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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.

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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 Comic & Games

KFC China’s Psyduck Toy is a Viral Hit

As Psyduck goes viral, KFC Children’s Day toys are deemed “too childish for children but just perfect for us adults.”

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American fast-food chain KFC recently introduced three new Pokémon toys to go with its kids’ meals in various regions across China, with one of the toys, in particular, becoming a viral hit: Psyduck (可达鸭).

The new Pokémon toys were introduced on May 21st to celebrate Children’s Day (June 1). As reported by Shanghai Daily, the toys are randomly distributed in Children’s Day meals and will be released in different regions at different times.

Psyduck is a yellow duck-like Pokémon that is known to be confused because it’s bothered by headaches. One of the reasons why the Psyduck toy might be more popular than its fellow (Pikachu) toys, is because it dances, with its arms going up and down, and because of the catchy tune that starts once it starts moving. Psyduck is also a bit more dopey and ‘uncool’ than Pikachu, which makes him all the cooler (remember the Peppa Pig craze?)

Since its release, many people have been going crazy over the KFC toy. Psyduck fans have been hunting for the KFC treasure, and some have even turned it into a side business: they offer their services in getting as many KFC meals as necessary before grabbing the Psyduck toy – you’ll have to pay for their meal – and they’ll send the toy to their ‘customers’ later on.

The #Psyduck hashtag saw the first spike on Weibo on May 21st, the day of its release, when it received nearly 135 million views.

Although the toys were released for Children’s Day, most of these Psyduck fans are not kids at all. In one interview moment that went viral, an older man was asked about the Psyduck while he was standing in line at KFC. “I’m only here because my son wants it,” the man says. When he is asked how old his boy is, he answers: “He’s over thirty years old.”

A popular comment about the craze over the kids’ meal toys said: “This toy is perhaps too childish for children, but it’s just perfect for us adults.” The comment received nearly 20,000 likes.

If you buy a set meal including the toy, you will spend in between 59-109 yuan ($9-$16), but the reselling price of Psyduck has reportedly been as high as US$200 for just the Pokémon figure alone. KFC China has stated that it does not support this kind of reselling.

Illustration about the Psyduck crazy by New Weekly (@新周刊).

Especially among students, it has become popular to stick messages to the arms of the dancing Psyduck with motivational or humorous messages. Some students say the Psyduck keeps them company while they are studying.

Since short funny videos featuring Psyduck are going viral on Weibo and Douyin, a lot of Psyduck’s appeal relates to its social media success and joining in on the hype. People post videos of themselves unboxing their Psyduck, introducing it to their cat, imitating it, or they use the Psyduck in various creative ways.

This is not the first time for KFC toys to become a national craze. Earlier this year, KFC came out with limited edition blind boxes in a collaboration with Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. To get one of the dolls, customers needed to buy a 99 yuan (US$15.5) family set meal.

But the blind box sales also sparked criticism from China’s Consumer Association for promoting over-purchasing of its food and causing food waste. In order to get all of the six collectible dolls, including the rarest ones, customers would start buying many meals just for the dolls. As reported by SCMP at the time, one customer went as far as to spend US$1,650 on a total of 106 meals to collect all six dolls.

KFC is the most popular fast-food chain in China. People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland.

As explained in the book written about KFC China’s popularity (“Secret Recipe for Success“), its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Some reasons that contributed to KFC’s success in China are the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste, and its successful marketing campaigns.

Now, Psyduck can be added as one of the ingredients in KFC China’s perhaps not-so-secret recipe for success.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via @Baaaaaaaaal, Weibo.com

Image via Weibo

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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