Shelly Kraicer

Send in the Clowns: Qiu Jiongjiong on “A New Old Play”

By Shelly Kraicer / June 21, 2022

The brightest light in the Chinese independent cinema world at this moment is Beijing-based filmmaker and artist Qiu Jiongjiong. In an atmosphere in China of increasing surveillance and control of non-official, unauthorized artistic activity in China, Qiu, now 44, stands out as an artist with a powerful, complex, engaging vision who has found a way to continue to work without compromise. His new film, A New Old Play, premiered at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival and is now having a series of screenings in North America, after following its pickup by Icarus Films via their dGenerate Films Collection

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TIFF 2021 | One Second (Zhang Yimou, China)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 15, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Published in Cinema Scope #87 (Summer 2021) Zhang Yimou has released 22 features to date, in addition to a couple of shorts, two more features shot and ready to go (censors permitting), his grandiose made-for-TV pageants for the Beijing Olympics, opera stagings like Turandot at the Forbidden City, and, if we’re being…

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TIFF 2021 | Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Wen Shipei, China)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 11, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Increasingly strict censorship limits the kind of films Chinese directors can make and still get approved for either domestic screenings or export. But film noir remains a viable option for filmmakers to play with violence and ambiguity, within limits. Are You Lonesome Tonight? is first-time director Wen Shipei’s entry into a tough…

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TIFF 2021 | The Falls (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 11, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Many recent films take COVID-era quarantining as a premise to examine lonely humans and their difficulties connecting, but Chung Mong-hong’s The Falls does something quite special. This story of a cloistered family allows the Taiwanese director—who has heretofore specialized in blackly comic portraits of men under intense stress—to open up his world…

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TIFF 2021 | Terrorizers (Ho Di Wing, Taiwan)

By Shelly Kraicer / September 10, 2021

By Shelly Kraicer Starting from a seemingly unmotivated samurai-style sword attack in present-day Taipei’s main train station, Terrorizers circles back and around again and again through a complex network of characters—a student, an aspiring actress, a cosplayer, a masseuse—spawning threads and mysteries that it eventually knits back together into a disturbing portrait of today’s Taiwanese…

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Film/Art | The People United Will Never Be Defeated: Igor Levit’s Hauskonzerts

By Shelly Kraicer / June 23, 2020

One usually looks to art galleries and film festivals for a sense of what’s on the avant-garde edge of sound-and-image art. For these pandemic-laden months, with galleries and cinemas shuttered, something extraordinary is happening in the most tradition-bound art, Western classical music—or Western art music, as I prefer to call it. It’s not just Levit, though he stands at the head of an astonishingly vital set of online streaming sessions. Events like Bang on a Can Marathon, Music Never Sleeps, and performers as disparate as the Berlin Philharmonic, veteran pianist Angela Hewitt, and young pianist Tiffany Poon are inventing pathways to experience, communally and distanced. All from an art form that has been declared dead long before the “death of cinema” became a thing.

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Baby (Liu Jie, China) — Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 12, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Social melodramas are a mainstream genre in Chinese cinema, in both state-approved and indie flavours, but they are not usually realized as adeptly and creatively as Liu Jie manages with his seventh feature Baby. Liu is no stranger to this kind of socially aware, ethically engaged filmmaking that follows in the tradition…

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Hidden Man (Jiang Wen, China) — Gala Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 12, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man poses challenges for viewers (Chinese as well as foreign), but careful watching has its rewards. The third installment in Jiang’s informal trilogy about an idiosyncratically spectacularized fictional history of Republican China—which started with Let the Bullets Fly (2010) and continued with Gone With the Bullets (2014)—Hidden Man is the least flamboyant, visually: it’s an…

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Shadow (Zhang Yimou, China) — Gala Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 11, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer After essaying several genres (period history, period comedy, historical melodrama, international epic) in the last 15 years, Zhang Yimou has returned to something like Hero’s (2002) combination of imperial court and wuxia spectacle. Shadow tones down that earlier film’s concentration on the morality of loyalty to state power in favour of a…

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Cities of Last Things (Ho Wi Ding, Taiwan/China/US/France) — Platform

By Shelly Kraicer / September 9, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Ho Wi Ding’s fifth feature film is his most ambitious and most interesting. After a couple of beautifully shot conceptual narrative shorts (Respire [2005]; Summer Afternoon [2008]), Ho made several commercial movies (including the sharp cross-cultural comedy Pinoy Sunday [2010]) before Cities of Last Things, which resumes his narrative experiments. The story…

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The Crossing (Bai Xue, China) — Discovery

By Shelly Kraicer / September 8, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Once in while a film will transcend its generic limitations and manage to make something new and fresh out of elements that seem overly familiar. The young Chinese director-screenwriter Bai Xue manages this with her first film The Crossing. Young high-school student Peipei (impressive newcomer Huang Yao) comes from a split home:…

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Jinpa (Pema Tseden, China) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Shelly Kraicer / September 5, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Two Tibetan men, both named Jinpa, meet on a deserted road in the remote Kekexili highlands of Qinghai province. One (Jinpa, the name of the actor who plays him) drives a truck; he’s just run over a sheep. The other (Genden Phuntsok) is a hitchhiker, and explains he is on a ten-year…

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Carmine Street Guitars (Ron Mann, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Shelly Kraicer / September 4, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer Electric craft becomes a stand-in for analogue’s humanity in Ron Mann’s elegiac Carmine Street Guitars. Rick Kelly is the master guitar maker of the beloved, eponymous Greenwich Village guitar shop. He’s been scavenging wood from historic, mostly demolished 19th-century NYC buildings and turning them into lovingly handcrafted electric musical instruments for decades.…

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Erased,____ Ascent of the Invisible (Ghassan Halwani, Lebanon) — Wavelengths

By Shelly Kraicer / September 1, 2018

By Shelly Kraicer How do you make what is missing disappear (again) and reappear? This question might sound abstract, but its concrete instantiation, after the bloody Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, obsesses artist, animator, and first-time feature filmmaker Ghassan Halwani. His experimental essay-documentary Erased is the product of his research into the traces that remain,…

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Small Things and Big Things: Feng Xiaogang’s I Am Not Madame Bovary

By Shelly Kraicer / March 24, 2017

By Shelly Kraicer  How can a filmmaker like Feng Xiaogang exist in China? His films somehow manage to be both widely popular and ideologically unconventional. For many years—until the onset of the current “wild east” phenomenon, in which a stream of record-breaking blockbusters seems regularly to be emerging from China’s hyped-up movie-production machine—Feng has consistently…

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Godspeed (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan) — Vanguard

By Shelly Kraicer / September 10, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer Hong Kong comic idol Michael Hui defined Hong Kong comedy (and, to a large extent, a specifically local Hong Kong Cantonese identity) in the late 1970s and 1980s with classics like The Private Eyes, Chicken and Duck Talk, and Teppanyaki. Now he is back on screen in festival habitué Chung Mong-hong’s latest…

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I Am Not Madame Bovary (China, Feng Xiaogang) — Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 9, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer “The local police are idiots: there are no idiots in Beijing” is just one of the rather unusual lines of dialogue in Chinese blockbuster director Feng Xiaogang’s newest film I Am Not Madame Bovary. This one is different: a) there’s acid dripping from every line and shot, although Feng clearly wants to…

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The Cinema Travellers (Shirley Abraham & Amit Madheshiya, India) — TIFF Docs

By Shelly Kraicer / September 8, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer Mohammed, Bapu, and Prakash are three cinema magi: half wizards, not-quite-ghosts, intelligent and hard-working men who have been keeping the art of film (and we mean celluloid) projection alive in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The first two run travelling cinemas, where ancient 35mm projectors show old films inside tents to rural…

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The Stairs (Hugh Gibson, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Shelly Kraicer / September 6, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer Hugh Gibson’s fascinating documentary The Stairs takes us into the lives of three harm reduction workers in Toronto’s Regent Park, a housing project now under hopeful renewal that has long represented Toronto’s most disadvantaged communities. Martin, Greg, and Roxanne are all current or past drug users who also work at the Regent…

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Ta’ang (Wang Bing, Hong Kong/France) — Wavelengths

By Shelly Kraicer / September 2, 2016

From Cinema Scope #66 (Winter 2016) Wang Bing Films Souls: On Ta’ang and Other Recent Work By Shelly Kraicer The violent convulsions in the Middle East and Africa and grotesque asymmetries of wealth and poverty between north and south have put fundamental pressures on wealthier, conservative, defensive societies of Europe and North America. Refugees are…

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Wang Bing Films Souls: On Ta’ang and Other Recent Work

By Shelly Kraicer / March 21, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer The violent convulsions in the Middle East and Africa and grotesque asymmetries of wealth and poverty between north and south have put fundamental pressures on wealthier, conservative, defensive societies of Europe and North America. Refugees are everyone’s problem; they represent the fulcrum around which debates on the shape of our evolving societies…

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Stephen Chow: A Guide for the Perplexed

By Shelly Kraicer / February 24, 2016

By Shelly Kraicer Originally published in Cinema Scope #10, Spring 2002. Though Stephen Chow is currently the most popular actor in Hong Kong, most North Americans have probably never seen one of his films. This is about to change. Born in 1962 and already the star of 50 films, Stephen Chow is a genius who regales…

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Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, China)

By Shelly Kraicer / December 21, 2015

By Shelly Kraicer The protagonist of Kaili Blues, Chen Sheng, is a small-town medical practitioner and ex-con. He bought his practice in Kaili, in southwestern China’s Guizhou province, with a small inheritance after his mother died while he was in jail. He’s not exactly a doctor; he’s more of a dreamer, a poet, and a…

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TIFF 2015 | Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang, Taiwan/Hong Kong)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Shelly Kraicer / September 8, 2015

By Shelly Kraicer Sylvia Chang’s newest film is the illustrious actress-director-writer-producer’s best since Siao Yu (1995). Murmur of the Hearts is a sophisticated family drama whose emotional force sustains a narrative of ambitious power and range. Nan (Lawrence Ko) and Mei (radiant Macanese star Isabella Leong, in a long-awaited return to the screen) are a…

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TIFF 2015 | Office (Johnnie To, China/Hong Kong)—Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 7, 2015

By Shelly Kraicer If Hou Hsiao-hsien can make a martial-arts fantasy, then Johnnie To can damn well make a glossy musical. And with Office he has, and it’s splendid. More of a musical than Hou’s The Assassin is a swordfest, Office has, if I counted correctly, ten new songs (some only a few bars long), all…

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Of Time and the River: Mapping the Cinema of Luo Li

By Shelly Kraicer / March 26, 2015

  By Shelly Kraicer Over the last six years, Luo Li has established himself as one of the most interesting young Canadian directors on the international festival circuit, and one of the most promising Chinese independent directors to emerge in the last decade. Marked by narrative playfulness, implicitly subversive formal innovation, and elegant, beautifully crafted…

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TIFF 2014 | Coming Home (Zhang Yimou, China) — Special Presentations

By Shelly Kraicer / September 7, 2014

By Shelly Kraicer Admirers of Zhang Yimou’s ground-breaking work from the late 1980s and early 1990s might puzzle over his transformation from innovative artist to state-sponsored populist after seeing his latest domestic hit, Coming Home. A film not without interest, particularly considering it reunites him with his actrice fetiche Gong Li, star of those influential ’90s masterworks (Red Sorghum, Ju…

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TIFF 2014 | Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France) — Wavelengths

By Shelly Kraicer / September 5, 2014

By Shelly Kraicer A small miracle of a movie, Tsai Ming-liang’s insanely slow mid-length film is also one of his most beautiful. For 56 non-action-packed minutes, we watch Tsai’s acteur fetiche Lee Kang-sheng, head shaved and dressed in red crimson monk-like robes, walk as slowly as possible through various urban spaces in and near Marseilles.…

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TIFF 2014 | Men Who Save the World (Liew Seng Tat, Malaysia/Netherlands/Germany/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Shelly Kraicer / August 31, 2014

By Shelly Kraicer Liew Seng Tat’s eagerly awaited follow up to his award-winning Flower in the Pocket sets out to be a boisterous comedy of rural cross-dressing and ghostly hauntings, but it has fascinating, somewhat disguised undercurrents suggesting something more serious. Pak Awang (a magisterial Wan Hanafi Su) is marrying off his daughter, who has…

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Festivals | Berlin: Black Coal, Thin Ice

By Shelly Kraicer / March 20, 2014

By Shelly Kraicer There are aspects of present-day Chinese reality so bizarre that only surrealist-tinged genre films can come close to capturing them. In the press kit for the brilliant noir-mystery-arthouse mash-up Black Coal, Thin Ice, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin, director Diao Yinan observes, “There’s a lot going on in China these…

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One Horizontal, One Vertical: Some Preliminary Observations on Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster

By Shelly Kraicer / March 21, 2013

By Shelly Kraicer The good news about Wong Kar-wai’s new film is that, following the debacle that was My Blueberry Nights (2007), the good Wong is back. The Grandmaster not only banishes the (thankfully now easily forgotten) memory of Blueberry, but also manages to continue building on themes and forms from Wong’s previous films while…

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Pema Tseden

By Shelly Kraicer / April 4, 2012

By Shelly Kraicer Pema Tseden himself considers it sad that only now, after one hundred years of cinema history, the first Tibetan filmmaker has emerged. But the first is already a master, with three brilliant features to date. Known also in Chinese as Wanma Caidan, Pema Tseden was born in 1969 in the Tibetan ethnic…

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Shamans · Animals: A Report from the 8th Annual China Independent Film Festival

By Shelly Kraicer / November 25, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer Independent film festivals in China have become rather exciting lately. And I’m not just talking about the films. If they’re not being raided by the authorities (see my account of the 2011 Beijing Independent Film Festival at, then they’re platforms for furious and impassioned debate between filmmakers, curators, critics, and theoreticians.…

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Let the Readings Fly: Jiang Wen Reaches for the Mainstream

By Shelly Kraicer / June 28, 2011

By Shelly Kraicer If you happen to be a Chinese film producer, China looks like the Promised Land, if not the Wild West—a place that’s available, for the taking, with its doors wide open. (Though if you’re an activist in the marginal non-governmental sphere these days, the picture looks quite different).  2010 box-office numbers continued…

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Features | A Matter of Life and Death: Lu Chuan and Post-Zhuxuanlu Cinema

By Shelly Kraicer / December 16, 2009

By Shelly Kraicer Sometimes it really is necessary to read Chinese movies through a political prism. Often this is a lazy, worn interpretive strategy that too easily reduces complex, allusive art to manifestos of resistance: Lou Ye’s Spring Fever, “banned in China!!!”, is a film opposing Beijing’s dictators, goes the most recent version on this…

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Features | The Problem of Representation: Emily Tang’s Perfect Life

By Shelly Kraicer / August 29, 2009

By Shelly Kraicer Creatively progressive Chinese filmmakers seem to be fixated on one preoccupation, held in common with many of today’s most crucial films. This is the seeming impossibility of capturing, in narrative cinema, some accurate representation of what it’s like to live in today’s form(s) of reality. As colonized by the Hollywood hegemonic model, narrative…

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Web Only | Jeonju 2009: On Cinema Street

By Shelly Kraicer / August 20, 2009

By Shelly Kraicer The small South Korean city of Jeonju celebrated a milestone this year: the 10th anniversary of the Jeonju International Film Festival, which over its first decade of existence has been exemplary in discovering uncompromising and innovative new films as well as laudable rediscoveries of the old. While actively fostering new cinema through…

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