenwriter. His works have appeared at dozens of domestic and international film festivals, and he has won several independent film awards.

Other works from Pingdao Yang are Spring of Yangchun (Yángchūn zhī Chūn 阳春之春), One Day As Usual (Guānyú Zhāng Kēzhǎng de Rìcháng 关于张科长的日常), My Family Tree (Jiāpǔ 家谱); and feature films E Huang Mountain (Éhuángzhàng Yìshì 鹅凰嶂逸事) and The River of Life (Shēngmìng de Héliú 生命的河流).

Storyline:

In a remote village of southern China where spring mist lays, A city woman travels to a remote village in southern China to look for her missing boyfriend. Instead of fining him, she discovers a 60-year-long secret friendship between two elderly men.

This film comes twelve years after the debut of the short film Spring of Yangchun , that came out in 2006. That film also tells about the love between two men; after one of the men’s girlfriends unexpectedly passes away, he reunites with his old-time friend who just got back from the army – the two still have issues to resolve.

Spring of Yangchun

(The 2006 short film is available online with Chinese subtitles here.)

Why you should watch it:

Despite the fact that the film was released almost two years ago, Busan Film Festival still wants it to be part of the category A Window on Asian Cinema; a noteworthy fact that says much about the film’s quality. It is also the only Chinese film in Busan of which the topic is related to homosexuality.

 

5. The Rib (Yàdāng de Zhùgǔ 亚当的助骨)

Mainland China
Genre: Drama
Selected in the category: A Window on Asian Cinema
Director: Wei Zhang (张唯)
Weibo Reads: 340.000 (#撞死了一只羊#)
Premiere: 4th September 2018, Venice International Film Festival

Starring: Jingyi Huang (黄精一), Wejie Yuan (源唯杰), Hao Meng (孟浩)

About the Director:

Wei Zhang is an independent filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives of people living in the margins of society. For that reason, among others, his work is closely followed by western film media and film festivals.

Zhang’s previous films include Factory Boss (Dǎgōng lǎobǎn 打工老板), a story about an entrepreneur who desperately takes on low margin jobs to save his business; Destiny (Xǐhé 喜禾)a tale of an autistic boy and his struggling mother; and The Sound of Dream (Tiānlài mèngxiǎng 天籁梦想), a film about four visually impaired Tibetan children whose dream it is to appear on a TV talent show.

Wei Zhang’s films received multiple nominations and won a number of awards, including Best Original Script at the Iranian Fajr International Film Festival, and Most Innovative Film Award at the Asia-Pacific art unit of the Venice Film Festival in Shanghai.

Storyline:

The Rib is based on a collection of true stories, and depicts a Chinese transgender teenager who grows up in a devout Christian family. One day, he tells his parents he wants to undergo surgery to become a woman, and he asks for his parents’ consent. It is the start of a tumultuous story that shows a new side of Chinese society.

Why you should watch it:

According to Variety, this “bold drama” is likely to become “a groundbreaking production for China.”

In choosing a topic such as this, Wei Zhang has indeed made a bold move, especially considering that previous years have seen an online ban on video content relating to homosexuality. According to ScreenDaily, the filmmaker was very grateful to have obtained permission from the Chinese government to shoot the film, and hopes that his work will have a positive influence on society.

Stayed tuned for more! Meanwhile, also check out part 1 of Chinese films at Busan, and our must-see Chinese film list of 2017 here.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Looking Back on the 2024 CMG Spring Festival Gala: Highs, Lows, and Noteworthy Moments

Reflecting on the highs and lows of this year’s China Media Group Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched television program.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM CONTENT

The biggest media spectacle of the Chinese New Year is the annual CMG Spring Festival Gala. The entire week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations.

The 42nd edition of The CMG Spring Festival Gala was broadcasted on February 9th, celebrating the start of the Dragon Year. This year, the show reportedly attracted 679 million viewers.

The annual Spring Festival Gala by the state-run China Media Group (CMG) has become an integral part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for Chinese people since its debut in 1983. As the world’s most-watched live-broadcasted entertainment program, the Gala is now aired across dozens of channels, both in China and abroad, both on television and online.

China’s Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) is commonly abbreviated to Chūnwǎn (春晚) in Chinese. Over the past week, the Chūnwǎn became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media and dominated all trending lists during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The Gala, which lasts a total of four hours, shows the very best of China’s mainstream entertainment and Party propaganda and is a mix of culture, commerce, and politics. Through music, dance, art, and comedy, the event serves as a significant platform for the Party to disseminate official ideology. It is also a chance to present the nation’s top performers while showcasing digital innovations.

 

A “No-Covid”, Traditional Gala


 

The phrase “There will never be a worse, just worse than last year [中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂]” has become a well-known saying among viewers about the Chūnwǎn, as complaining about the show is very much part of the tradition. However, was this year really worse than last year? Not at all.

This 2024 edition was directed by Yu Lei (于蕾), who also directed the 2023 Gala. The 45-year-old female director previously also served as the general scriptwriter and overall designer for the Gala.

Not only was the director the same as last year, but the five main hosts were also exactly the same. They include Ren Luyu (任鲁豫, 1978), the TV host from Henan who has now become one of the most familiar faces on the show; Sa Beining, also known as Benny Sa (撒贝宁, 1976), who is famous for his CCTV work and for hosting the Gala regularly over the past twelve years; Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提, 1983), a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who has hosted the Gala seven times since 2015; Long Yang (龙洋, 1989), a CCTV host from Hunan who presented the Gala for the third time this year; and Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993), who was the youngest and newest host during the 2022 Gala and has been presenting it since.

The choice of director and presenters suggests that continuity and consistency were important for this year’s Chūnwǎn. Although the Gala’s format is always more or less the same, including songs, dances, cross-talk, sketches, traditional opera, martial arts, magic, etc., this year’s Gala stood out for sticking to tradition.

Over the past few years during the pandemic, several elements of the show were altered to adapt to the new situation. From 2021 to 2023, the show was only broadcast from the Beijing Studio and focused less on big spectacular scenes. Since 2020, the battle against Covid has also been a theme in the show. In 2020, the Gala included a segment that was broadcast live from a Wuhan hospital to show how medical staff were spending their Lunar New Year taking care of Covid patients. That was the first time since 1983 for the Gala to include a segment that was not meticulously rehearsed.

From 2021 to 2023, the nation’s battle against Covid was also a theme in songs and other segments, reflecting on the daily lives of ordinary people. In 2021, for example, Jackie Chan sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which addressed the epidemic situation and honored all who joined in the fight against the virus.

However, the theme of Covid played no role at all anymore in this year’s Chūnwǎn, which focused entirely on celebrating the Year of the Dragon, the home, and the nation (龙行龘龘,欣欣家国). Similar to the pre-2020 Gala, this 42nd edition was broadcast not only from the Beijing venue but also included performances in four other locations: Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an, and Kashgar. Continuity was also seen in the 46 acts of the night, as many familiar faces, such as Sun Nan (孙楠) and Han Hong (韩红), performed during the night.

 

Highlights of the 2024 Gala


 

The xiangsheng (相声) act “Director’s Worries” (“导演的心事”) was the most-watched act of the entire show according to the viewership ratings – this also relates to the time of the broadcasting. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns. This act was performed by comedians Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). They were also joined by others, turning it into a “group xiangsheng” (群口相声) that humorously portrayed the mental strains faced by Chinese young people and served as a source for parodies and memes on social media.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Song “Dragon” (龙), performed by famous pop singers Zhang Jie aka Jason Zhang (张杰) and Sun Nan (孙楠) was particularly popular this Gala. The song encompassed the main theme of the Dragon Year, as they sang about how a dragon lies in every Chinese person, representing the spirit and strength of the Chinese nation over the past five thousand years. This song integrated popular entertainment with the essence of the Chinese New Year, cultural heritage, and national pride, making it the perfect anthem for the Spring Festival Gala. One Weibo post by Zhang Jie about his performance received nearly 167,000 comments and over 176,000 shares.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The performance of “Koi Carp” (锦鲤) featuring lead dancer Hua Xiaoyi (华宵一) and the Beijing Dance Academy (北京舞蹈学院) was another standout moment of the Gala. The ‘painting’ dance “Only This Green” (只此青绿) stole the spotlight in 2022, while the ’embroidery’ dance “Splendid” (锦绣) was one of the highlights of the show in 2023. Continuing the tradition of presenting top-notch, artistic dance that merges tradition with technology, the Koi Carp dance had a similar charm, with dancers suspended on spring ropes performing an exquisite aerial dance that made them look like graceful fish underwater.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The creative act “Start Something New” (别开生面) directed by the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) was a highlight in the show for its originality. The act, which combined cooking, dancing, and singing, presented various Lunar New Year customs and food cultures from different regions in China. Besides directing films, Zhang Yimou also has a lot of experience as a creative director of major shows, including the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and the outdoor night show Impression Sanjie Liu.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Xi’an special segment “Poem for the Landscape of Chang’an” (山河诗长安) performed by Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀), Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Zhu Tiexiong (朱铁雄) PACT (派克特), Yang Li (杨力) and conductor Sun Yifan (孙一凡), was among the most spectacular ones of the night. This was an ode to Xi’an and Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai. Filled with lion and dragon performances, opera, rap, dance, and specially arranged music by the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, the segment included a virtual version of Li Bai joining the spectacle. On social media, netizens praised the performance and posted many gifs of the Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun together with the virtual version of the classical poet Li Bai.

Watch on Youtube here

 

The ‘Lows’ of the 2024 Gala


 

The various xiaopin (小品, skits) were not very well-received. Over the past few years, the Gala’s dance and song performances have actually become among the most beloved acts – far more popular than the xiaopin, which did not get much positive feedback this year at all. Some people said they just “didn’t get” the humor or that the sketches were just not entertaining enough.

 
The song “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) was the least viewed part of the show according to viewership ratings, and it marked a departure from tradition in a significant way. Since the 1980s, the final song of the Spring Festival Gala has always been “Unforgettable Night,” sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). Li Guyi rose to fame with the song “Homeland Love” (乡恋) during China’s Reform and Opening Up era, and her songs evoke nostalgia for many viewers. She made her first appearance at the Gala in 1983 and became the most frequent performer at the event. Due to her recovery from Covid in the hospital, she was unable to perform at last year’s Chūnwǎn, and her absence from this year’s show was not only a significant disappointment for many but was also seen as the end of an era. Additionally, many people commented that they did not appreciate the new interpretation of the traditional song.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The PLA song “Decisive Victory” (决胜) drew attention from Taiwanese media outlets, highlighting it as a controversial moment of the Gala. The performance of this military song, delivered by artists from the PLA Cultural and Artistic Center, featured soldiers clad in combat gear marching and dancing on stage, while the backdrop displayed images of rockets, tanks, and other war-like scenes. Taiwanese media framed the song within the context of mainland China’s military threats against Taiwan. Some Weibo commentators also interpreted the performance in this light, particularly noting the sequence where singers from Taiwan and mainland China first sang the song “Etiquette” (礼序) together just before the People’s Liberation Army performed the military song. This was seen as a statement of “diplomacy comes before violence” (“先礼后兵”).

Watch on Youtube here

 

The Noteworthy


 

The magic show “Guarding the New Year Together” (守岁共此时) performed by Liu Qian (刘谦) created quite a buzz. During a card trick involving the audience and Gala host Nëghmet Raxman, it seemed like Raxman’s cards didn’t match as intended. Although everyone was supposed to have matching cards, Raxman’s expression revealed that his two cards did not match. This led to much banter online, and Nëghmet Raxman – and his nervous expression – became a trending topic.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The song “Climbing Spring Mountain” (上春山) performed by Wei Chen (魏晨), Wei Daxun (魏大勋), and Bai Jingting (白敬亭) became one of the most discussed acts in the week following the Gala after a rehearsal video was posted online and netizens noticed inconsistencies in the singers’ attire and positions on stage. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion during the song. One important reason why the main rehearsal video triggered controversy is because a tape of the official rehearsal always runs concurrently with the live broadcast, allowing producers to seamlessly switch to the taped version in the event of a problem or disruption without TV audiences noticing. But because Bai changed his outfit, wearing black while the others wore white, and because he did not give up his main spot during the performance, it might have been impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song (even though the lip-syncing during the performance was completely out of sync).

Watch on Youtube here

 
● The song “A Friend Like You” (像你这样的朋友) attracted a lot of attention on Weibo and beyond this week as it was performed by the so-called “0713 Super Boys,” including Wang Zhengliang (王铮亮), Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), Allen Su (苏醒), Zhang Yuan (张远), Lu Hu (陆虎), and Wang Yuexin (王栎鑫). In 2022, these once nearly ‘forgotten’ singers made a remarkable comeback through the reality TV hits Welcome to the Mushroom House (欢迎来到蘑菇屋) and Go for Happiness (快乐再出发). They initially gained fame in 2007 after participating in the singing contest Super Boy but gradually faded into obscurity in the years following their initial success. Their gala performance marks their ultimate comeback.

Watch on Youtube here

 
“Belle” (美人) from the French musical Notre Dame de Paris was performed at the Gala in French by various French and Chinese performers, including Angelo Del Vecchio and Liao Changyong. “Who would have ever expected for Notre Dame de Paris to be performed at the Chūnwǎn in French?” one commenter wrote. The Gala provided some subtitles during the song to convey the general idea of the song. Although the Gala usually incorporates an international element, this was the first time for a song to be fully sung in French. The song was presented in the context of China and France celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Watch on Youtube here

 
● Dilraba Dilmurat (丽热巴) in “Dances of Xinjiang” (舞乐新疆) was praised by commenters as the most beautiful performer of the night. The Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity showcased her dancing skills during the Kashgar segment of the evening. Not only was her performance notable for its beauty and grace, but it also garnered attention online due to a video recorded by an audience member showing Dilmurat slipping and falling on her bum during the show, after which she promptly got up and continued. After all, the show must go on!

Watch the full performance on Youtube here

Want to know more about the previous editions of the Spring Festival Gala? Also check out our articles below:

– 2023: Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Watching ‘Chunwan’: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: The Best and the Worst of CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 9 Chinese Movies to Watch This Spring Festival Holiday

Lunar New Year lineup: These are the 9 Chinese films competing at the Spring Festival box office.

Manya Koetse

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Over the past decade, China’s domestic film industry has experienced explosive growth, both in terms of production and box office revenue.

When it comes to the latter, the Spring Festival is the most important time of the year for box office success. Especially over the past few years, there has been more media focus on the Spring Festival season as the peak season for top domestic films.

During the Chinese Spring Festival, along with the National Day Holiday, movies tend to earn around 32.3% more on average. Sci-fi and action films are the most successful, followed by comedies (Li et al 2022, 128). Last year, the Spring Festival box office revenues accounted for about 12.3 percent of the yearly total.

Notable films in the Spring Festival lineup of 2023 included Zhang Yimou’s Full River Red (满红红), the sequal to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (流浪地球2), espionage suspense movie Hidden Blade (无名), sports drama Ping Pong: The Triumph (中国乒乓之绝地反击), the comedy Five Hundred Miles (交换人生), animation feature Boonie Bears: Guardian Code (熊出没), and Tian Xiaopeng’s Deep Sea animation film.

Especially the first two movies, Full River Red and Wandering Earth 2, became box office hits, earning a respective RMB4.55 billion ($633 million) and RMB4.03 billion ($561 million).

This year, there are nine big box office movies during the eight-day Chinese New Year’s holiday, and virtually all of them have recently also trended on Chinese social media. Here, we will list all nine of them and what you need to know about them.

 

1. YOLO 热辣滚烫

  • Title: Chinese title: 热辣滚烫 Rèlà Gǔntàng, ‘Sizzling Hot‘; English title: YOLO
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Jia Ling (贾玲), who previously also directed the 2021 Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) movie.
  • Screenplay by: Sun Jibin (孙集斌), who also did the screenplay for Hi, Mom. The film is based on the Japanese 2014 movie 100 Yen Love (百円の恋, Hyakuen no Koi).
  • Starring: Jia Ling (贾玲), Jia Yinlei (雷佳音), Zhang Xiaofei (张小斐), Yang Zi (杨紫), Sha Yi (沙溢).
  • About: YOLO (热辣滚烫), which will hit Chinese theaters on February 10, tells the story of Le Ying (乐莹), who has withdrawn from social life and isolated herself at home ever since graduation. Trying to get her life back on track, Le Ying meets a boxing coach. The meeting proves to be just the beginning of a new journey in life filled with unforeseen challenges.
  • Trending: Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲) went trending on Weibo on the day she announced this upcoming movie because of her remarkable weight loss transformation; she lost a staggering 100 pounds (50 kg) for her role in this film.

 

 

2. Pegasus 2 飞驰人生2

  • Title: Chinese title: 飞驰人生2 Fēichí Rénshēng 2, ‘High-speed Life 2‘; English title: Pegasus 2
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 121 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Han (韩寒)
  • Screenplay by: Han Han (韩寒).
  • Starring: Shen Teng (沈腾), Fan Chengcheng (范丞丞), Yin Zheng (尹正), Zhang Benyu (张本煜), Sun Yizhou (孙艺洲).
  • About: This is the sequal to Pegasus (2019), the 2019 Spring Festival blockbuster about passionate rally driver Zhang Chi (张驰, played by Shen Tang), who had to step away from racing due to a ban for illegal street racing. But he never gave up on his dream. Now, he’s gearing up for a major comeback, facing new competition. Based on the experiences of Han Han, a talented writer and professional rally driver, and his admiration for racer Xu Lang, Pegasus 2 continues this tale of determination and passion. Zhang Chi, now a driving school instructor, gets a chance to return to the track when offered sponsorship from a car factory to compete in a high-profile racing rally with a team he must assemble.
  • Trending: Pegasus 2 is a much-anticipated movie among Chinese netizens, mainly because of the all-star cast including celebrated actor Shen Teng and young idol Fan Chengcheng. The movie’s January 29 promo event in Beijing also went trending when Fan Chengcheng posted a photo together with the cast members. This post was shared over a million times, receiving more than 100,000 comments.

 

 

3. Article 20 第二十条

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 第二十条 Dì èrshí tiáo; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Family Drama
  • Runtime: 141 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou (张艺谋)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Lei Jiayin (雷佳音), Ma Li (马丽), Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), Gao Ye (高叶), Liu Yaowen (刘耀文)
  • About: Zhang Yimou’s Article 20 tells the story of prosecutor Han Ming (韩明, Lei Jiayin) who is facing a particularly difficult legal case at work, while navigating complicated situations at home, especially after his son got into a fight with the son of the school leader. As Han Ming strives to balance work and family responsibilities, he courageously fights for fairness and justice in his own way.
  • Trending: As one of China’s most prolific film directors, Zhang Yimou’s work always gets a lot of attention on Chinese social media. This time, some of the Weibo hashtags related to this movie received millions or even billions of views. Especially the young celebrity and teen idol Liu Yaowen (2005) is receiving attention for starring in this film as Han Ming’s son Han Yuchen who beats up the school director’s son and then refuses to apologise. Some online polls asking netizens which movie they’re most excited to see this Spring Festival (投票:你春节打算看哪部电影) also indicate that Article 20 is one of the most anticipated movies on this list.

 

 

4. The Movie Emperor 红毯先生

  • Title: Chinese title: 红毯先生 Hóngtǎn Xiānshēng, ‘Mr. Red Carpet’; English title: The Movie Emperor
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Runtime: 127 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhu Hao (宁浩)
  • Screenplay by: Liu Xiaodan (刘晓丹), Wang Ang (王昂)
  • Starring: Andy Lau (刘德华), Pal Sinn Lap-man (单立文), Rima Zeidan (瑞玛·席丹), Yu Weiguo (余伟国), and Ning Hao (宁浩).
  • About: Andy Lau plays the main character in this film, a renowned Hong Kong film star who is preparing for a major comeback in a rural-themed film. To prepare for his role as a peasant farmer in the 1960s, he immerses himself in rural life in China, which leads to all kinds of bizarre situations that satirically reflect on the present-day entertainment industry.
  • Trending: The Movie Emperor is perhaps among the more serious comedies in this list, as it has a deeper message about the dynamics of the entertainment industry and present-day society. With a career spanning over four decades, there’s perhaps no other actor who’d be more suited to play this character than Andy Lau, and many commenters are looking forward to see him in this role.

 

 

5. Viva La Vida 我们一起摇太阳

Image via Yule 360.

  • Title: Chinese title: 我们一起摇太阳 Wǒmen Yìqǐ Yáo Tàiyáng, ‘Shake the Sun Together’; English title: Viva La Vida
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Romantic comedy-drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Yan (韩延)
  • Screenplay by: Han Yan (韩延), Li Liangwen (李亮文), Wang Xiaoyi (王小艾), Yang Fuzhi (杨富芝)
  • Starring: Peng Yuchang (彭昱畅), Li Gengxi aka Teresa Li (李庚希), Xu Fan (徐帆), Gao Yalin (高亚麟), Liu Dan (刘丹).
  • About: This movie is the third and final movie in the director Han Yan’s “Life Trilogy” of of uplifting films centered around the theme of battling cancer. It follows the successes of the previous hits, Go Away Mr. Tumor and A Little Red Flower, released in 2015 and 2020 respectively. The narrative focuses on the romance between a girl suffering from kidney dysfunction (Teresa Li) and a boy afflicted with a brain tumor (Peng Yuchang). Despite their contrasting personalities, they find unity in their shared struggles with illness, embarking on a journey that celebrates the essence of life.
  • Trending: These days, movie production teams are doing all they can to go trending on social media to increase the hype surrounding their films. In light of their promotional activities, actor Peng Yuchang went to Tianjin to join the ‘diving grandpa’s’ (#彭昱畅和天津大爷一块跳水#). This is a group of elderly swimmers who went viral in 2023 because of their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). People joked about Peng swimming in the cold river, saying they had “never seen a male lead work so hard to promote their film.”

 

 

6. Boonie Bears: Time Twist 熊出没:逆转时空

Image via Moonlight Media

  • Title: Chinese title: 熊出没:逆转时空 Xióng Chūmò: Nìzhǔan Shíkōng; English title: Boonie Bears: Time Twist
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy sci-fi animation
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Directed by: Lin Huida (林汇达)
  • Screenplay by: Xu Yun (徐芸), Wan Qin (万秦), Jiang Lin (蒋琳)
  • Starring: Tan Xiao (谭笑), Zhang Bingjun (张秉君), Zhang Wei (张伟), Zhang Ming (张茗)
  • About: This latest film from the Boonie Bears universe revolves around the stressed-out white-collar worker Vick (光头强), who has left his small town and forest job for a career in the big city. However, his absence has some far-reaching consequences. When he accompanies his boss on a work trip, he embarks on an adventure through time and space, that’s all about exploring life goals and finding self-fulfillment.
  • Trending: While this film may not be among the top trending movies this Spring Festival season, it’s still a beloved choice for both Boonie Bears fans and parents who want to take their kids to the movies this holiday. This is also a special Boonie Bears year, as it marks both the 12th anniversary of the Chinese “Boonie Bears” cartoon franchise and the 10th anniversary of the first feature film, “Boonie Bears: To the Rescue” (熊出没之夺宝熊兵).

 

 

7. Ba Jie 八戒之天蓬下界

Image via Xigua.

  • Title: Chinese title: 八戒之天蓬下界 Bājiè zhī Tiānpéng Xiàjiè; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animated fantasy adventure
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Directed by: He Ranhao (何冉昊)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Zhang Lei (张磊), Ji Guanlin (季冠霖), Zhao Mingzhou (赵明洲), Gao Zengzhi (高增志), Ma Dehua (马德华)
  • About: This is the first animated film in China about Ba Jie, a renowned character from the 16th-century novel Journey to the West (西游记) who is known for being part human and part pig – as well as being lazy and gluttonous. Presented as a quintessentially Chinese animation film, Ba Jie is not just a contemporary adaptation of a Chinese classic, it also embraces a style and color palette that builds on Chinese tradition. Originally announced for release in 2021 for 2022, coinciding with the Year of the Pig, the movie was then rescheduled for 2023, and now is finally making its premiere in the Year of the Dragon. Ma Dehua (马德华), who played Ba Jie in the famous 1986 “Journey to the West” TV series is also a voice actor in this film.
  • Trending: The fact that this film was delayed and is already three years old by the time it hits cinemas does not exactly add to its appeal. Many people feel like they’ve seen the film posters again and again, and that its momentum has already passed.

 

 

8. Broken Mission 破战

Image via QQ.

  • Title: Chinese title: 破战 Pò Zhàn, ‘Break War’; English title: Broken Mission
  • Premiere: February 16, 2024
  • Genre: Drama / Action / Suspense
  • Runtime: 86 minutes
  • Directed by: Peng Fa aka Danny Pang (彭发)
  • Screenplay by: Peng Fa (彭发)
  • Starring: Wu Zhenyu (吴镇宇), Simon Yam (任达华), Cheng Yuanyuan (程媛媛), Tang Wenlong (唐文龙), Liu Yingyi (刘颖仪).
  • About: Although this movie won’t hit cinemas until February 16, it’s still considered a Spring Festival movie. Set in Hong Kong, this action-packed film revolves around the confrontation between the local police team and a criminal committing crimes in service to his “Savior.” The filming already started in 2019, and because of the big delay – partly due to many revisions in the script – the movie seems to have lost some of its relevance.
  • Trending: Together with Ba Jie, Broken Mission is among the least popular movies in this list. There have also been very few promotional activities surrounding the premiere. In an online poll asking netizens which movies they anticipated most, these two received the least votes. YOLO and Article 20 received the most votes. Given its lack of popularity, some netizens propose that the movie should bypass cinemas entirely and go directly to online streaming services instead.

 

 

9. Huang Pi: God of Wealth Cat 黄貔:天降财神猫

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 黄貔:天降财神猫 Huáng Pí: Tiānjiàng cáishén māo; English title: Huang Pi / God of Wealth Cat or God of Money
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animation/Comedy
  • Runtime: 82 minutes
  • Directed by: Bai Ding (白丁) and Guan Yang (关杨)
  • Starring: Li Meng (李盟), Yan Nan (闫楠), Wang Zi (王梓), Yang Tianxiang (杨天翔), Liu Yike (刘依可).
  • About: Inspired by Monkey King Wreaks Havoc in Heaven, this Mandarin-Cantonese bilingual animated movie revolves around Huang Pi, who is transformed into a cat by the Four Heavenly Kings after causing trouble in the Heavenly Palace. In order to repay the kindness of the God of wealth who rescues him, Huang Pi descents to the mortal world with his five incarnations. Here, he faces various challenges, one of which involves being mistaken for a stray cat by a pet hospital owner.
  • Trending: The ‘lucky cat’ theme and Chinese artistic influences makes this movie a suitable one for the Spring Festival, with many people and animation fans anticipating its premiere.

 

By Manya Koetse

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References

Li, Xuefei, Hua Lu, Chengzhong Wu. 2022. “The Destiny of Movies’ Box Office Performance in China: An Expectation–Evaluation Model.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 52(2): 117-135.

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