Coming Soon: Songs My Brothers Taught Me
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Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang
Country: Taiwan | Year: 1998 | Running time: 89 minutes | Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Set just prior to the start of the 21st century, this vaguely futuristic story follows two residents of a quickly crumbling building who refuse to leave their homes in spite of a virus that has forced the evacuation of the area. As rain pours down relentlessly, a single man is stuck with an unfinished plumbing job and a hole in his floor. This results in a very odd relationship with the woman who lives below him. Combining deadpan humor with an austere view of loneliness and a couple of unexpected musical numbers, Tsai Ming-Liang crafted one of the most original films of the 1990s. Produced for French television’s 2000 Seen by… series, this was originally broadcast in a 69- minute version called Last Dance. This longer version is the director’s preferred cut.
REBELS OF THE NEON GOD
Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang
Country: Taiwan | Year: 1992/2014 | Running time: 106 minutes | Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Tsai Ming-liang emerged on the world cinema scene in 1992 with his groundbreaking first feature, Rebels of the Neon God. His debut already includes a handful of elements familiar to fans of subsequent work: a deceptively spare style often branded “minimalist”; actor Lee Kang-sheng as the silent and sullen Hsiao-kang; copious amounts of water, whether pouring from the sky or bubbling up from a clogged drain; and enough urban anomie to ensure that even the subtle humor in evidence is tinged with pathos. The loosely structured plot involves Hsiao-kang, a despondent cram school student, who becomes obsessed with young petty thief Ah-tze, after Ah-tze smashes the rearview mirror of a taxi driven by Hsiao-kang’s father. Hsiao-kang stalks Ah-tze and his buddy Ah-ping as they hang out in the film’s iconic arcade (featuring a telling poster of James Dean on the wall) and other locales around Taipei, and ultimately takes his revenge. Rebels of the Neon God is a remarkably impressive first film that hints at the promise of its director: a talent confirmed by Tsai’s equally stunning second feature, Vive L’Amour (Golden Lion, Venice), and continuing to his most recent film, Stray Dogs, which ranked high on many “best of” lists last year. Though showing such diverse influences as the French New Wave, Wong Kar-wai’s early films—and, yes, Rebel Without a Cause—Tsai’s film is most remarkable for introducing his startlingly unique vision to world cinema.
SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME
Directed by Chloe Zhao
Year: 2015 | Running Time: 94 minutes | Country: U.S. | Language: English
The setting is the often starkly beautiful Badlands of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; most of the key players are young Lakota Native Americans who attend Little Wound High School. Johnny and his preteen sister, Jashaun, spend time on horseback when they’re not selling illegal liquor or tattoo-designed apparel. Director Chloe Zhao captures the subtleties of a marginalized existence in which the historic culture of a people can’t compete on a level playing field with the modern problems of poverty, alcoholism, and violence. Amazingly, she embroiders her tale with moments of breathtaking natural beauty that offset the despair her characters struggle against. SONGS is an auspicious debut feature from a director whose superb eye is informed by the sophisticated and nuanced compassion she brings to her story. Synopsis courtesy of Film Forum.
A TOUCH OF SIN
Directed by Jia Zhangke
Year: 2013 | Running Time: 125 minutes | Country: China | Language: Mandarin w/English subtitles
Written and directed by master filmmaker Jia Zhangke (The World, Still Life), “one of the best and most important directors in the world” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker), this daring, poetic and grand-scale film focuses on four characters, each living in different provinces, who are driven to violent ends.
I WISH I KNEW
Directed by Jia Zhangke
Year: 2010 | Running Time: 119 minutes | Country: China | Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Shanghai’s past and present flow together in Jia Zhangke’s poetic and poignant portrait of this fast-changing port city. Restoring censored images and filling in forgotten facts, Jia provides an alternative version of 20th century China’s fraught history as reflected through life in the Yangtze city. He builds his narrative through a series of eighteen interviews with people from all walks of life-politicians’ children, ex-soldiers, criminals, and artists (including Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien)– while returning regularly to the image of his favorite lead actress, Zhao Tao, wandering through the Shanghai World Expo Park. (The film was commissioned by the World Expo, but is anything but a piece of straightforward civic boosterism.) A richly textured tapestry full of provocative juxtapositions.
DENISE HO – BECOMING THE SONG
Directed by Sue Williams
Year: 2020｜Running Time: 83 minutes｜Country: U.S ｜Language: English, Cantonese with English subtitles
DENISE HO – BECOMING THE SONG profiles the openly gay Hong Kong singer and human rights activist Denise Ho. Drawing on unprecedented, years-long access, the film explores her remarkable journey from commercial Cantopop superstar to an outspoken political activist, an artist who has put her life and career on the line to support the determined struggle of Hong Kong citizens to maintain their identity and freedom.
Denise’s story mirrors almost perfectly the last three decades of Hong Kong’s uneasy relationship with China. A top international recording artist in Hong Kong and across China and other Asian nations, the turning point in her career came during the seminal moment of change for Hong Kong, the Umbrella Movement of 2014. Her public support of students who demanded free elections and occupied central Hong Kong for nearly three months had immediate and lasting consequences: she was arrested and then blacklisted by China.
Under pressure, sponsors dropped Denise and venues refused to let her perform. The film follows Denise on the road as she tours the U.S., Canada and UK and prepares to release a new hit song, attempting to rebuild her career. But it soon became clear she is also reflecting on her life’s trajectory. In June 2019, Hong Kong exploded in anti-extradition law protests with millions taking to the streets, and Denise once again faced a turning point. She has been in the streets with the tear gas and water cannons. She has tried to mediate for and protect the protesters. She has addressed the United Nations and U.S. Congress to explain the crisis and plead for international help, making it clear that Hong Kong’s struggle is a desperate fight for basic freedom and democracy around the world.
As the film draws to a close, the fight for Hong Kong continues…
Directed by Nanfu Wang
Year: 2016｜Running Time: 84 minutes｜Language: Chinese
Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) is labeled a troublemaker by the Chinese government – someone who embarrasses the state with, for example, public protests involving the civil rights of sex workers. In this tense documentary, she travels to Hainan Province to protest a case in which the sexual mistreatment of elementary-age school girls by their principal has gone unprosecuted. As slow as the totalitarian regime may be to punish state officals, it’s much quicker to intimidate, harass, and threaten with prison those who question it. Will Sparrow survive her latest battle? And will equally fearless filmmaker Nanfu Wang also disappear into the mouth of the dragon?