Chinese Burn

What began as a gathering of 12 friends on the beach in 1986 has since grown into a 70,000-strong annual extravaganza in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.  The weeklong experiment in art and community sees a mass migration deep into the scorching wilderness, the construction of a vast encampment dotted with towering wooden sculptures, and a carnival of raw human expression culminating in an apocalyptic blaze.  But as any ‘burner’ will tell you, it’s impossible to explain Burning Man.  To truly understand it, it must be experienced. 

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Burning Man 2015

A growing number of these burners are attempting to recreate that experience in various locations worldwide.  Shanghai’s Dragon Burn was launched in 2014 by a group of experienced burners led by Sven Aarne, one of the 80-odd participants in 1987 at the second ever ‘Burning Man’ on the beach in San Francisco.  Burning Man’s relationship with the Middle Kingdom first began in 2004, when it featured a Chinese Speakers Tea Party for Chinese attendees to gather in the Nevada desert, a tradition that has continued every year since. 

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Burning Man 2015

Physically, Dragon Burn bears no resemblance to its Nevada counterpart.  300 people in a park with built-in amenities is a far cry from the hordes that populate the unforgiving Nevada desert, and Shanghai burners will (probably) find no ‘mutant vehicles’, orgies or nudity in Anji this year.  What connects it, and other affiliated events, with Burning Man, and differentiates it from other conventional festivals, is ten guiding principles.  Free of commercial interests (decommodification), the cashless communes necessitate self-reliance and a system of gifting, while ‘leave no trace’ dictates no litter or scars should be left on the site after the event. Inclusiveness is mandatory and self-expression central, whether that is to create art, hug a stranger, or just get high and sprinkle someone with glitter.

Burning Man 2013

Burning Man 2013

As such, Dragon Burn features no sponsors, no cash on-site and all money from ticket sales will go to grants for art installations, administrative costs and the 12-foot dragon effigy that will be constructed by a team of volunteers and incinerated on the last night.  Burners will bring their own food, drink at a free bar and can enjoy free massages, yoga or any of the other workshops provided by fellow community members.

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Burning Man 2015

Aarne acknowledges that transferring and upholding the ten principles in a new territory, especially one as commercially-driven and environmentally indifferent as China, poses challenges, but believes it is a cause worth undertaking, “When people are no longer surrounded by money and commerce, they change. Those moments are precious and the founding volunteers of Dragon Burn are trying to share that unique interaction with the people that attend.  Our goals are to hold events where cell phones and selfies are useless, where your experience is personal and treasured.” 

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Burning Man 2015

Dragon Burn has been gathering momentum since launching in 2014.  This year, half of the tickets have already been sold without any marketing, submissions to construct art installations have risen to 70 up from 15 last year, and there are plans to construct more small stages to accommodate the extra volunteer DJs.  Organisers are seeking to shift the balance away from the previous foreigner dominated events by attracting a larger Chinese contingent, an aim that should be aided by a growing awareness of the Burning Man philosophy through Chinese social media. 

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Burning Man 2013

Dragon Burn may be incomparable with its US forefather, but remains one of the more unique among the recent wave of festivals to hit China, particularly as it is expressly non-profit.  It will be interesting to see how the principles resonate with the increasing number of Chinese burners and how large the movement is able to grow in the coming years.

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Burning Man 2015

The Ten Principles

  1. Radical Inclusion: Welcoming and respecting the stranger.  Anyone may participate.
  2. Gifting: Instead of cash, participants are encouraged to rely on a gift economy.
  3. Decommodification: Creating social environments without commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. No cash transactions are permitted.
  4. Radical self-reliance: Encouraging the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. Participants must bring all their own supplies.
  5. Radical self-expression: Encouraging self-expression through various art forms and projects. The event is clothing-optional and public nudity is common.
  6. Communal effort: Valuing creative cooperation and collaboration and striving to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces and works of art.
  7. Civic responsibility: Assuming responsibility for public welfare and endeavoring to communicate civic responsibilities to participants.
  8. Leaving no trace: Committing to leaving no physical trace after the event.
  9. Participation: Encouraging deep personal participation to help achieve transformative change.
  10. Immediacy: Overcoming inter-personal barriers, recognition of inner selves and reality of others, participation in society, and contact with the natural world.

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Burning Man 2015

 

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Meters/bonwe x Disney want you to have Fun

Chinese apparel giant Meters/bonwe has released a three-part campaign to launch its new line of alphabet tees made in collaboration with Disney. Anomaly Shanghai worked with P.I.G. China and Passion Pictures director Plenty to create three whimsical 15-second spots centered around themes of Fun, Love and Joy.

Renowned for their eclectic, energetic aesthetic, Plenty blends playful animation and live footage to imagine a wonderland in which ice-cream-headed models dance with boxing gloves, rainbows and hot-air balloons. Recalling the childhood joy inspired by Mickey and friends, the spots feature a small selection of the more than 1000-piece collection of Disney-themed garments. 

Buenos Aires-based Plenty has recently joined the Passion Pictures Australia stable of talent.

Credits:

  • Client: Meters /Bonwe
  • Brand Manager: Yoyo Sun
  • Agency: Anomaly Shanghai
  • ECD:  Elvis Chau
  • Production Company: P.I.G. China / Passion Pictures Australia
  • P.I.G. China EP: Melissa Lee
  • Passion Pictures Australia EP:  Katie Mackin
  • Director: Plenty
  • Creative Director: Mariano Farías
  • Cinematographer: Sol Abadi
  • Art Director: Valeria Moreiro
  • Plenty EP: Inés Palmas
  • Music and Sound Design: Mil Cables

Queer is Here

ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival programmer Mathew Baren on establishing a queer film festival in China

“Chinese queer experience is different, but probably not in the way you would think,” explains Matthew Baren, festival programmer for ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival 2016. “It’s about dispelling misconceptions. Of course they face many problems, but they have different problems for different reasons. In Europe and North America, much of the difficulties that queer people face are because of religion in society, which isn’t really a factor here. Here it’s more about family, even to the point where someone can come out but still be expected to get married, have kids and continue the family line.”

ShanghaiPRIDE launched in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2015 that Baren and colleague Alvin Li introduced a formal film festival element. The aim, he explains, is to give a voice to underrepresented queer filmmakers in China, “LGBT stories still very often tend to be about white men, but there are some amazing stories coming from China that deserve to be heard.”

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Alvin Li (ShPFF Festival Coordinator & Events), Desmond Loh (Producer, Stink), Cheng Pei Pei (actress), masamojo (filmmakers) and Matthew Baren (ShPFF Festival Coordinator & Programmer) at ShPFF 2015 award ceremony

Moreover, entering the short film competition gives filmmakers access to ShPFF’s network of festival programmers worldwide. Last year’s winning film, A Straight Journey: Days and Nights in Their Kingdom is testament to that.   The 22-minute portrait of 48 gay people and their families in 11 cities across China by Beijing photographers masamojo premiered at ShPFF 2015 and has gone on to feature in festivals in Beijing, Taiwan, Europe and the US.

masamojo’s “A Straight Journey: Days and Nights in Their Kingdom”

Like masamojo’s film, Baren notes a tendency in Chinese queer film toward real stories, compared to the fictional narratives common to those from the west, “I think that’s kind of a dynamic of Chinese independent or DIY filming. People are shooting with their DV camera the things they see on the streets on a day to day basis.”

Though homosexuality was legalised in China in 1997 and attitudes in society are gradually becoming more open-minded, China’s gay community still faces challenges. For China’s LGBT activists, filmmaking is an important tool for bringing issues to light. In one recent landmark case, filmmaker Fan Popo last year sued the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) for allegedly demanding that Chinese video streaming sites take his documentary about the mothers of gay children, ‘Mama Rainbow’, offline. SAPPRFT denied ever sending such a request and Fan won the case, but restrictions on queer content do not appear to be easing.

‘Mama Rainbow’ by Fan Popo

Events like ShPFF and the Love Queer Cinema Week (formerly Beijing Queer Film Festival), the country’s longest running gay film festival founded in 2001, tend to favour bars and venues provided by international consulates as opposed to official state-approved cinemas. Baren suggests that such intimate environments help encourage another of the festivals key objectives: dialogue and discussion. “As much as it is about watching great movies and supporting filmmakers, it is a forum in which people can share their ideas and their knowledge.

The theme running through this year’s programme is gender, addressing issues affecting transgender, non-binary and agender people. Gender minorities are often the most marginalised within our community. They don’t have legal protection in the workplace or housing, they are more likely to receive abuse, there are fewer spaces for them,” explains Baren. “We want the festival this year to be a space where trans voices can be heard, and where people can educate themselves.”

ShPFF 2016 trailer

This year’s festival builds on a successful inaugural year, which saw one of China’s best-loved movie stars, Cheng Pei Pei, attend the festival’s China mainland premiere of Lilting, the British film in which she starred alongside Ben Whishaw. An array of established directors such as Beijing Queer Film Festival founder Cui Zi’en and producer Desmond Loh from Stink Shanghai made up the experienced jury. Judges this year include Lilting director and BAFTA award nominee Hong Khaou, and Kit Hung, the filmmaker best known for Teddy Award nominated Soundless Wind Chime. The winning film will be entered into contention for the UK’s Iris Prize, with a top prize of £30,000 towards the director’s next project.

Lilting1Cheng Pei Pei and Ben Whishaw in Hong Khaou’s “Lilting”

  • ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival runs from 17-26th June.  Submission for the ShPFF Short film competition closes April 15th.  Click here for more details.
  • ShanghaiPRIDE 2016 runs from June 17-26th.  Click here for more details.
  • ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival runs a monthly underground queer cinema night, Catch their next event on April 7th at Craft (5 Donghu Lu), 8.30pm, Free entry

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PIGPEN CINEMA Presents Michael Jackson: Journey from Motown to OFF THE WALL

Tue. Apr 19, 2016
Doors open 9 | Movie starts 9:30
65 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials: beer|wine|cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn
Only 35 seats
First come first serve policy

“Director Spike Lee documents an in-depth look into the evolution of The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and the cultural significance – and lasting impact – of his seminal first album as an adult, ‘off the wall.’”

Marcelo Burgos brings back the old days

Stylishly shot in black and white, the new spot directed by Marcelo Burgos in Argentina became a pick of the day in Creativity magazine.

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s or early ’90s will appreciate the witty humor of this spot from Schweppes in which a bunch of confused-looking millennials get a little history lesson on what life was like back then. It will definitely also make Chinese audiences with similar generational gaps laugh.

See Marcelo Burgos full reel here.

WeChat is killing my baby!

Following email inventor Ray Tomlinson’s death last week, we ask if WeChat’s irresistible rise could spell doom in China for his 1971 brainchild.

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Email’s fortunes in China have been dictated by the tides of technological change. By the time China was permanently connected to the Internet in 1994, instant messaging services like OICQ (the original name of QQ) were available and readily adopted.  The relatively few personal email addresses created were usually unappealing and unmemorable sequences of random numbers.  The torrent of smartphones that flooded the market in the late 2000s gave the Chinese a platform on which to exert their penchant for instant messaging.  The rapid rise of Tencent’s WeChat app saw generation after generation embrace text and voice messaging, all the way up to the elderly, most of whom had never had an email address.

These days WeChat has firmly established its supremacy, exposing many of emails shortcomings in the process.  Where email once replaced paper mail for its speed, WeChat is faster still.  Where email inboxes have become crammed with spam, WeChat organises desired bulletins into a tidy subscription section.  Where email was acclaimed as a non-invasive alternative to a phone call, WeChat voice messaging offers a personal touch and listening at leisure. Whereas an email address was once required to sign up for services like online banking, flight booking or topping up mobile credit, WeChat requires just a phone number and debit card to make use of all these services and more.

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Though email did gain traction in business throughout China’s boom years, internal and inter-company communications are increasingly taking place via WeChat.  Documents, films and files are sent and opened on the phone or desktop site. Though anachronistic paper business cards are clinging on, QR code scanning means you potentially may never know a contact’s email.  Instead of long email chains with multiple colleagues on cc, WeChat groups can be handily saved as an address book contact, with the @ function directly alerting desired recipients.  Most significantly, WeChat conversations are beginning to be saved, archived and trusted as legally liable records.

There is, however, still confusion to clear before email is consigned permanently to the recycle bin.  WeChat’s broad functionality has seen it pervade all aspects of personal and professional life and the boundaries have become blurry.  In most businesses, WeChat has not yet been ratified as an official business tool.  Checking your mobile at work was once a sure sign of slacking.  Is it now a job requirement?  With the boss alongside friends in your address book, it is unclear when the working day ends and social time begins.

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Communication itself can also suffer.  Whereas an email chain is understood to be a professional exchange, work discussion in WeChat groups can succumb to the casual attitude we apply to social conversations on the same app, while important memos are easily missed in the constant deluge from a heaving address book and subscription accounts.

Interestingly, the tools responsible for the death of Tomlinson’s creation – Facebook, Twitter and WeChat – have appropriated the iconic @ symbol that he bestowed upon his creation.  When Tomlinson meet his invention, he may take some comfort that his will not die, rather be reincarnated.

Stephen Chow & Hong Kong Mo Lei Tau Comedy

During the 1990s, Stephen Chow’s name became synonymous with a unique comedy genre known as mo lei tau.  Though his recent movies retain many of the elements of his earlier work, the director is consciously moving away from the genre that made his name.

Stephen Chow

Stephen Chow is one of Hong Kong and China’s best loved comic actors and directors.  His new film, The Mermaid, has broken all major China box office records including biggest opening day, single day gross and opening week of all time, ultimately becoming the highest-grossing film ever in China and the first to join the ‘3-billion-yuan club’.  Whilst the success can be partly attributed to both the growing number of cinema screens across the country and the movie’s timely release to span two major holidays, the crucial catalyst is Chow’s enduring popularity.

Chow started out as a television comic actor in the late 1980s before getting his break in the 1990 movie All for the Winner.  The subsequent wave of movies in which he starred, and sometimes wrote and directed, would become known as mo lei tau comedies and came to define the proceeding decade in Hong Kong moviemaking.  The popularity of these movies saw Chow become Hong Kong’s leading comic actor and, alongside Chow Yun-fat and Jackie Chan, the major box office draw of the period.

Mo Lei Tau

Mo lei tau comes from the Cantonese phrase mo lei tau gau, which literally means ‘cannot differentiate between head and tail’, but is more commonly translated as ‘coming from nowhere’ or, more simply, ‘makes no sense’.  The term describes a wave of lowbrow, anarchic and absurd movies that satirized society, flagrantly disregarding filmmaking and narrative rules such as the fourth wall.  Whilst slapstick humour is central to the genre, it is perhaps most notable for its wild wordplay and creative license with the Cantonese language.

Video Clip from A Chinese Odyssey Part Two – Cinderella (1995)

Video Clip from King of Comedy (1999)

Though the term ‘mo lei tau’ wasn’t coined until Chow’s emergence, linguistic elements can be traced back to the Hui Brothers, a prolific Hong Kong moviemaking trio in the late 1970s.  Jackie Chan’s slapstick Kung Fu roles in the 1980s continued the evolution, before Chow became the figurehead for mo lei tau films in the 1990s.

The reasons the genre emerged, flourished and became intrinsic to Hong Kong popular culture are tied to the sociopolitical climate of the time.  The previous century had been a period of upheaval and transformation as Hong Kong grew from scattered fishing villages into a densely populated commercial hub, fuelled by an influx of migrants fleeing the political and economic difficulties on the mainland.  By the early 70s, Hong Kong’s formerly immigrant population was beginning to seek and embrace its own, native cultural identity.  A key element of that identity was language.  In a nation where the youth spoke Cantonese but were made to learn and write in English and Mandarin, Chow’s wild abandon with linguistic conventions provided them with a new vernacular, that excluded non-Cantonese speakers, and which they could call their own. 

Mandarin & The Mermaid

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Poster from The Mermaid

Whilst the Stephen Chow’s films have been edging stylistically away from mo lei tau since 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle, they have still relied heavily on the key elements of the genre.  The most significant departure began with 2013’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, which saw Chow understandably embrace Mandarin to include and appeal to the enormous mainland audience.  The decision goes against one of the fundamental tenets of the genre as a tool of defiance and consolation, exclusive to Cantonese youth. In this sense, whilst The Mermaid is an accomplished addition to Chow’s body of work, it seems that he has, for now, left mo lei tau behind.

Father Of Photography, Purveyor Of Pornography

In the West, Louis Daguerre (d.1851) enjoys a distinguished legacy as an esteemed photographer, accomplished painter and inventor of the diorama theatre.  Why then is his name in China synonymous with pornography?

Mr Daguerre owes his dubious second lease of renown to porn peddlers Cao Liu, the Chinese equivalent of US site Pornhub.  Cao Liu runs a popular platform entitled ‘Daguerre’s Legacy’, which allows users to post their own saucy selfies.

Though there is no evidence to suggest Monsieur Daguerre didn’t enjoy perusing images of an explicit nature, it’s probable that he wouldn’t be delighted that his good name has been reduced to a by-word for smut.

We were unable to verify why poor Louis was selected for titular honours 150 years after his death, but it seems likely it’s for little more than his championing of the still image.

Pornography is strictly forbidden in China, with anyone caught spreading or even looking at it risking heavy penalties.  One such example is Chinese media player Qvod, currently on trial for allegedly circulating porn, despite simply displaying search results of videos uploaded by others across the internet.

In spite of the risks, a torrent of porn continues to flood the web, even spreading into live events.  Netizens frothed themselves into a frenzy recently when retired Japanese porn star, Sora Aoi, appeared at the annual company meeting of Chinese company Jing Dong.

China’s Top Sci-Fi Author Astonished By Student Tribute Film

A spectacular film tribute to famous Chinese sci-fi novel The Dark Forest has blown away fans of the book, and the author himself.  The film entitled Waterdrop was created by Wang Ren, a Chinese student at Columbia University.

The Dark Forest is the second instalment of the trilogy The Remembrance of Earth’s Past, by preeminent sci-fi author Liu Cixin.  In 2015, the first book in the series, The Three-Body Problem (the title often given to the whole series), became the first Asian novel to win a Hugo Award for ‘Best Novel’, one of the world’s highest accolades for science fiction and fantasy writing.  The book was first published in 2007 but returned to the spotlight with a translated English version in 2014.

The film was inspired by a scene from the book in which a fleet from Earth captures an alien space probe named “The Droplet”.  In the book, The Droplet overpowers Earth’s spaceships and goes on to massacre their entire fleet.  After spending a year and a half planning to recreate the battle in film, Wang changed tack, choosing a more abstract interpretation.   Wang touches on his unusual approach with a somewhat cryptic explanation, saying “A very literal representation cannot reflect the droplet’s true essence.’

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Cover of The Three Body Problem. Written by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

The Droplet’s true essence, according to Wang, is the absolutely smooth surface of the probe, as described by Joel Martinsen in his English translation, “A highly smooth finish that made it a total reflector. The molecules in this thing are neatly arranged like an honor guard and they’re mutually solidifying with strong interaction. Its strength was a hundred times greater than the sturdiest material in the Solar System.”  The eventual film is one 14-minute shot, starting ultra-close to the ship on a single white molecular dot and slowly reverse-zooming, taking the viewer on an epic voyage through the tiniest molecules of the universe as reflected by the probe’s ultra smooth surface.

Wang used Render Farm software for the final rendering, and laid voiceover comprising cut up existing clips and recordings of Wang’s college friends.

Upon completion, Wang sent the film to his hero, Liu Cixin.  The author was amazed, gushing, “I can honestly say that this is what Three Body Problem looks like in my dreams,” adding that, if the feature length film, currently in postproduction and set for release in July 2016, generates the same power as Wang’s effort, “I could really die a happy man.”

Wang was first inspired by the story as an undergrad in Dalian, China.  Prior to Waterdrop, the Architecture major had no background in filmmaking or animation.  After Liu’s endorsement it may be time for the young talent to consider a new career in directing.