The Female Gaze in Chinese Films

BCAF has always supported the creation of young female artists. In 2018, in the second Creative China Festival, BCAF supported the work of three Chinese female directors--Huang Ji, Yang Lina, and Yang Mingming to be screened in various places in the United States. The three female directors seek inspiration from their life experiences and focus their stories on ordinary people.

Huang Ji, Huang Ji, From the collection of: Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation
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Huang Ji is an award-winning independent filmmaker based in Beijing. Born in 1984 in Hunan Province, Huang made her name by focusing on the sexual exploits of China’s so-called “left-behind children” in her debut feature "Egg and Stone" (2012), which she made exclusively with non-professional actors in her hometown. "The Foolish Bird" (2017), Huang’s second feature and a sequel of sorts to her first, concerns a love-deprived 16-year-old girl fending for herself surrounded by corruption, sexual violence and omnipresence of new media in a small town, after being left behind by her parents.

Egg and Stone poster (2012) by Huang JiBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Huang Ji's brave personal film is one of the most auspicious debuts in recent Chinese cinema. Huang Ji's visual sophistication, narrative fluency, and technical polish belie her youth. Cinematographer Ryuji Otsuka contributes beautifully crafted cinematic images, fearfully intimate, softly pulsing with light, saturated with complex emotional power. Part of "Egg And Stone" also depends on Huang's own past experience. It is not only a film, but also a new start for the director to bid farewell to the past and start a new life.

Egg and Stone (2012) by Huang JiBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Set in her home village in rural Hunan province, "Egg and Stone" is a powerful autobiographical portrait of a 14-year-old girl's attempts to come to terms with her emerging sexual maturity. Since her parents moved to the city to work, she has been forced to live with her uncle and aunt for seven years. Alone with her own inchoate fears and desires, she grapples with a terrifying world of sexual awakening and danger.

The Foolish Bird (2018-09/2019-03) by Huang JiBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Set against the backdrop of contemporary China’s technocratic and dissimulated culture industry, Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka’s contemplatively paced film "The Foolish Bird" articulates a moral gaze towards China’s disgruntled and alienated youth, a sector fully consolidated into China’s technocratic system. Precise images tell a story of the isolation and lack of perspective prevalent in a small city in today’s China.

The Foolish bird (2017) by Huang JiBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Continuing the concern for rural children, Yao Honggui starring in "Egg and Stone" was also the main character in "The Foolish Bird." The film captured her three-year growth.

The Foolish bird (2017) by Huang JiBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Returning to the subject of China’s “left-behind children”—sent to live with relatives while their parents seek better paying work elsewhere—Huang crafts the intimate, troubling tale of Lynn (Honggui Yao, returning), a teenager trying to find her way in the dead-end Hunan province town where she lives with her grandparents, hemmed in on all sides by seemingly insurmountable social barriers, routine abuse of power, and the threat of sexual violence, her only refuge her friendship with another local girl, May (Fang Yao). Grimly grand, and as tough as the truth.

Yang Lina, Yang Lina, From the collection of: Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation
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Self-educated and independent filmmaker YANG Lina (China) was a dancer for ten years before she started her training as an actress at the arts academy. After graduating, she moved on to making documentaries including "Old Men" (1999) and "The Love Story of Lao An" (2008), both of which screened at international festivals. She was one of the lead actors in Jia Zhangke's "Platform" (2000). "Longing for the Rain" is her first feature film.

Yang Lina (1999) by Yang LinaBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

"Old Men" is one of the first DV-shot nonfiction films to come from China, presaging the work of Wang Bing, and a prizewinner at Cinéma du Réel in 2000, making it a landmark in wider international recognition of independent Chinese documentary—a field in which women like Yang continue to fight for recognition.

Old Men by Yang LinaBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

A quiet, observational film that embeds us among a community of senior citizens in a Beijing suburb—the most honored members of society according to the old Confucian system, but in modern China, increasingly marginalized and disposable.

Old Men by Yang LinaBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

After the winter, some old men finally passed away and the other old men discussed about their lost friends and continued their chat ...

Longing for the rain by Yang LinaBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Yang had to shoot her fiction feature “Longing for the Rain” debut in Hong Kong, knowing that Chinese censors wouldn’t approve the subject matter of her erotically charged drama.

Longing for the Rain by Yang LinaBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Comfortable housewife Fang Lei (Siyuan Zhao) has achieved the “Chinese Dream,” but something is missing—something she can’t qualify until the vision of a consummate lover appears to her in dreams, and her craving for his touch begins to take over her waking life. A new gloss on the Chinese ghost story, a taboo acknowledgement of spiritual starvation in the nouveau riche middle classes, and a scathing indictment of patriarchal society.

Director Yang Mingming, From the collection of: Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation
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Yang Mingming directed, photographed, and starred in her short debut "Female Directors," which showed her capacity to adopt subversive creative concept and photography skills, as well as her success to seamlessly suture hyper-real performance with the fictional plot. In 2015, she edited Yang Chao's feature film "Crosscurrent," which won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution. "Girls Always Happy" is the first artistic feature written, directed and performed by Yang Mingming, with Yang Chao the executive producer, and Yang Jing the producer.

Girls Always Happy (2018-09/2019-03) by Yang MingmingBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

Written, directed and acted by female director Yang Ming Ming, "Girls Always Happy" is an outstanding feature movie that discuss families and humanities. It was shown in China Art Film Festival on CCF2018.

Girls Always Happy Still (2018) by Yang MingmingBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

After breaking up with her boyfriend, Wu rents a house in a Beijing hutong. She is excited about living alone until her mother moves in with her. A bizarre war sets off between them, disrupting every aspect of their lives. The two women, feeling extremely insecure, launch salvos agains one another. Each begins a romance, but their struggle to peacefully coexist is not without challenges.

Girls Always Happy Still (2018) by Yang MingmingBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

"Girls Always Happy" confronts the contemporary city life with a brand new perspective, and portrays with astonishing precision, the spectacle of mutual repulsion, hatred, and harm in a single mother-daughter relationship in a Beijing Hutong. Yet from the despair grows the power of tender love.

still of Girls Always Happy (2018) by Yang MingmingBeijing Contemporary Art Foundation

As director puts it, this is not a movie that promotes the warmth of the family. This is a movie analyzed with a surgical scalpel. Starting from a cross-section of the life of a mother and daughter in contemporary Beijing, drama and calmness coexist in the movie, re-interpretating the history of tenderness and happy in contemporary China.

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