Purple Butterfly is a slow-moving spy thriller that takes place in Shanghai immediately before Japan’s invasion of China. Purple Butterfly is really good, but the lack of dialogue and the physical similarity of two characters leave some reviewers confused. The film centers around a Japanese intelligence service’s secret war against the Purple Butterfly Organization in a setting that could easily be transferred to Peshwar, or Bali. The set-up, that a Chinese factory worker is mistaken for a Japanese spy, sounds like a comedy. Instead, an increasingly dark story of betrayal, confusion, and revenge brilliantly defines the murkiness that is the fog of war.
Happy Together is a film by Wong Kar Wai, better known for his atmospheric “Hong Kong” trilogy (Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and 2046), as well as Chungking Express. Happy Together was released to controversy, as it his first homosexual romance. Those who enjoy atmospheric Chinese-language gay romance films will enjoy Happy Together.
The Road Home is Zhang Ziyi‘s break-out performance, and probably her best. The film is set in Manchuria before the Cultural Revolution, which is rememberd similarly to the 1950s in the United States: stable, prosperous, uniform, culturally conservative, and safe. It is the story of an illiterate farm girl and the teacher she falls in love with. The film’s style is consciously taken from Titanic (the most popular movie in the history of Chinese cinema), and even shares with it the use of flashbacks to tell the main story.
In the Year of the Pig is a pro-Ho Chi Minh documentary about the Vietnam War, produced in 1968. I was shocked at how different the style and tone is from Hearts and Minds, an anti-war movie films in 1974. Year feels like its policy film from the 1950s, where clean-cut men in suits criticize France, discuss why some American policy was reasonable at the time, and argue for the need for a change. If the speakers are indeed Communist-sympathizers, then it is striking just how serious and alluring that movement must have been. Alternatively, Year may the voice of a lost moderate-liberal position on foreign policy that has yet to reemerge.
King of Chess is weird. It looks like someone spliced together documentary footage of the cultural revolution, added a rock anthem soundtrack, and then proceeded to combine two featurettes (one about the rustification campaign, the other about a psychic boy and an evil professor in Taiwan) together. That’s because it is. The production of the intended movie collapsed early on, requiring the filming of another, parallel story to fill out the running time. My friend criticized it as the most boring we watched since The World. It definitely isn’t the best film we’ve watched.