Taste of Cinema writer David Zou sets out his Chinese-language wish list for Criterion. Will the likes of Farewell My Concubine and A Better Tomorrow make it into the Criterion Collection?
In the Mood for Love, Yiyi, Hard Boiled, do you miss those amazing Chinese-language films and directors like Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, Edward Yang? There are so few Chinese-language films in the Criterion Collection, the last one I can remember is Spine #453 Wong Kar-wai’s whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express. That is quite a while ago. The Criterion Collection has released films from Asian countries like India, Iran, Japan, Korea in the last two years but not a single Chinese-language film. Being Chinese myself, I’m so puzzled that so many great Chinese-language films have as yet been ignored by Criterion. It is therefore my duty to shout out loud for those ignored classics.
Here are 10 Chinese-language films that deserve Criterion Collection treatments in my humble opinion:
10. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 1990)
Awards: Five Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: I know you love the visual style of his films, this is the first time Wong Kar-wai works with his cameraman Christopher Doyle and you know what you can expect in this film. Many critics in China think it is his best.
9. A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, Hong Kong, 1986)
Awards: Hong Kong Film Awards Best Picture
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Stylish fight sequences are not the only thing John Woo’s films have. They also feature the director’s favoured themes such as brotherhood – I can’t imagine a gangster film being so encouraging. The film moved me a lot. You will love the character played by Chow Yun Fat in it.By the way, this is a film that saved John Woo’s career, without it there would be no Hard Boiled or Killers.
8. Infernal Affairs (Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak, Hong Kong, 2002)
Awards: Seven Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Most will know this film as the source of Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed. For me, Infernal Affairs is even better than Scorsese’s remake. It’s the culture thing. This film marks the return of the gangster genre in Hong Kong cinema.
7. The Wedding Banquet (Ang Lee, Taiwan, 1993)
Awards: Five Golden Horse Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Has Ang Lee done any films about homosexuality before Brokeback Mountain? The answer is “yes”. This is the second film of his Father Knows Best Trilogy before he went to America, and you can already see how good he is at dealing with cultural differences evident between East and West.
6. Raise the Red Lantern (Yimou Zhang, China, 1991)
Awards: Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Zhang Yi Mou was so good once. After the film To Live his career went downhill. He learned cinematography in film school and Raise the Red Lantern is the best one to showcase his talent as a visual director. You think you have seen enough femme fatale in those noirs? Try this one.
5. Yuen Ling-yuk (Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong, 1992)
Awards: Five Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Actress and Best Cinematography
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This is the best Chinese documentary ever. Both the actress Maggie Cheung and the character she plays are legendary. This is also the most artistic documentary I’ve ever seen. If you like Chinese women, see this one.
4. Devils on the Doorstep (Wen Jiang, China, 2000)
Awards: Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This is the greatest film ever made about Japanese occupation in China during World War II and one of my top 10 war films of all time. Wen Jiang is the most talented director in current Chinese film business. Black and white film Devils on the Doorstep will make you laugh hard first and then think of profound things about humanity.
3. A City of Sadness (Hsiao-hsien Hou, Taiwan, 1989)
Awards: Two Golden Horse Awards including Best Director and Best Actor
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Hsiao-hsien Hou is quite popular in Europe but less known in the USA. This is a very serious film dealing with the most radical political matters in Taiwanese and Chinese history. I really think the Criterion Collection should collect at least one of this director’s works.
2. Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen, China, 1993)
Awards: Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: Every Palme d’Or should get the Criterion Collection treatment shouldn’t it? This film is considered to be a peak for the fifth generation directors in mainland China, and many Chinese film buffs still list it as their favorite Chinese film of all time.
1. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1991)
Awards: Golden Horse Award Best Picture
Why it deserves a place in the Criterion Collection: This film is actually planned for release by Criterion. However, rumour has it that permission/licensing problems are causing a delay. The latest news about it is that the Martin Scorsese foundation has already restored it, and I do hope Criterion get the license in the near future so the world can have a look at this great Chinese epic film.
So which Chinese-language films have charmed you before? And which ones would you like to see get the Criterion treatment? I’d like to know your opinions.
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