China Institute Presents Films from Respected Fourth and Fifth Generation Filmmakers


This Thursday, China Institute begins a four-week screening series, A Master & His Protégé: The Films of Xie Fei and Zheng Dasheng, dedicated to the films of master Fourth Generation film director Xie Fei (谢飞) and a director who studied under him, Zheng Dasheng (郑大圣) but has who has a very different vision.

Screenings include Xie Fei’s widely acclaimed films Black Snow and Woman Sesame Oil Maker and Zheng Dasheng’s historical works about his childhood home city Tianjin, Useless Man and Falling City.  Each screening will be introduced by a noted film scholar and will feature a question & answer period at the close.  Don’t miss this rare chance to see these films.

Three years ago, Xie, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, penned an open letter to the Film Bureau at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to complain about arbitrary and undefined censorship rules that leave filmmakers guessing what is allowed.  Official regulations require that the the bureau provide a decision regarding a film within 20 days, but Xie cited an example in which a film for which he was a consultant languished for over four months without a decision.

The regulations, Xie believes, “long ago lost its real social, economic, ideological and cultural significance” adding that it “has only become a corrupt black spot for controlling the prosperity of the cultural and entertainment industry, killing artistic exploration and wasting administrative resources”.

He sharply suggested the effects of this overbearing authority with a hypothetical involving a cultural figure of national pride:

“Imagine if the writer Mo Yan had to open a file and get permission before he is to write a novel, and then had to have his work read by 30 or 40 people from literary experts and people from departments representing workers, youngsters, women, the law enactment agencies, teachers and ethnic minorities – and for them to give opinions and make amendments to every paragraph and every word. Do you think he would have won the Nobel Prize he has today?”

His pleas have been supported and echoed by other prominent directors and and industry leaders like Yu Dong, CEO of China’s biggest film distributor Bona Films, and Wang Jianlin, China’s second richest man and owner of Wanda Group, which now owns American theater chain AMC Entertainment.

Not surprisingly, Xie is a supporter of independent film in China and wishes there could be a broadcaster that could show them and for the free market to determine content.

Zheng Dasheng, a student of Xie Fei, has become a respected director in his own right.   He has been called a “major new talent”, and his films have earned international acclaim. Contrasted with his mentor whose films convey a patient realism, Zheng draws from Chinese theater techniques to create films that are bolder in tone and visuals.

All screenings are $10 for non-members and $8 for China Institute members.  China Institute is offering two tickets to the first film, Useless Man.  Send an email to by the end of the day Monday, November 9 to enter the raffle.  Beyond Chinatown is also offering two tickets to the film.  To enter our raffle, send an email to by 9 PM, Wednesday, November 11.

Here are the films in the series:

Useless Man 《天津闲人》

Directed by Zheng Dasheng (2012)
Thursday, November 12, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

Zheng energetically mixes a variety of cinematic and theatrical techniques in a rollicking yet increasingly dark satire about an idle schemer (Guan Xincheng) and the cast of rogues he conspires and wrangles with in 1937 Tianjian.  Zhen Zhang, Director of New York University’s Asian Film and Media Initiative, will introduce the screening.  The screening will also feature a video introduction taped for China Institute by director Zheng.

Hollywood Reporter called the film “inventive” and a “brilliant technical tour-de-force”.

Black Snow 《本命年》
Directed by Xie Fei (1990)
Thursday, November 19, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

Xie’s realist masterpiece is the story of a young man (famed actor and director Jiang Wen), newly released from a labor camp, who attempts to navigate the rapidly changing Beijing of the late 1980s without getting dragged back into a life of crime.  Cultural anthropologist Dr. Nancy Jervis will introduce the film.

Falling City《危城之恋》
Directed by Zheng Dasheng (2012)
Thursday, December 3, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

In this romantic drama, Wan’er (Min Chunxiao), a demure but strong-willed young woman from a literary family, is married to the brutish son of a wealthy family.  After he essentially deserts her, Wan’er’s attentions turn to his younger brother (Zhou Shuai), an idealistic poet and outspoken advocate against Japanese aggression.  The film won the Silver Bear award at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival in 1990.  Film scholar Ting-woo Cho will introduce the screening.

Woman Sesame Oil Maker 《香魂女
Directed by Xie Fei (1993)
Thursday, December 10, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

Xie’s nuanced portrait of village life and the tensions between small town conventions and modernization centers on a mother (Siqin Gaowa) who runs a successful sesame oil mill while struggling to care for her family.  Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.  Zhen Zhang, Director of New York University’s Asian Film and Media Initiative, will introduce the screening.

The film is also known as Women from the Lake of Scented Souls. In 1994, The New York Times said the film “cannot match the supreme visual mastery of Zhang Yimou’s films, but its own style is gratifyingly rich in detail. From the lotus blossoms on the lake to the ceremonial grandeur of a Chinese wedding, the film is gentle, moving and precise.”