Rap for Youth Live Stages Round-Up

Rap of China is really boring this year so far, but luckily Rap for Youth has stepped up to the plate. The casting and editting is hilarious, and the arrangement and production level of this show is absolutely stunning. Each of the stages for the first round features at least one live instrument working with the rappers on stage, and many flawlessly combine Chinese instruments with the beats.

Here’s my favorite song of the round, a battle song that samples Eminem’s Lose Yourself while using Chinese drums. The chorus for this is ridiculously well-written, and the whole performance is perfect.

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Flashback: Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils 2003 stills

This still looks exactly like the illustrations in Jin Yong books.

Often lauded as director Zhang Jizhong’s best Jin Yong drama, his adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils has all of his fortes without any of his weaknesses. A perfect combination of solid hand-to-hand combat and artistic license in the action choreography, a stunning cast in equally stunning on-location scenery, a focus on the grandeur of the stories but finally with nuanced relationships and chemistry between the characters. Hu Jun is truly one of the few actors who pulls off the rugged-at-large-soft-in-the-heart Xiao Feng, while Jimmy Lin’s idol-drama-take on Duan Yu makes him much more likable than the original character. Liu Tao’s Ah-Zhu was the first TV character who made me cry, while Jiang Xin’s Mu Wuantong remains her most gorgeous role to date. Chen Hao and Shu Chang also gave amazing performances as two complex female antagonists.

The impeccably cast series stars Hu Jun, Jimmy Lin, Gao Hu, Liu Tao, Chen Hao, Jiang Xin, Shu Chang, Liu Yifei, Yang Rui, Xiu Qing, Tong Chun-Chung, Christy Chung, Diana Pang, etc.

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Photographer Friday: Liu Zongyuan

Known for his use of light to decorate his objects, Liu Zongyuan’s photographs often feel like they come from the impressionist school of painting. You might remember him from the famous Mulan-like photoshoot he did for Liu Yifei, but that photoshoot is not even up there among his best. He often brings an ethereal beauty to his subjects and their surroundings. Liu Yifei is probably Liu Zongyuan’s most common muse and the one who put him on the map, but he is also a frequent collaborator with actresses like Liu Shishi (who loves him so much she got him to do her wedding shoot) and Li Qin.

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Virtual Film Festival Screenings

Jia Zhangke’s film is one of several Chinese films available at New York Film Festival

If you’re tired of the lack of new releases, consider getting tickets for virtual screenings at some of the world’s biggest film festivals. Most have strong geo-blocking so you can only watch them in the allowed regions. There’s also drive-in tickets for the New York and Toronto if you’re too concerned about the pandemic to go to cinema viewings. All of the festivals have Chinese-language films, although the film I’m mostly excited to see is Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland.

In the U.S.: New York Film Festival
In Canada: TIFF
In Italy: Venice Film Festival
In the UK: London Film Festival

Review: Liu Yifei is the only good part of the live-action Mulan

How is it that Chen Man’s photoshoot for Liu Yifei got a calligrapher to write out Mulan’s slogan – Loyal, Brave, and True – but Disney couldn’t seem to get one for the movie with their 200-million-USD-budget.

The original Disney’ Mulan wasn’t perfect, but you could tell that the people who worked on it poured their hearts into it through details. Yet films often reflect societal attitudes, and gone is the time when China was still a subject of wonder for many filmmakers in the West, when filmmakers were sometimes insensitive but at least interested in China. In the live-action Mulan, almost every aspect of the film seems to send the same message: China is the world’s second-biggest box office and we will use the minimum efforts it takes to give them what we think they want.

Disney’s Mulan is not a bad film, but it is a disappointing film. The basic story of Mulan is compelling, the scenery is beautiful if often obviously New Zealand, and its lead Liu Yifei is charming enough and did what she could with the role. Yet it’s very hard to watch the live-action Mulan and not judge it for what it could’ve been or see the lack of effort behind it. One expects a live-action to have the same humor and heart as the original, and it doesn’t. There isn’t a single change I can name that improved the story.

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Photographer Friday: Zhong Lin

Malaysian-born, Taipei-based photographer Zhong Lin (pinyin: Zhong Ling) is really one of my favorites. I love her whimsical style and bold use of colors that seem to bring fairytale settings to life. Her subjects always feel so filled with life, and each frame tells a story. Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite celebrity photoshoots by her.

Previous photographer round-ups: Chen Man’s Chinese steampunk, Luo Yang’s raw femininity, Xiaoming’s frames , Fan Xin’s people and their surroundings

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