HIDDEN LETTERS (Tribeca 2022) – Reviewed by Marilyn Ferdinand

In their very moving documentary, Hidden Letters, directors Violet Du Feng and Qing Zhao show how generations of Chinese women found cracks in their oppressive, patriarchal society and created a way to find a small ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak existence. Their strategy? Nushu, a private language they invented to write letters to each other to share their pain and gain comfort in communion.

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A NEW OLD PLAY – Review by Diane Carson

A New Old Play provides a dense Chinese political and cultural history. At three hours running time, director Qiu Jiongjiong’s A New Old Play demands and rewards patience with a chronicle of Chinese history from the 1920s through the 1980s. The more knowledgeable the viewer, the better for understanding the numerous cultural and historical landmarks. Strikingly unusual, the story is presented in the stylized, theatrical manner of Chinese opera.

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SWIMMING OUT TILL THE SEA TURNS BLUE – Review by Diane Carson

With the tantalizing title Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, director Jia Zhang-ke personalizes decades of Chinese history through the recollections of well-known writers and ordinary citizens. Through eighteen chapters, this documentary interweaves brief moments of recited poetry, early and recent film clips, urban and rural snapshots, and professional performances, all anchored in extensive, individual interviews.

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LOST COURSE – Review by April Neale

Lost Course is long form journalism edited into a riveting subtitled documentary which also boasts a thriller-like narrative. It is, perhaps, the most embedded of interactive citizen reporting seen to date. To wit, nothing is as universal as seeing how rich and connected people take advantage of illiterate poor people, whether it is in China or anywhere else on the planet. This film reveals human nature and the deadly sin of greed is laid bare at its worst.

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ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE – Review by Diane Carson

Slowly, very slowly and deliberately over two and a third hours, writer/director Zhangke Jia’s Ash Is Purest White nonjudgmentally watches as gangster moll Qiao’s world falls apart. Incidentally but significantly, the Chinese environment that provides the backdrop implicitly exposes economic and social deterioration between the 2001 to 2017 years of Qiao’s story: mines closing, workers unemployed, gambling and gangsters pervasive.

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THE EIGHT HUNDRED – Review by Diane Carson

Chinese director Guan Hu tackles one of the most brutal and iconic battles in The Eight Hundred. Based on historical events relating to the 1937 battle for Shanghai, four hundred Chinese soldiers, known as the Eight Hundred Heroes, greatly outnumbered by Japanese forces, fight for four days to hold the Si Hang Warehouse, protecting Chinese soldiers retreating westward.

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SUBURBAN BIRDS – Review by Diane Carson

In his impressive but elusive feature film debut, Suburban Birds, writer/director Sheng Qiu offers two stories implicitly commenting on each other. They thereby suggest a handful of heady ideas for contemplation without ever explicitly mounting an argument for them. Further separating events into two parallel tracks, Sheng chooses different cinematic styles for each of the narrative threads.

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THE FAREWELL – Review by Susan Granger

Written and directed by Lulu Wang, based on her own experiences, this intergenerational-bonding comic drama revolves around a Chinese-American artist, Billi (Awkwafina), living in Brooklyn, who returns to her hometown in northeastern China when she learns that her adored Nai-Nai – grandmother in Mandarin- has Stage IV lung cancer.

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ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE – Review by Diane Carson

Slowly, very slowly and deliberately over two and a third hours, writer/director Zhangke Jia’s Ash Is Purest White nonjudgmentally watches as Qiao’s world falls apart. Incidentally but significantly, the Chinese environment that provides the backdrop implicitly exposes economic and social deterioration between 2001 to 2017: mines closing, workers unemployed, gambling and gangsters pervasive.

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