The Dream Factory (1997) — December 10, 2017
Feng Xiaogang’s second feature, a light comedy in which Ge You and some ex-actor pals form a company devoted to fulfilling people’s dreams, for a little while. It’s told episodically, spending a little time with each dream. One guy wants to be General Patton, so they elaborately recreate scenes from the classic 1970 George C. Scott movie. Another wants to know if he can withstand torture and still keep a secret. Most of the dreams involve social reversal: rich and powerful people want to know what it’s like to be poor and dominated; a famous singer and movie star wants to be a nobody. It’s a kind of nostalgia for leveling that sits strangely only twenty years after the Cultural Revolution, and it was a big critical and commercial hit on the Mainland. That it was so successful coming the same year as the Hong Kong Handover is troubling.
The Banquet (2006) — March 8, 2007
A loose Chinese adaptation of Hamlet, starring Zhang Ziyi as the Queen and Daniel Wu as the upset son. Zhang isn’t Wu’s mother, which eases some of the incestuous tension of the play, and makes the film more of a tragic romance between the two. All the principals and events are there from Shakespeare, in slightly altered form, but the tone of the thing is different. Whereas the play is a brilliant mixture of comedy and tragedy, the film is dark and moody to the point of hysteria. The sets and costumes are elaborate, but the direction and cinematography are rather pedestrian.
Assembly (2007) — December 16, 2017
I’ve yet to really understand the label that Feng Xiaogang has acquired as “China’s Spielberg”, the two have little in common outside, I guess, the financial success of their movies. But here at least Feng is quite obviously imitating Saving Private Ryan, and so it kind of makes sense. The first half is a war movie, largely one long battle as a depleted PLA company holds out against thousands of approaching Nationalists. The camera shakes a lot, there’s blood and dirt and snow flying everywhere, standard post-SPR stuff. The second half though is something different: the lone survivor of the battle, the Captain played by Zhang Hanyu, is discovered sometime after the Civil War in a POW hospital, mistaken for a KMT soldier. He spends the next decade or so trying to clear his name and that of his comrades, whose bodies have all gone missing and are therefore declared MIA by the governing bureaucracy rather than properly honored as state heroes. A few jabs at the party hacks making his life miserable aside, the film’s overwhelming respect-the-troops patriotism is surely enough to satisfy even the most stringent of state censors, while avoiding (as Tsui Hark’s somewhat similar Taking of Tiger Mountain will do) any (other) statement of ideology whatsoever.
If You Are the One (2008) — Sept 23, 2017
The top line on the poster image letterboxd is using: “From the star of The Transporter”.
Nothing about this would work at all if Ge You and Shu Qi weren’t two of the best actors in the world. It’d just be a bunch of nice scenery, very nice scenery, decorating a slightly off-kilter romance. The first half channeling When Harry Met Sally. . ., the second a weird game of romantic brinkmanship set in Hokkaido, presumably because Shu Qi is still trying to get back to Yubari.
If You Are the One 2 (2010) — December 9, 2017
Starts with a divorce disguised as a wedding, then a honeymoon disguised as the collapse of a twenty year marriage, then an actual death leads to an actual (re)marriage. Something about life being cyclical and the contradiction of conspicuous consumption in an ostensibly classless country. A very strange movie.