Director Feng Xiaogang

Director Feng Xiaogang has been blowing up the Chinese box office for over two decades ever since his first smash hit, the social comedy The Dream Factory (1997) virtually reinvented the Chinese New Year film genre. Since then Feng has criss-crossed genres – urban satires, historical epics, romances, action thrillers and the war film – with populist alacrity.

Frequently compared to Steven Spielberg not only for his longevity atop the Chinese film industry but also for the artier turn his films have taken of late, Feng works readily with American stars – Donald Sutherland (Big Shot’s Funeral, 2001), Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins (Back to 1942, 2012) – alongside his regular collaborators, including Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016) and her male counterparts Ge You (Cell Phone, 2003) and Zhang Hanyu (Assembly, 2007).

China Onscreen is thrilled to host Feng in person for the US Premiere of his latest film Youth (2017) as part of a Tribute honoring his artistry as China’s leading popular filmmaker. 

A Tribute to Feng Xiaogang is part of China Onscreen’s ongoing Dunhuang Projected series.

Film notes by Cheng-Sim Lim and Paul Malcolm

Special thanks to: Barbara Robinson; Janet Yang; Paul Malcolm; Jonathan Karp; Amelia Yi Zuo;  Celia Hao, Lyra Zhang – Huayi Brothers Pictures Ltd.; Robert Lundberg – China Lion Film Distribution, Inc.; Paul Kurek; Christina Chou; Edward Lau;  Doris Pfardrescher, Shelby Stiner – Well Go USA Entertainment.

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 7:00 p.m.

Melnitz Movies @ James Bridges Theater, UCLA campus

Double Bill

CELL PHONE   手机

China, 2003

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Producer: Wang Zhongjun, Yang Buting
Screenwriter: Liu Zhenyun, based on his novel
Cinematographer: Zhao Fei
Production Designer: Liu Xingang
Editor: Zhou Ying
Sound Designer: Wan Danrong, Wang Zhe
Composer: Su Cong
Cast: Ge You, Xu Fan, Zhang Guoli, Fan Bingbing, Zhang Lu

DCP, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 107 min.

Feng favorite Ge You headlines this “painfully funny sendup of male mores, China’s middle-class aspirations and emerging obsession with technology – all set in the world of TV executives.” (Patrick Frater, Variety). Ge plays TV talkshow host Yan whose life is upended one day when he leaves his cellphone at home. Suddenly the ringing “handset” (as mobile phones are known in Chinese) becomes a “hand grenade” – as Yan’s producer pal in the film puns – blowing the cover off the TV host’s habit of extramarital dalliances. A phenomenal success at the box office, Cell Phone provoked debate in China about the disruptive power of technology, and cemented Feng’s reputation as the socially-incisive director with the Midas touch.

Critics say

“Mixing the emotional depth of his marital drama Sigh (2000) with the insouciant satire of contempo Chinese consumerism in Big Shot’s Funeral (2002), helmer Feng Xiaogang comes up with his subtlest comedy to date in Cell Phone. This ironic yarn about a serial philanderer tripped up by mobile technology could help to break down resistance to accessible movies from China.” – Derek Elley, Variety
Full review

ASSEMBLY   集结号

China, 2007

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Producers: John Chong, Feng Xiaogang, Wang Zhongjun, Guan Yadi
Screenwriter: Liu Heng
Cinematographer: Lü Yue
Editor: Liu Miaomiao
Composer: Wang Liguang
Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Deng Chao, Yuen Wenkang, Tang Yang

DCP, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 124 min.

From the opening minutes when the camera lands smack in the middle of a pitched battle between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Nationalist soldiers, Assembly announces it is no conventional Mainland war movie. Instead this grunts-eye view of war with no heroes and the aftermath of war with no victory follows a PLA captain, played with ferocious intensity by Zhang Hanyu, who faces sequential punishment from faceless higher-ups – first in the Chinese Civil War against the Nationalists, then in the Korean War against the Americans – for fighting to the last man on the battlefield. The British Film Institute noted in its praise of Assembly: “Before this film Feng was known for his genius in provoking laughter from the audience; after this film, he has become recognised for his ability to provoke tears.”

Critics say

“Feng Xiaogang’s Assembly is a vigorously staged war movie that has been a deserved success in China….This is a film that eschews triumphalism and the customary patriotic rhetoric. Its subject is friendship, respect for individuals and the quest for justice and historic truth.” – Philip French, The Observer
Full review

 click to view trailer

Location: James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, 235 Charles E. Young Dr. North on the UCLA campus.
Tickets: Free with prior reservation. Reserve online at Melnitz Movies on Eventbrite. Patrons without reserved tickets will be admitted on a space-available only, first come-first served basis.
Parking: UCLA Parking Structure 3; enter from Hilgard Ave. just south of Sunset Blvd. Pay-by-space or $12/day.
More information: For China Onscreen, visit chinaonscreen.org  or call (310) 825-8839. For Melnitz Movies, visit here. 

Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

CAA Ray Kurtzman Theatre 

AFTERSHOCK   唐山大地震

China, 2007

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Producer: Chen Kuofu
Screenwriter: Su Xiaorui
Based on the novel by Zhang Ling

Cinematographer: Lü Yue
Production Designer: Huo Tingxiao
Editor: Xiao Yang
Composer: Wang Liguang
Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Xu Fan, Li Chen, Chen Daoming, Chen Jin, Zhang Guoqiang,

DCP, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 135 min.

Epic, tearjerking, yet quietly pointed in its depiction of the unequal social inheritances for men and women, Aftershock begins with the monster quake that devastated the Chinese northeastern industrial city of Tangshan in 1976. A sister and brother are buried in the rubble, and the question of their survival would reverberate through the next three decades in the lives of a son and mother, a daughter and father, and a daughter and her mothers. The film proved a seismic event as well, smashing box-office records in China as the country’s first domestic release in IMAX.

Critics say

Feng Xiaogang’s movie is a turbo-charged emotional blockbuster-epic about the Tangshan earthquake in 1976….There’s no doubt about it: this film’s an unashamed heart-wringer and a tear-jerker, but it packs an almighty punch and the CGI work at the very beginning, as Tangshan crumbles into nothingness, is impressive and pretty scary. – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Full review 

“In fact, this involving, well-acted saga of a family torn apart by a devastating earthquake is such a foolproof crowd-pleaser it could likely withstand a release here well beyond its Asian-targeted bookings.’ – Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times
Full review 

 click to view trailer

Location: Ray Kurtzman Theatre @ CAA, 2000 Avenue of the Stars in Century City.
Tickets: Free with prior reservation. Click here to reserve your tickets. Patrons without reserved tickets will be admitted on a space-available only, first come-first served basis.
Parking: CAA underground lot; enter on Constellation Ave. and keep left for visitor’s entrance. Please note security may ask to open your trunk. Parking available on levels P1, P2 and P3 only; keep left to park on the CAA/2000 Avenue of the Stars side. Head to elevator and push ST (street) level to reach the main lobby at CAA. $15 flat rate. Pay at kiosks located in the stairwell at each parking level.
More information: For China Onscreen, visit chinaonscreen.org  or call (310) 825-8839. For CAA, call (424) 288-2000.

Monday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m. 

UCLA Film & Television Archive @ James Bridges Theater, UCLA campus

I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY   我不是潘金莲

China, 2016

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Producer: Hu Xiaofeng
Screenwriter: Liu Zhenyun, based on his novel
Cinematographer: Luo Pan
Editor: William Chang Suk-ping
Cast: Fan Bingbing, Guo Tao, Da Peng, Zhang Jiayi, Yu Hewei

DCP, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 137 min.

Feng Xiaogang teams up for the third time with screenwriter Liu Zhenyun, adapting his own novel, in this sublimely droll telling of a village woman who doggedly pursues a grudge arising from a “fake divorce” from the provincial courts all the way to Beijing and the highest corridors of power. Belittled at every turn, stubborn Li Xuelian, played by “duly de-glammed” (Variety) superstar Fan Bingbing, yet manages to flummox all the male government suits who cross her path in her decade-long, determined pursuit of justice. Intriguingly irised in round and square-shaped mats, I Am Not Madame Bovary nabbed the prestigious FIPRESCI prize and the top Golden Shell award respectively at the Toronto and San Sebastián film festivals, while Fan won Best Actress at San Sebastián for her portrayal of an ordinary woman of incomparable chutzpah.

Critics say

“This sly comic parable, eccentrically tricked out in reductive screen formats (before finally “going wide”), is the tale of an “ant” becoming an “elephant,” one that fittingly strings a long series of small anecdotal sequences into a near-epic narrative arc. Though its marquee names and trenchant social satire will prove most potent on home turf, I Am Not Madame Bovary could also beguile non-Chinese audiences beyond the fest circuit with its often sublime ridiculousness.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety
Full review 

“That’s Feng’s genius: the utterly precise analysis he performs, with his satiric linguistic scalpel, of how power speaks in Chinese, how officials assert authority, and how citizens negotiate with them –yielding, resisting, fighting back, sometimes withdrawing. It’s this marvellously subtle dance of discourses, of and against power, in which Feng’s cinema revels.” – Shelly Kraicer, Cinema Scope
Full review 

 click to view trailer

Location: James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, 235 Charles E. Young Dr. North on the UCLA campus.
Tickets: Free with prior reservation. Click here to reserve your tickets. Patrons without reserved tickets will be admitted on a space-available only, first come-first served basis.
Parking: UCLA Parking Structure 3; enter from Hilgard Ave. just south of Sunset Blvd. Pay-by-space or $12/day.
More information: For China Onscreen, visit chinaonscreen.org  or call (310) 825-8839.

Friday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m.

UCLA Film & Television Archive @ Billy Wilder Theater
US Premiere!

YOUTH   芳华

China, 2017

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Producers: Wang Zhonglei, Wang Zhongjun, Gong Yu, Song Ge, Qi Jianhong, Zhang Fangjun
Screenwriter: Yan Geling, based on her novel
Cinematographer: Luo Pan
Editor: Zhang Qi
Composer: Zhao Lin, Dai Xiaofei
Cast: Yang Caiyu, Huang Xuan, Miao Miao, Zhong Chuzi, Wang Tianchen

DCP, color, in Mandarin with English subtitles, 146 min.

Feng Xiaogang began his show-biz career as a stage designer for an army art troupe. His latest feature strikes an autobiographical note as it follows a group of dancers in the People’s Liberation Army, from their idealistic youth in the 1960s performing Cultural Revolution standards, to their post-Mao adulthood marked by the twin shocks of war with Vietnam and market liberalization. Feng’s roving camera weaves an affecting tapestry of individual lives and musical passion intersecting China’s own momentous transformations of the past four decades.

 

In person: Feng Xiaogang

Critics say

“Mainland Chinese cinema is bloated with youth romances wallowing in ’90s nostalgia, yet this pivotal stage in life has never appeared as pure, beatific and cruel as depicted in Youth, the latest from Chinese box-office king Feng Xiaogang. Tracking the tempestuous fates of a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dance troupe from the Cultural Revolution to the ’90s, the film serves as a paean to idealism and endurance, yet the word “heart-breaking” comes to mind scene after scene. – Maggie Lee, Variety
Full review 

 click to view trailer

Location: Billy Wilder Theater, courtyard level of the UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood.
Tickets: $10 online; $9 general, $8 non-UCLA students, seniors, UCLA Alumni Association members (ID required) if purchased at the box office only. Free admission for UCLA students (current ID required); free tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis at the box office until 15 minutes before showtime, or the rush line afterwards. Click here  to purchase online tickets.
Parking: Museum parking lot; enter from Westwood Blvd., just north of Wilshire. $6 flat rate after 6:00 pm weekdays and all day on weekends. Cash only.
More information: For China Onscreen, visit chinaonscreen.org  or call (310) 825-8839. For UCLA Film & Television Archive, visit cinema.ucla.edu

A Tribute to Feng Xiaogang

UCLA Master Class

Pre-Premiere Cocktails

U.S. Premiere of Youth