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Documentary Films about China
How Yukong Moved the Mountains, 1976, directed by Joris Ivens.

Documentary about early 1970s socialist experiments in 12 one-hour parts. The Ivens Foundation is currently restoring (& digitizing?) the film, and it’s hard to access at this point. See details here. - Husunzi

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, 1995, directed by Carma Hinton & Richard Gordon.

Far from perfect but still the best documentary about the 1989 movement I know of. All three hours available on Youtube. If in China search any P2P network. - Husunzi

Out of Phoenix Bridge (回到凤凰桥), 1997, directed by Li Hong.

Apparently one of the most important films to come out of China’s new documentary film movement, by China’s first independent female documentary artist. Deals with dagongmei (young women migrating between rural homes & urban jobs - in this case, in Beijing). Apparently there’s no DVD version - I’ve been looking for years and still haven’t found one. If you’re a university, you can order a VHS copy for $300 here. Hairong Yan discusses it in chapter one of New Masters, New Servants. - Husunzi.

Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (铁西区), 2003, directed by Wang Bing.

“Details the slow decline of Shenyang’s industrial Tiexi district, an area that was once a vibrant example of China’s socialist economy.” Sounds important. Good luck finding it, and then sitting through all nine hours. - Husunzi

Yang Ban Xi: The Eight Model Works, 2005, witten & directed by Yan Ting Yuen

The Passion of the Mao, 2006, directed by Lee Feigon.

Hope I eventually get a chance to see the whole thing. It’s said to be more silly than anything else, but probably more objective in its treatment of Mao and Mao-era China than any other English documentary. - Husunzi

He Mingong Tiao Wu (和民工跳舞). (Dance With Migrant Workers). Directed by Wu Wenguang.

Fabulous documentary which shows how a group of Chinese artists (elite) taught migrant workers to dance modern dance and included them into the formers’ art performance in an opening ceremony of an art center in Beijing. There are many fabulous, meaningful, awkward yet thought-provoking interaction between the artists and the migrant workers. - picnic

Mardi Gras: Made in China. 2005. Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin.

great documentary about the global beard trade in relation to the global economic inequality, the factory labor condition in Guangdong, China, and how the global flow of goods carry significant cultural meanings with them, among other issues. My students loved this film when I showed it to them in my class session about globalization. Please see more in here - picnic

A Disappearance Foretold. 2008. directed by Olivier Meys

A detailed documentation of the forced demolitions taking place in the Qianmen area of Beijing.  A record of local residents’ failed struggles to defend property, the swift dismemberment of their neighborhood communities, and the violent erasure of one important chapter of Beijing’s live history ironically in the name of “recovering history.” -backlight

Chinese Narrative Films
Before 1949

Spring Silkworms (春蚕), 1933, directed by Chen Bugao, based on the novella by Mao Dun

Regarded as the first leftist Chinese narrative film. - Husunzi

The Goddess (神女), 1934, written & directed by Wu Yonggang, starring Ruan Lingyu

Mao Era (1949-1978)

The White-Haired Girl (白毛女), 1950, directed by Wang Bin & Shui Hua, based on the opera by Yan Jinxuan et al. (itself based on true stories and legends). (Film online here.)

Dragon Whisker Creek (龙须沟), 1952, directed by Xi Qun, based on the play by Lao She

See my comparison of the film and the play… - Husunzi

Family (家), 1956, directed by Chen Xihe, based on the novel by Ba Jin

The Red Detachment of Women (红色娘子军), 1961, directed by Xie Jin, based on the novel by Liang Xin (itself based on true stories). This film was later adapted to the model opera of the same title.

There Will be Followers (自有后来人), 1963, based on the novel There Will be Followers of Revolution by Qian Daoyuan (itself based on a true story). This film was later adapted for the model opera The Legend of the Red Lantern (红灯记)

Two Stage Sisters (舞台姐妹), 1964, directed by Xie Jin

See “Two stage sisters: The blossoming of a revolutionary aesthetic,” by Gina Marchetti (Jump Cut, no. 34, March, 1989, pp. 95-106). - Husunzi

Breaking with Old Ideas (决裂), 1975, directed by Li Wenhua

After 1978
The Yellow Earth (黄土地), 1984, directed by Chen Kaige, cinematography by Zhang Yimou

Generally considered to be the first work of “the fifth generation” of Chinese film. - Husunzi

The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司), 1992, directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Gong Li.

IMO the best and most realist film to come out of the fifth generation. See “Chili Pepper Politics” by Ann Anagnost (in National Past-Times: Narrative, Representation and Power in Modern China, Duke University Press 1997). - Husunzi

In the Heat of the Sun (阳光灿烂的日子), 1994, directed by Jiang Wen, based on the novel Wild Beast by Wang Shuo.

Nostalgia piece on growing up during the Cultural Revolution - as if in response to all those “scar literature” films & books. - Husunzi

The Opium War (鸦片战争), 1997, directed by Xie Jin

So Close to Paradise (扁担·姑娘), 1998, directed by Wang Xiaoshuai

This little-known film is, imo, one of the best and most realistic of the sixth generation works - alongside Unknown Pleasures. Better than everything else by Wang Xiaoshuai - even Beijing Bicycle. Takes place in 1980s Wuhan. - Husunzi

Shower (洗澡), 1999, directed by Zhang Yang.

If for some twisted reason you feel compelled to watch something heart-warming and humorous, dealing with (gasp!) family and nostalgia (for old Beijing neighborhoods disappearing in the 1990s), watch this. I’ve seen it like five times and somehow still not bored with it. - Husunzi

Platform (站台), 2000, directed by Jia Zhangke.

Beijing Bicycle (十七岁的单车), 2001, directed by Wang Xiaoshui

Unknown Pleasures (任逍遥), 2002, directed by Jia Zhangke

Still my favorite film by Jia, and one of my favorite films in general. Some find it extremely boring and difficult to sit through. But this is part of how it so strongly conveys the sense of emptiness, frustration and hopelessness of the young & poor in postsocialist China. This cold reality is contrasted with the Daoist ideal of carefree living (xiaoyao) that recurs throughout the film - until the protagonist is sentenced to death for trying to enact this ideal. - Husunzi

Blind Shaft (盲井), 2003, written & directed by Li Yang, based on Liu Qingbang’s novella Sacred Wood.

The World (世界), 2004, written & directed by Jia Zhangke.

24 City (二十四城记), 2008, directed by Jia Zhangke, co-written by Chengdu poet Zhai Yongming

About a state-owned factory being demolished to build a highrise for Chengdu’s new rich, focusing on three generations of women. See review here. Make sure your copy has legible subtitles - most of the dialogue is in Sichuanese. - Husunzi

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