A Century of Chinese Cinema: A New China

A Century of Chinese Cinema: A New China

A Century of Chinese Cinema: A New China

A Century of Chinese Cinema: A New China

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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The victory of the Chinese Communist Party over the Nationalist forces in 1949 had an enormous impact not only on Mainland cinema, but on those of Hong Kong and Taiwan as well.

Films in A Century of Chinese Cinema: A New China

    • Red Detachment of Women
    • Xie Jin
    • A young peasant girl is trained to become a vicious, pro-socialist fighting machine, in this highly influential mixture of war film, spy thriller and proto-Pop Art stylization.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Execution in Autumn
    • Li Hsing
    • As a young man languishes in prison awaiting execution, his manipulative mother goes to extreme lengths to ensure that he produces an heir to carry on the family line, in this intense and dazzlingly stylized historical drama.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Unfinished Comedy
    • Lu Ban
    • Never screened upon release and rarely seen since, this hilarious and cutting satire on Communist Party propaganda and ideological orthodoxy is easily the most surprising discovery of this series and perhaps the greatest Mainland film of the "Seventeen Years" period.

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    • This Life of Mine
    • Shi Hui
    • The first film made in Shanghai following the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, this decades-spanning drama traces the history of twentieth-century China through the eyes of a simple Beijing policeman, brilliantly played by the ill-fated actor-director Shi Hui.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • The East Is Red
    • Wang Ping
    • The most lavish and most important of the Maoist model operas, this monumental production retells the history of the Chinese Communist Party as a grand musical pageant.

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    • Red Crag: Life in Eternal Flame
    • Shui Hua
    • A hard-boiled woman working in the Communist underground leads a desperate prison break attempt, in this taut wartime thriller.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Parents' Hearts
    • Chun Kim
    • This moving melodrama about a Cantonese opera singer reduced to being a street performer in order to support his family remains one of the best-loved Hong Kong films of all time.

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    • The Arch introduced by Cecile Tang Shu Shuen
    • Cecile Tang Shu Shuen introduces her groundbreaking first feature, which has been hailed as an important precursor to the Hong Kong New Wave.

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    • China Behind introduced by Cecile Tang Shu Shuen
    • Cecile Tang Shu Shuen introduces her controversial second feature, which was banned by Hong Kong's colonial authorities for thirteen years due to its scathing vision of both communist China and capitalist Hong Kong.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Two Stage Sisters
    • Xie Jin
    • Two opera singers become entangled in a bitter rivalry over nothing less than the New China itself, in this delightfully bitchy socialist variant on the classic Bette Davis-Joan Crawford melodramas.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • The Winter
    • Li Han-hsiang
    • Enormously influential on such future masters as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee, this delicate, deceptively small-scale romantic drama was an important precursor to the Taiwanese New Wave.

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    • The Love Eterne introduced by Ivy Ling Po
    • One of the most famous actresses in Chinese film history, Ivy Ling Po joins us to introduce the beloved 1963 classic that made her a star. Co-presented by Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Li Shuangshuang
    • Lu Ren
    • In this delightful comedy, a cheerful farmer's wife (post-Revolution superstar Zhang Ruifang) in a village commune puts her marriage in jeopardy when she takes her cadre spirit a little too far.

      The screening of Li Shuangshuang, scheduled to screen on June 16, has moved due to the need to add soft-titling. The film will now screen on July 20 at 1:00pm. We apologize for any inconvenience.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • New Year's Sacrifice
    • Sang Hu
    • Based on the celebrated short story by literary lion Lu Xun, this drama about a poor servant in the house of a wealthy noble family is one of the most successful attempts to merge post-1949 socialist realism with classic pre-Revolution progressive literature.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • In the Face of Demolition
    • Li Tie
    • Set almost entirely within the walls of a crumbling apartment complex, this early Hong Kong left-wing social drama echoes Renoir in its generous, panoramic portrait of the building's lower-depth denizens.

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    • Shangrao Concentration Camp
    • Meng Sha, Zhang Ke
    • Two female Communist prisoners resist torture and plot escape from the hellish confines of a Nationalist prison in this intense and stunningly photographed POW drama.

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The victory of the Chinese Communist Party over the Nationalist forces in 1949 marked the end of the long Chinese civil war and the birth of a radically different nation. Yet despite the vast and far-reaching changes effected throughout all spheres of Chinese society by the ideological imperatives of the new regime, it is intriguing to trace the many continuities between the cinemas of the pre- and post-Revolution periods. While Mao Zedong's Yan'an Rectification Campaign of the early 1940s had sought to purge the influence of the Western-oriented literature of the May 4th Movement and make the party line supreme in all cultural fields, many of the most critically and commercially successful Mainland films of the "Seventeen Years" period (dating from the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 to the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966) would still be derived from these acknowledged classics of Chinese progressive culture.

Furthermore, brief periods of cultural experimentation such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign emboldened filmmakers to once again engage in social commentary and take both political and aesthetic risks in their films, leading to such recently rediscovered masterworks as Lu Ban's extraordinary Unfinished Comedy. The revival of this progressive spirit also allowed women to return to the forefront of Chinese cinema in comedies such as Li Shuangshuang, which features the fiery Zhang Ruifang gently but pointedly satirizing Party rigidity. This intriguing period would come to an end with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, the last and most brutal crackdown on intellectuals, which halted narrative film production for more than a decade; only model operas, adhering to the strict ideological guidelines of socialist realism, were permitted.

The 1949 Revolution would have an enormous impact on the cinemas of the other regions as well. In Hong Kong, where the British officials who ruled the colony were wary of films that might stir up social conflict, the commercial cinema of Hong Kong — infused with a steady stream of transplanted artists from the Mainland since the 1930s — kept the progressive spirit of the Golden Age alive by using the frameworks of popular entertainment to address social issues. In particular, commentary about the impossibility of housing the Hong Kong poor — an extremely pressing issue in the postwar period — would become a prominent theme in such powerful melodramas as Parents' Hearts and In the Face of Demolition, and provide the context for Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love five decades later.

In Taiwan, where the defeated Guomindang (Nationalist) forces had taken refuge and instituted a form of martial law, cinema could similarly serve as a vehicle of political inquiry. While the dictates of "healthy realism" — the Guomindang correlative to the Mainland's socialist realism — presented a cinematic portrait of Taiwan scrubbed clean of class struggle, crime, promiscuity and (especially) left-wing politics, political commentary found its way into films under the guise of historical drama (in the brilliant Execution in Autumn) or as subplots in romantic melodramas. As before, progressive sentiments in Chinese cinema went hand in hand with the presence of strong female characters: gentle realist dramas like Li Han-hsiang's wonderful The Winter set box-office records, as the island's largely female audiences tired of seeing the retrograde depictions of themselves in the industry's rote melodramas and period pieces.

— Noah Cowan