With the political (to say the least) issues still at large in the area, coming up with a title for this list was quite difficult, but with some help from my friend Victor Fan, I came up with the term Sinophone, which seems to be the most politically correct, as it includes the whole Chinese-speaking world.
Apart from that, and despite the recent events in Hong Kong and the overall, permanent turmoil that characterizes the Sinophone world, including the political situation in China and particularly the censorship that seems to be everywhere, a number of films of quality were released this year also, dealing with many topics and with a great variety in ways of cinematic expression.
Without further ado, and with a focus on diversity, here are the best films of 2019 from Chinese speaking countries, in reverse order. Some films may have premiered in 2018, but since they mostly circulated in 2019, we decided to include them. (By clicking on the title, you can read the full review of the film)
20. Spark (Hu Jie)
Ultimately, “Spark” is a film about the search for the truth and the bravery of people who feel it is their task to find out about it, and also tell those around them. Of course, what you take away from the two hours of running time is up to you, but keeping in mind the lesson we can learn from history themes such as the distortion of truth and thought control will undoubtedly echo within any interested viewer. (Rouven Linnarz)
In the end “The Sound of Dali” is a film about our links to the world around us. Featuring beautiful images, great music and editing, Zhang Yang manages to show not only the joy of being in this world, but also the way our spirits are interconnected through music, through the natural melodies defining our existence. (Rouven Linnarz)
The political environment has caused the civilians to pay its price since time immemorial. Even if not directly, they are the ones who have to face the consequences for the policies which sometimes even they do not agree with. ‘The Return’ has a narrative which revolves around a similar time in the history, when the Chinese Civil War between the Communists and Nationalists caused many soldiers to deport from their places of residence without their will. Most of them were in it thinking they’re fighting for their country. The ground reality of their existence was much more saddening since they couldn’t meet their real families till the end of their lives and had to lead a solitary life, which they eventually made peace with. (Akash Deshpande)
The director and his protagonist belong to a generation that is evolving rapidly and is positioned as a buffer between the traditional motionless societies and the rise of nomadic culture. Overlapping the macro-realm of blurring identity as a necessary consequence of this process, and the personal microcosm of Cheng’s coming of age, Chen gives its work a transnational appeal and Mulan Film Festival’s choice of having it as the opening film was a strong message of encouragement to young filmmakers. (Adriana Rosati)
Classic family drama “Fagara” is a very accomplished piece of work in which the director explores familial dynamics with an all-feminine maturity and intuition. A film that could have easily plunged into over-sentimentalism or a stereotypical female rivalry, “Fagara” stays miles away from that and shows instead a beautiful and very possible “sisterhood”. […] Despite being a bit ahead on time, “Fagara” makes a good Festive Film with its themes of family reunion, reconciliation with the past, shared food, a gentle touch of comedy and, not last, a great line-up of beloved actors. It is one of those films that makes you want to see a sequel! (Adriana Rosati)
In his feature debut, director Lee Cheuk Pan takes a closer look at Chinese society, focusing on the dark corners of the country and its various layers of hypocrisy as well as corruption. Starting from one grim murder scene, Chung-Yu Chiang’s script portrays a variety of people from different layers of society, each of which linked to one another while also suffering from the aforementioned character traits of the social system surrounding them. (Rouven Linnarz)
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In his new film, “Winter After Winter”, Chinese director Xing Jian focuses on that period of time in Manchuria. However, at the center of the film, we have the story of one family, many characters whose actions, though influenced by the times, have catastrophic consequences. Much like in his first film “Seven Days” (2015) the trained painter and calligrapher takes a closer look at the individual and its environment, this precarious equilibrium and how it can easily be destroyed. (Rouven Linnarz)
The charming dark comedy “Lucky Grandma” is a pleasant addition to the recent stream of American films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Farewell”, representing both the Asian Community and women in the cinema industry. Directed with an almost all-female crew by Sasie Sealy, the film has an engaging script but the central pillar of the movie is without doubt the protagonist, Grandma Wong, and her interpreter, veteran actress Tsai Chin (“The Joy Luck Club”, “You Only Live Twice” and many others). She is funny, blunt, mischievous and super-cool! But above all, she is a very skilled actress; her versatility and the range of facial expressions are – honestly – incredible! (Adriana Rosati)
Using the framework of the changes within the social and economical landscape in China, Johnny Ma’s film takes a look at what might be in danger of disappearing forever and the toll it takes on those affected by this development. Through its often nostalgic tone and its performances, it may also be a statement about the importance of dreams, of those of the past and the present, and how they may create those necessary visions for the future. (Rouven Linnarz)
“My Dear Friend” is a bold and determined directorial debut. Playful in the storytelling, playful in its style, playful in its take on the Chinese independent film as such. Strong in its artistic aspects. It is so worthwhile to let it play your senses, your mind, and your emotions, to lure you into unexpected, into old believes and rituals. (Anomalilly)