China’s Leftover Women

An evocative new film from cosmetics brand SK-II, produced by US production company TOOL of North America, and locally by PIG China, directed by Floyd Russ with creative ideas and strategy by agency Forsman & Bodenfors, highlights an emotionally charged phenomenon permeating modern Chinese society.  The film, which has received over 1 million views on Youku within 24 hours of its initial release, uncovers the plight of ‘leftover’ women – a term that has come into common usage in China in recent years to describe unmarried women – and challenges the unforgiving attitudes of their overbearing parents.

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China’s development steam train has brought immeasurable benefits but left a wake of social problems, including a chasm in values between conservative parents and their grown up children. This means having a career, being independent and choosing one’s own destiny, combined with the influence of western culture in which the sanctity of marriage continues to be eroded, has led to a major shift in attitude among China’s Generation Y.

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Their parents however, raised in deeply conservative times, hold a staunch set of contrasting beliefs. Marriage is a central tenet of the all-important family unit. For them, it is not possible that a daughter could be happy, or sufficiently well off to lead a comfortable life without a husband, something she will find increasingly difficult to find after the age of twenty-five, when she will be deemed ‘over the hill’. Filial piety, a cornerstone of traditional Chinese values, dictates that your parents’ wishes and beliefs should be respected. They have been selfless in raising the child and it is the duty of the grown up child to pay them back.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 19.19.41People’s Park ‘Marriage Market’, Shanghai

The results of this generational divide are bizarre and depressing. A booming matchmaking industry plays out alongside ‘marriage markets’ across the country, regular gatherings at which parents and grandparents shop their unwed offspring around like animals at a farmers market. Parents worry themselves sick and place blame on the child. Desperation to see their daughter marry leads to unhappy relationships and a soaring divorce rate.

While it is unlikely that a single film will effect any change in the deeply embedded attitudes of Chinese parents, the already buzzing discourse online confirms that this is a real issue for millions of women across China. Hopefully bringing the problem into the spotlight and sharing their experiences can provide China’s single women with some measure of relief.

Credits:

  • Client: SK-II
  • Advertisers Supervisor: Kylene Campos
  • Advertisers Supervisor Titel: Brand Director, Global SK-II
  • Creative Agency: Forsman & Bodenfors
  • Account Supervisor: Susanna Fagring
  • Account Manager: Linda Tiderman
  • Art Director: Sophia Lindholm, Karina Ullensvang
  • Copywriter: Tove Eriksen Hillblom
  • Designer: Christian Sundén
  • Planner: My Troedsson
  • PR Strategist: Amat Levin
  • Agency Producer, Film/Digital: Alexander Blidner (film), Peter Gaudiano (digital)
  • Production company: Tool
  • Postproduction: Cut n Run
  • Media/PR agency (inkl. adress etc): BeOn
  • Director: Floyd Russ
  • Producer: Mary Church
  • Music: Victor Magro / Future Perfect Music 
  • Exec producer: Robert Helphand
  • D.O.P: Jacob Moller
  • Editor: Robert Ryang
  • Sound: Cut n Run

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.’”

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.

Pigpen cinema presents: AMY

Screening on Tuesday December 08, 2015
Doors open 9 | Movie starts 9:30
65-4 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials: beer, wine, and cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn
Only 35 seats
First come first serve policy

From director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), AMY tells the incredible story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse – in her own words. Featuring extensive unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks, this strikingly modern, moving and vital film shines a light on our culture the world we live in today. A once-in-a-generation talent, Amy Winehouse was a musician that captured the world’s attention with her unforgettable voice and charisma. The combination of her raw honesty and virtuosity resulted in some of the most unique and adored songs of our time.

Pigpen cinema presents: IRIS

Screening on Tuesday November 17, 2015
Doors at 9 | Movie starts at 9:30
65-4 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials on beer, wine, and cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn snacks
Space is limited to 35 seats
First come, first serve

More on the film: Iris (2015, 80 min., dir. Albert Maysles)
IRIS pairs legendary 87-year-old documentarian Albert Maysles with Iris Apfel, the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even in Iris’ dotage, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire. IRIS portrays a singular woman whose enthusiasm for fashion, art and people are life’s sustenance and reminds us that dressing, and indeed life, is nothing but an experiment. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, she continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression. “I feel lucky to be working. If you’re lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.” (C) Magnolia

See trailer here on youku or youtube

Eugenio Recuenco Gives Niccolo Hotels a Five-Star Debut

New P.I.G. director Eugenio Recuenco has just collaborated with luxury branding firm Yang Rutherford to create “New Encounters, Timeless Pleasures,” a classy, lushly-lit spot for the new upscale hotel chain Niccolo Hotels. The wordless, racy ad visually tells the story of a man and woman finding their way to each other, finally to meet and spend their first night together in a deluxe suite at a Niccolo hotel. On their way to one another they wander through the beautiful corridors of the hotel, and experience top notch service from its staff. “New Encounters, Timeless Pleasures,” is dripping with Eugenio’s glamorous signature aesthetic–more of which you can see HERE.