Tag Archives: China

Spring Fever (Nuits d’ivresse printaniere)



Spring Fever
is a 2009 film by Ye Lou; it is a Hong Kong-French coproduction. It was presented to the Cannes Festival of the same year and won the prize for best scenario. To be honest, I wonder if it won the prize more because it tackles a touchy subject (homosexuality in China) than for the film itself. I found it slow, boring, and a tad too long. And the lack of dialogue makes it painful. The story is simple: two men, one of them married, going with each other and slightly confused. A number of characters revolve around them, but I quickly lost track of who was who. Disappointing.

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The Equation of Love and Death (李米的猜想)


I have decided that contemporary French and Chinese movies have quite a bit in common. This includes people smoking all the time and yelling at each other every five minutes or so. There’s also a fair amount of drinking going on at times. I’ve just watched The Equation of Love and Death, a 2008 Chinese movie directed by Cao Baoping. In the film, the main character Li Mi, who is searching for her boyfriend who left her suddenly four years earlier, smokes and screams more than she breathes. Okay, this is a little exaggerated. And her life is not easy. She works as a taxi driver, showing every passenger a photo of her ex and asking them if they have seen him. A suicide will trigger a series of events, all interlinked, and leading her to her ex. Three stories are the backbone of the movie: Li Mi’s search for her boyfriend, the fate of two drug traffickers, and Li Mi’s boyfriend’s erratic behaviour. Gradually each story will run into each other, creating a web of connections and complexities. Life in Chinese cities is well pictured. This movie falls into the thriller/suspense category, and it’s quite okay. A bit grim, but Chinese movies are often like that, I think. I wish Li Mi would smoke and scream a little less, but I forgive her. Now, has anyone seen this movie and know where it was filmed? I got excited more than once because I seemed to recognise my beloved Kunming, in particular the pedestrian bridge at the crossing of Dong Feng Dong Lu (区东风东路) and Bai Ta Lu (白塔路). Can anyone confirm that?

I’m adding the trailer to this banter. Unfortunately it’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but you’ll see what I mean about the yelling! :-)

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Chengdu, Sichuan, China (成都,四川, 中国)


I was in Chengdu last weekend. First time in Sichuan. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan and boasts 10 million inhabitants (14 million for the municipality)., a very important city of Western China. People speak Sichuanese, a dialect of Mandarin, and I found it really hard to understand it. The pronunciation in particular is not easy – and to be honest, they found it hard to understand me too at times! We had a wonderful time and were lucky to get perfect weather on the first day (the city has a reputation for rain). We went to visit the Panda Research and Breeding Centre, unique in the world. They breed pandas there and do amazingly well. You should visit the centre from July to December, which is the time pandas are born. Incredibly they are only a few centimetres long at birth. We were lucky to see a dozen or so three-week old pandas, sleeping happily in incubators. What a sight! They are gorgeous things, so cute we wanted to take one home! The whole park is stunning. Be warned, it’s better to visit early in the morning when the pandas are active.

We also went to visit Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, a two-hour drive from Chengdu. As it was Mid-Autumn Festival, the place was swarming with Chinese tourists and we had to queue for one and a half hours to get to the buddha, but it was worth the wait. In the past you used to be able to climb up on the left hand side, but now you go down on that side and walk back up on the other side. The buddha is 71 metre high and was built in the Tang Dynasty (618–907AD). Luckily, it was not damaged by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.


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Above there is Heaven, below there is Suhang… 上有天堂, 下有苏杭


There is an old Chinese saying that every Chinese person knows: “上有天堂, 下有苏杭”. This means “Above there is Heaven, below there is Suhang (Suzhou and Hangzhou).” (my translation). In other words, Suzhou and Hangzhou are heaven on earth. Um… I’m not so sure. Suzhou lies west of Shanghai, about 45 minutes by train, and it has been called “The Venice of the East”. Let’s be honest, it just doesn’t compare, even if it is an attractive place. Lots of canals, water, and old houses. But the Venetian atmosphere and magic isn’t there. As for Hangzhou, where I have just spent two weeks, it has become one of the most expensive places in China in terms of real estate. This is due to the presence of its West Lake (Xi Hu – 西湖), which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO only a few weeks ago. I’m not sure why. The lake is pretty, but not that amazing. Lots of lotus flowers. And lots of cars. Too many, in fact. There is a road that goes around the lake and which, to me, destroys the atmosphere. If you want to walk around the lake, you have to do so next to the road, which is very unpleasant. There are wooden boardwalks, but they are insufficient and crowded. The western side of the lake is more interesting, with small villages, tea culture and (somewhat) less cars. A more interesting place in Hangzhou, however, is the wetlands (Xi Xi Shi Di – 西溪国家湿地公园). They are in the middle of the city, and beautifully preserved: a maze of lakes and swampy areas, with meandering footpaths between them. You can also take a barge trip. Lots of birds and animals, and a world away from busy Hangzhou…

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Weekend in Shanghai


I hadn’t been to Shanghai in four years and was stunned by how much it has developed in so little time. We all know that China’s speed of development is staggering, but to see it with your own eyes is something else entirely. I have read that 30% of the world’s cranes can be found in Shanghai at the moment. I do not know if it is true, but it is certainly an indication of Shanghai’s dynamism. I found the streets much cleaner than they were last time, the city better organised, and some areas even quite pretty. The World Expo probably had a lot to do with it. Shanghai is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend or a week. Pudong and its futuristic buildings, the colonial Bund, the old city, the new suburbs, the French Concession or the markets, it’s all there for you to enjoy. My favourite restaurant is M on the Bund, as in Michelle, the Australian owner. A little pricey for Shanghai, but such a beautiful setting and such good food!

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Shaolin


Another very good surprise: Shaolin (released in January 2011 in Hong Kong), with nobody else than Jackie Chan and Andy Lau, and directed by Benny Chan!

China is plunged into strife with warlords fighting against each other to expand their power. One of them is Hao Jie, extremely succesful, dangerous and obnoxious. He despises everyone, including  the Shaolin masters who live in a nearby temple. He even goes as far as killing one of his enemies on their grounds. However, Hao soon finds himself compelled to take refuge it the very same monastery, a rival having killed his family and wanting him dead. This is a revelation for Ho, who finds a new meaning in life.  As civil unrest spreads and people increasingly suffer, the monks, under Ho’s impetus, decide to take action.

Chinese movies can be hit and miss, especially for Westerners, but this one is definitely a hit. The story is good, and for those who don’t like kung fu, there is not much of it – in fact, it really serves the story. The plot is made even more interesting by the numerous sub-plots: Ho’s love for his wife and child, and what happens to them; the enmity between Ho and his rival, a former subaltern; the meaning of live that Ho discovers in the temple; and the life of the poor and the peasants in those turbulent times. The story is complex, yet driven and simple to grasp. Images are beautiful, music is perfect. And as for the acting, no problem there. This is definitely one that I will be watching again in the near future. Don’t hesitate to do the same.

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Beijing Bicycle


Beijing Bicycle is a beautiful film about a 17 year old country boy who arrives in Beijing and finds work as a courier. He is given a bicycle by the company, which he is supposed to acquire after working a certain number of hours. Unfortunately his bicycle is stolen as he is about to finally own it and be in a position to make some money. This is the worst thing that could happen to him and he goes on a search for the thief. This is a stunning story about living in poverty in Beijing, teenagers growing up in a hostile environment, girls, class divisions, violence, and indifference. There is a level of desperation in the movie and it really makes you think about life and the under-privileged. Beautifully acted, with stunning music and great images, it was directed by Xiaoshuai Wang, and premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. It won the Jury Grand Prix. It was banned in Mainland China until 2004.

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