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Knife In the Clear Water- Hui Muslim Story at Busan International Film Festival

The movie Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) premiered at the Busan International Film Festival on October 7. Director Wang Xuebo spent nearly a decade realizing this film, that offers a rare glimpse into the world of China’s Hui Muslims.

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The movie Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) premiered at the Busan International Film Festival on October 7. Director Wang Xuebo spent nearly a decade realizing this film, that offers a rare glimpse into the world of China’s Hui Muslims. For the pre-filming research, Wang spent 10 months in one of China’s most difficult regions to live.

On October 7, young director Wang Xuebo (@Sean王学博, 1984) brought his debut film Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) to the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). The film will compete for an award in the “new currents” (新浪潮) category.

Knife In the Clear Water is also set to screen a the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) in November of this year. Together with Busan, it is one of the biggest and most influential film festivals in Asia.

A Story of Hui Muslims

The film Knife In the Clear Water tells a story about Hui people (a Chinese Muslim ethnic group) living in China’s Xihaigu region in the southern part of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region – an extremely dry region, and one of the worst habitation for humans according to United Nations World Food programme.

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In the film, the elderly Hui farmer Ma Zishan has just lost his wife. For the funeral ceremony, his son proposes to sacrifice the old bull that has been with the family for years. Though unwilling, Ma Zishan agrees as the bull is old, his wife deserves to be honored, and their guests need to be fed. But the farmer struggles to part with the bull, and in the days leading up to the ceremony, the old man is troubled by the thought of his own death and seems to learn something from the bull in its last days before being slaughtered.

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The themes of life and death and the concept of cleanliness in the life of Hui Muslims play a major role in the movie, and are addressed through oil-painting-like scenes.

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The film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Shi Shuqing, which has won the 2nd Luxun Literary Prize (鲁迅文学奖) – a top literary prize in China.

Decade-Long Project

From a budding idea to an award nomination, Knife In the Clear Water has taken Wang Xuebo almost a decade to complete. In 2007, Wang first read the novel Knife in the Clear Water. Deeply moved, he decided to turn it into a short film as his graduation project.

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In 2009, Wang and his team went to live in Xihaigu for 10 months. During this time, Wang observed the culture and customs of the Hui people and made 3 short documentary films which he called the ‘Xihaigu trilogy’ (西海固三部曲). The film Knife In the Clear Water was developed from its 30-minute version in the trilogy.

Throughout the film-making process, Wang often faced challenges in dealing with local culture and customs. Among other things, it was not easy to find actors, as many villagers believed that acting is forbidden by the Koran.

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Casting Yang Shengcang for the role of Ma Zishan was also difficult, as according to local customs, elderly people are expected to engage in religious practices instead of mundane affairs.

Wang was mindful about the local customs and traditions. “I was afraid to do something wrong when talking to villagers,” Wang said in an interview with Cinematic (奇遇电影), “Since my co-directors were all experienced in these matters, I asked them to establish relationships… to avoid miscommunication. Disagreement is quite common between director and actors. I especially now know how to keep this in check.”

Throughout the filming process, Wang developed a good relationship with the movie’s local actors. On the day of the premiere, Wang posted on his Sina Weibo account: “I am really happy to see the two actors traveling abroad and standing on an international stage for the first time!”

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What is significant about Knife In the Clear Water is its truthful narrative of the life of Hui Muslims on their own soil. Although it is rare for Hui Muslims to be represented on screen in China, it seems that the younger generation is making an effort to change this.

Wang Xuebo’s earlier work Bangke from the Village of Mansi (满寺村的邦克, 2008) is a documentary of life in the Xihaigu region. In 2015, Ma Yulong (马誉龙) from the Beijing Film Academy (北京电影学院) produced Hasang (哈桑), a short film about the devout faith of Ningxia Muslims, as his graduation project.

On Chinese social media, many netizens express their appreciation of the novel, and those who have already seen (part of) the film applaud Wang’s work. “It makes me proud,” one commenter says.

“This is a chance for people who are prejudiced against Muslims to see a different side to Muslim culture,” one netizen comments.

-By Diandian Guo
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘First Lady of Hong Kong TV’ Lily Leung Passes Away at Age 90

Chinese netizens pay their respects to veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (1929-2019), who passed away on August 13.

Manya Koetse

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Lily in 1996, image via Sing Tao Daily.

While the Hong Kong protests are dominating the headlines, the death of Hong Kong veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (梁舜燕) has become a top trending topic on social media site Sina Weibo under the hashtag “Hong Kong Actress Liang Shunyan Dies from Illness” (#香港演员梁舜燕病逝#).

Lily Leung, image via http://www.sohu.com/a/333418087_161795.

The actress was born in Hong Kong in 1929. She starred in dozens of television series, including the first TV drama to be locally broadcasted. She became known as “the first lady of Hong Kong TV.”

Leung acted for TVB and other broadcasters. Some of her more well-known roles were those in Kindred Spirit (真情) and Heart of Greed (溏心风暴).

Leung, also nicknamed ‘Sister Lily’ (Lily姐), passed away on August 13. According to various Chinese media reports, the actress passed peacefully surrounded by family after enduring illness. She was 90 years old.

“I’ve seen so much of her work,” many Weibo netizens say, sharing the favorite roles played by Leung. “I always watched her on TVB while growing up, and will cherish her memory,” one commenter wrote.

Another well-known Hong Kong actress, Teresa Ha Ping (夏萍), also passed away this month. She was 81 years old when she died. Her passing away also attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media (
#演员夏萍去世#).

Many people express their sadness over the fact that not one but two grand ladies from Hong Kong’s 20th-century entertainment era have passed away this month.

“Those people from our memories pass away one by one, and it represents the passing of an era,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Two familiar faces and old troupers of Hong Kong drama – I hope they rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Fashion & Beauty

The Mulan Makeup Challenge: Traditional Chinese Makeup Goes Trending

Recreating the Mulan make-up look was the biggest beauty challenge on Chinese social media this July.

Manya Koetse

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Will traditional Chinese make-up make a comeback because of Disney’s Mulan?

Since Disney released the official trailer for its live-action Mulan movie earlier this month, Mulan is recurringly appearing in the top trending lists on Chinese social media.

Among all the different topics relating to the upcoming Mulan movie, the Mulan make-up challenge is one that jumps out this month.

The Disney live-action trailer showed a scene in which Mulan, played by Chinese American actress Crystal Liu Fei (刘亦菲), has a full face of betrothal makeup. The original animated Disney movie also features a full makeup Mulan.

Although there was also online criticism of the ‘exaggerated’ makeup, there are many people who appreciate Mulan’s colorful makeup look.

On Weibo, many showed off their skills in copying Mulan’s makeup look this month.

By now, the hashtags “Mulan Makeup Imitation” (#花木兰仿妆#) and “Mulan Makeup Imitation Contest” (#花木兰仿妆大赛#) have attracted over 300 million views.

Makeup such as lipstick has been used in China as far back as two or three thousand years ago.

Makeup vlogger Emma Zhou explains more about Tang Dynasty (618-907) makeup customs here; the skin would be whitened with rice flower, followed by the application of ‘blush’ (pigment of strong-colored flowers) to the cheeks and eyes in a round shape, to emphasize the roundness of the face.

A floral-like decoration would be placed in between the eyebrows.

The yellow forehead, as can be seen in the live-action Mulan, is also known as “Buddha’s makeup,” and was especially popular among ladies during the Tang Dynasty. A yellow aura on the forehead was believed to be auspicious (Schafer 1956, 419).

Although contemporary Chinese makeup trends are much different than those depicted in Mulan, traditional makeup seems to make somewhat of a come-back because of the Disney movie, with hundreds of Chinese netizens imitating the look.

Beauty bloggers such as Nico (@黎千千Nico, image below) receive much praise from Weibo users for their makeup look. Nico wrote: “I even opened the door for the delivery guy this way!”

It is not just girls imitating the look; there are also some boys showing off their Mulan makeup.

Although many still find the Mulan makeup look exaggerated and even “laughable,” there are also those who think it looks really “cool” – of course, depending on whether or not the application is successful.

Want to try it out for yourself? There are various amateur tutorials available on Youtube (in Chinese), such as here, here, or here.

The Mulan make-up hype will probably continue in 2020; the Mulan movie will come out in late March.

To read more about Mulan, please see our latest feature article on Mulan here.

By Manya Koetse

References

Schafer, Edward H. 1956. “The Early History of Lead Pigments and Cosmetics in China.” T’oung Pao, Second Series, 44, no. 4/5: 413-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4527434.

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