2017 has been a very interesting year for the Chinese-speaking world (allow me not to dwell on the politics of the matter). The collaborations between China and Hong Kong have resulted in a number of blockbusters, Chinese filmmakers continue to produce unique (original if you prefer) films, Hong Kong is trying to reinstate its former status with the help of governmental initiatives, while Taiwan keeps producing masterpieces of all genres.

Here are ten of the best samples of the aforementioned, with a focus in diversity. Some of the films premiered in 2016, but since they circulated mostly in 2017, I took the liberty of including them. (By clicking on the titles, you can read the full reviews)

10. Wolf Warrior 2 (Wu Jing, China)

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Granted, this does feel more of the same of what came before it, but the film’s sense of fun overall makes it a more than worthy effort overall. On the whole, this emerges as recommended viewing for any fan of the original or those who enjoy these over-the-top action set pieces, although fans who find fault here would be wise to heed caution with this one. (Don Anelli)

9. With Prisoners (Andrew Wong Kwok-huen, Hong Kong)

Andrew Wong Kwok-huen in his debut directs a film that functions as a very harsh critique of the correctional facilities in the country, particularly the ones for juvenile offenders, which are considered (as stated in the movie) much worse than those for the adults are. In that fashion, the circumstances are truly hellish, which leads many of the convicts to despair and even suicide, despite the relatively small time of incarceration (a few months). The correctional officers are portrayed as true villains, who repeatedly state that they consider the inmates scum with no chance of rehabilitation, thus justifying their despicable behaviour, at least to themselves. (Panos Kotzathanasis)

8. Dragonfly Eyes (Xu Bing, China)

The rather abstract story shows Xu Bing leaving the monastery she inhabited to experience the “actual” world. She takes odd jobs, from a cow farm, to a dry cleaners, to a restaurant, where always something happens and she gets fired. The only one who seems to stay by her side is Ke Fan, a man who has feelings for her, although unrequited. Eventually, Xu Bing disappears, Ke Fan searches for her desperately, and the concept of plastic surgery comes to the fore. (Panos Kotzathanasis)

7. The Sleep Curse (Herman Yau, Hong Kong)

If you gore hounds are looking for a straight out action packed, bloody slasher treat, you could be disappointed. Nevertheless, the beginning and the end of The Sleep Curse are really well put together, whereas the middle subplot is rather slow. But Herman saves all the good bloody bits like decapitation, mutilation and even cannibalism till the very end and he succeeds with flying colors. This gory slasher actually has some historical meaning added to the mix that makes you think and take note. (David Chew)

6. Our Time Will Come (Ann Hui, Hong Kong)

Behind the spy-thriller veneer, this is a quintessential Ann Hui film and the espionage theme quickly reverts into the director’s trademark perspective, where the war is filtered through the eyes of ordinary people dealing with tragic and unexpected circumstances. Far from a traditional war epic “Our Time Will Come” is instead a powerful epic of endurance and struggle. Fights are sporadic and often in the background, what we rather see are the subtle details of the everyday life under strain, little gestures, stretching the rice, wartime economy, giving shelter, all narrated with Hui’s delicate touch and empathy. Every single scene of the movie posses an undercurrent flow of emotions but the director chooses to maintain a quiet and distant tone. Understated and realistically narrated the story unravels in front of our very eyes without using a defined point-of-view character. (Adriana Rosati)

5. Youth (Feng Xiaogang, China)

I felt that the true value of the film and particularly of Feng’s direction lies not directly on the image, but more in what lies underneath. In that fashion, the movie may seem that exemplifies the Mao era, but a number of episodes undermine this sense, like the one with Liu Feng for example, which also serves as a dark twist in the whole concept of the romance between youths. Likewise, although the production seems to abide with the Chinese guidelines about movies, Feng has managed to include an underlying sense of sensualism that presents itself briefly but rather frequently, in locker rooms and dark alleys. (Panos Kotzathanasis)

4. Mrs Fang (Wang Bing, China)

Evidently, this a very difficult film to watch, both due to its “annoying” realism and the lack of any action, but Wang Bing makes a point of showing that he does not care, as his purpose, of depicting the actual circumstances of a dying woman in current-day China is fulfilled to the fullest. Death is not something spectacular, but a slow and uneventful travel into nothingness, and “Mrs Fang” depicts this reality as truthfully as possible. (Panos Kotzathanasis)

3. The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-Yao, Taiwan)

“The Great Buddha +” is a formally inventive, socially conscious, perceptive, and most important of all, humorous work of art. Huang’s tragic-comic vision is definitely one of the most exciting things from Asian cinema this year. (I Lin-liu)

2. Angels Wear White (Vivien Qu, China)

Vivien Qu has blended with style and measure an art house visual with an impeccably narrated crime procedural, adding layers and nuances to a story where a complex web of emotions and perspectives are at play. Yet, her direction is confidently detached, supported by an accomplished editing work by Yang Hongyu. (Adriana Rosati)

1. Small Talk (Huang Hui-chen, Taiwan)

As the documentary progresses, the confessions become more and more shocking, starting with her girlfriends talking about sex (which could not have been easy for Huang), A-nu’s relationship and feelings for her husband and finally, Huang’s own confession, which sheds even darker light to her life as a child. Through all the above, Huang seems to pose three, very important questions: does my mother love me, did she want to have my sister and me in the first place, and if positive, why did she neglect us for so many years? These questions, with the first standing above all, form the basis of the film, with the rest of its aspects existing to provide answers. This aspect, and a kind of an answer, is delightfully presented in the ending scene, which has Huang’s infant daughter as the protagonist. (Panos Kotzathanasis)

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