"An Exploration" is Odyssey's short film programme dedicated to showcasing the range of different genres, themes, and aesthetics of 21st-century Chinese cinema, ranging from atmospheric shorts to incisive documentaries. Take a look at our top picks from the programme.
200 CIGARETTES FROM NOW
"Stories with cross-culture backgrounds are often being neglected in mainstream media, while portrayals of female characters commonly lack depth or are associated with certain stereotypes."
A raw and intimate debut from first-time filmmaker Tianyu Ma that is visually and thematically reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express, with the melancholic ponderings of its central protagonist Xia and a neon-pop aesthetic of her ex-boyfriends Boston apartment which she has crashed. Xia does her best to avoid real-life responsibilities - her studies and her part-time job as a scriptwriter - and instead spends her day chain-smoking and drinking gin whilst wistfully daydreaming of her crush.
MARRIAGE ON THE BORDER
"The film is based on a real-life case of sex trafficking, which has a significant social meaning in the Minnan region. At the end of the film, one character becomes a symbol for the ‘southern girl forced into prostitution’, a well-known marginal figure of that era."
Based on a real-life case of sex trafficking, Marriage on the Border follows a woman from Southern China who has fallen in love with a Taiwanese man who must undergo an intense interview process for her visa into Taiwan to be approved. When her fate takes a sour turn, the film powerfully portrays the tragic social injustices that befall these desperately unfortunate women.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
"It seems that as we get older, the word ‘dream’ becomes cheesy - something we can hardly voice out loud anymore. I’m not sure if this is because we end up surrendering to real life, or because our dreams are so vulnerable that we must hide them deep within."
Returning to his family from college for New Year celebrations proves to be a tense affair for a 19-year-old boy in this very personal tale from filmmaker Hao Zheng. Xiaoyu, a fictional version of the director, has chosen to pursue his personal interests and study Kung Fu - a decision which is met with strong resistance from his disapproving mother, who cannot envisage a prosperous future for her son. By choosing to defy parental and cultural expectations, Xiaoyu's battle feels like a very universal one, with a very assured and natural performance from Qi Sun.
A GENTLE NIGHT
"A group of young girls suddenly disappeared, but after a few weeks, all of them just walked back home from nowhere. They gave no explanation. I was fascinated by this report - but mostly by what was not on the page. Why would the girls go missing? What did the families do when they came back?"
Focusing on a mother’s search for her daughter in the dead of night, A Gentle Night’s understated style by no means limits its richness in character or emotion. Yang Qiu’s unique, sophisticated camera aesthetic brings with it a torrent of feeling, creating an intensity that earned Qiu the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2017.
ALL THE CROWS IN THE WORLD
"At the age of 18, for the first time in my life, I saw a group of women standing in a row waiting to be picked by men. That experience has always been unforgettable to me. I have to tell this story and share my experience."
Another Short Film Palme d'Or winner, this subversive and dark-humored work from female filmmaker Yi Tang, who is working on turning this short into a feature-length film, follows an 18-year-old schoolgirl who is invited out by her prostitute cousin into the male-dominated, sexually charged night-life of contemporary China.
"From a thematic perspective, I wanted to show how the characters are manipulated by consumerism. In order to convey this in the visual design, I was keen to create an audiovisual language that broke the traditional rules of animation."
This darkly atmospheric animation on the dangers of consumerism is a potent audiovisual experience from filmmaker Lin Zhao. Pigs feature as a metaphor for a dystopian society driven to barbaric, animal-like greed to consume and be consumed by our materialist obsessions.
"Red Bean is a metaphor in Chinese culture. It refers to love for a concern with relatives and old friends. The decline of our civilisation is caused by human selfishness, haughtiness and dismissal. If we travel to the future and look back at ourselves, we will realise that we have lost our “true love” and it is too late."
Yu Chen's ambitious monochrome space drama follows a sole spaceman isolated from human interaction on a foreign planet. With Earth's orb hovering above in the vastness of space, our protagonist longs for reconnection with his family, and his mother in particular. Visually spectacular, with impressive production values and sound design, Red Bean is thematically reminiscent of Ridley's Scott sci-fi The Martian.
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