China’s film scene has come along in leaps and bounds, even just in the past couple of decades. Poorly dubbed kung fu flicks now fall into the camp of whimsical nostalgia, as actors, directors, and industry heads all sprint forward to bolster the country’s domestic offerings. Today, some of those projects are breaking out into the wider world. Here are three movies by Chinese filmmakers, where to catch them, and what they’re saying about Chinese cinema on the world stage.
1. Dead Pigs
If you were in Shanghai in 2013, you might be able to divine the subject of this movie. The infamous whole-bunch-of-dead-pigs-floating-in-the-river debacle is not so easily forgotten — but ah! Some time has passed, and we can now use it as a cinematic lens through which to view modern China. The film — which follows “a bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an expat architect and a disenchanted rich girl [who] converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly-modernizing Shanghai” — seems ready to do just that. With a world premier slated for Sundance, Dead Pigs represents the under-noticed (yet longstanding) capability of China’s indie scene, and it’s definitely on our watch list.
2. Wolf Warrior 2
Wolf Warrior 2. A movie that pretty much changed the game. It smashed box office records this summer, becoming China’s all-time biggest commercial film success, and the highest-grossing non-Hollywood movie ever. The film earned seven times more than its prequel, was lauded for its top-tier special effects and action sequences, and was generally recognized as the first Chinese release to achieve a Hollywood blockbuster production standard.
After being heralded by critics as a turning point for Chinese cinema, it’s no surprise that Wolf Warrior 2 is China’s official candidate for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Actor/director Wu Jing — we’re rooting for ya.
3. Where Are You From
Let’s finish up on an unexpected note. Where Are You From will be playing at Slamdance 2018, an alt-film festival for independent projects. Director Cecilia Hua’s debut, the experimental short explores questions of identity among overseas Chinese.
“I simply hope my experience could offer a different lens for people to learn about China in new angles,” explained Hua. If Dead Pigs can attest to the lesser-known arthouse strength of Chinese indie film, and Wolf Warrior 2 stands for the rising capability of China’s overall film industry, Where Are You From‘s US festival appearance is a reminder of the emerging Chinese filmmakers worldwide who are setting up to own the next generation.
Three totally different projects, with totally different reasons for their selection. But the more the merrier, right? The three films together constitute a candid look at the diversity of China’s film scene, and the direction it might be headed next. For now though, we’ll keep it chill, and keep our fingers crossed for Wu Jing’s Oscar dreams.