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Holiday focus on movie catch up
By Xu Wei

CHINA'S film market continued to boom last year, with takings of more than 17 billion yuan (US$2.7 billion) at the box office - a 30 percent increase on 2011. More than 41 movies from home and abroad took more than 100 million yuan in China.

Despite little pre-promotion and advance publicity, there are several "dark horse" movies which exceeded expectations and were highly acclaimed by both the audience and film critics.

Most of these are not blockbuster-type films with spectacular visuals and special effects. Instead, they feature original stories and creative ways of storytelling.

And if you missed some of these movies first time round, what better way to catch up on them than while relaxing during the Spring Festival break?

Surprise hits of 2012

"Cold War"

This Hong Kong cop thriller is considered by many movie buffs the most exciting production in the genre since Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's "Infernal Affairs."

With a stellar cast that includes Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Charlie Young, the film revolves around a police rescue operation of a fully loaded police van which unexpectedly leads to a confrontation between two groups of high-level police officers. Hong Kong is about to be tested as there are unidentified dirty cops at work, following a series of security breaches.

The film is the directorial debut of Sunny Luk and Longman Leung, who say their inspiration came from US presidential campaigns.

Leung told reporters that watching candidates compete fiercely, but fairly, they wondered what would happen if such competition happened among top ranking officers in the police force. From this starting point, it took them five years to write the script.

Classic action elements of Hong Kong cinema are also merged with the story line, such as intense car chases, shoot-outs and explosions.

The film ends with a strong possibility of a sequel, as some bad guys remain undefined. This would probably continue to center on high-ranking cops and corruption.

"Beijing Blues"

The film, aka "Detective Hunter Zhang" is the latest offering of mainland director Gao Qunshu. At the 49th Golden Horse Awards, the film surprisingly took the awards of Best Feature Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing.

The funny and bittersweet film remains director Gao's realistic documentary style of storytelling.

It is about the work and life of an asthmatic and diabetic policeman in Beijing who roams the streets and back alleys of Beijing investigating and solving the crimes of theft, small-time crooks and con artists.

From the perspective of the cops, audiences also can get to know the hardship of the urban dwellers who are striving for a better life.

The movie is loosely based on the true story of Zhang Huiling, a Beijing plainclothes policeman of more than 10 years.

Director Gao continues to use a cast of nonprofessional actors who are cultural celebrities on microblogs. Their participation gives the movie a certain realism.

In the coming years, Gao plans to shoot around 20 grassroots movies telling the stories of ordinary Chinese people.

The lives of these characters are also expected to reflect the rapid development and tremendous social changes of China over the past decades.

"11 Flowers"

The film is a semi-autobiographical production of China's sixth generation director Wang Xiaoshuai, who has been waiting to make this film for 20 years.

To fund "11 Flowers," Wang even mortgaged his home. Though it was not a box office hit, he received much praise for the movie.

Set in Guizhou Province in the latter days of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), the movie is about the special relationship between a 11-year-old boy and a killer running loose in the woods.

As news of a local murder spreads, the boy fails to keep a secret, which eventually draws him and the fugitive into a dangerous situation.

The film was inspired by the 45-year-old director's real-life encounter with a fugitive when he was 11. It is also a film about the difficult transition from childhood and adulthood.

For some middle-aged filmgoers, the movie evokes their childhood memories and it is a nostalgia and a mirror to China's cultural history. During its screening, it also created a fad of buying nostalgic goods, such as old-time toys and costumes.

"The Hunger Games"

This American sci-fi adventure film directed by Gary Ross is adapted from Suzanne Collins's novel series of the same name, which is about a teenage girl fighting for survival in the televised Hunger Games.

The film became a huge hit for its successful depiction of a female action hero with a cold demeanor.

It is also hailed as the next big franchise, up there with "Harry Potter" and "Twilight."

The movie reminds a lot of movie buffs of classic Japanese flick "Battle Royale," which featured school kids who were forced to enter a deadly game in which they had to kill each other.

Unlike the Japanese film though, "The Hunger Games" is more encouraging and refreshing with a strong and willful women on screen struggling for life.

The success of "The Hunger Games" was also attributed by critics to its focus on elements such as plot, characterization and emotions rather than a frequent use of stunts and CGI technology.

Lunar New Year classics

"The Spring Festival" (1991)

This tragicomedic family drama by director Huang Jianzhong garnered the Special Jury Prize and Best Actress Award at the 4th Tokyo International Film Festival.

Director Huang considers this movie a true-to-life story about the changes of a farmer's family relations brought about by the reform and opening policies and about domestic conflicts.

It tells the story of an unhappy Spring Festival gathering of an ordinary family in a rural village in the Northeastern China.

The old couple of the family are looking forward to the arrival of their children and grandchildren from the city, but in the end they spend New Year's Eve on their own.

On the first day of the lunar new year, their sons and daughters come back with different selfish intentions and quarrels follow.

"Seventeen Years" (1999)

The family drama by China's sixth-generation director Zhang Yuan received a lot of awards at international film festivals, such as the Director's Award at the 56th Venice Film Festival.

The film revolves around a young woman whose accidental murder of her stepsister leads to a 17-year prison sentence. It also features future star Li Bingbing in her feature film debut, as a guard escorting the woman to her parents.

It is a difficult reunion for both the woman who asks for forgiveness and her stepfather who finally decides to forgive.

The film is praised for its bittersweet and deeply affecting scenes which are beautifully played by a small cast in muted but naturalistic style.

"Lost On Journey" (2010)

The comedy film starring Xu Zheng and Wang Baoqiang was a modest hit for its realistic and humorous depiction of the difficulty of going back home during the Chinese lunar new year.

Protagonist Li Chenggong - a boss of a toy company is on his journey back to his hometown for the Spring Festival.

A lot of embarrassing incidents take place on the trip and Li also meets an unsophisticated but sincere guy, Niu Geng. The pair end up in various scrapes to get back home safe. In the trip Niu Geng also helps Li Chengong, realize his responsibility for his family.

"Qin Jia Guo Nian" (2012)

The film, in English literally "A Couple's Parents Spending the Spring Festival" is directed by Hong Kong director Yip Wai-man and produced by Manfred Wong. It was Yip and Wong's second comedy film set to the backdrop of the Chinese lunar new year.

Newlyweds sell their large flat to fund a business and move to a tiny one. But their parents - still thinking the couple have their old home - decide to come for New Year. The film is popular with the post-80s generation, especially young couples.

2013 Lunar New Year holiday movies

"Journey To the West"

Release date: February 10

The fantasy comedy film by Hong Kong comedian and director Stephen Chow is loosely based on a classic Chinese novel. It is the first production by Chow since he presented "CJ 7" four years ago. At a previous press conference Chow said that he doesn't plays a major role in this film and focused more on directing. Though he didn't tell much of the film's plot, he revealed there is a love story.

"Love Retake"

Release date: February 10

The comedy romance by Chinese mainland comedian Zhu Shimao centers on two couples of the entertainment industry who finally got married after clearing up a series of misunderstandings. The film stars Taiwan singer Ashin, mainland actress Li Xiaoran and Yu Shaoqun, who is acclaimed for depicting the younger Peking opera master Mei Lanfang in "Forever Enthralled."

"Say Yes"

Release date: February 12

Starring Huang Bo and Taiwan model-turned-actress Lin Chi-ling, the film is adapted from a Japanese TV series of the same name. It tells a love story of an ordinary-looking bachelor who finally wins the heart of his dream girl with his wisdom, perseverance and kind heart.

Lin plays a cellist hurt by her past love experience. But with the bachelor's help, she realizes who is actually her Mr Right.


Release date: February 12

The romantic comedy film will see Hong Kong kung fu star Donnie Yen's transition from martial arts hero to an ordinary man looking for love.

Yen plays a traffic cop, "Mr Cool," who never smiles due to a rare disease. He meets Michelle, a woman with amnesia looking for her deceased fiance. They fall in love, but one day, Mr Cool discovers that Michelle has gone through another stage of amnesia and forgotten him.

The movie also stars young actors Ko Chen-tung and Michelle Chen, who made a box office sensation in "You Are the Apple of My Eye."

"My Lucky Star"

Release date: February 14

The romantic comedy directed by Hollywood female film maker Dennie Gordon is the second picture both starring and produced by after the success of "Sophie's Revenge."

This is a prequel as Zhang reprises her role as Sophie, who setting off on an adventure in cities including Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong.

"The Christmas Rose"

Release date: February 14

The directorial debut of Hong Kong actress Charlie Young about an ethical dilemma faced by a lawyer. Young said it attempts to show how frightening it would be when one loses morals under temptation. It also stars Aaron Kwok and Qin Hailu.

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