Feng Xiaogang: Spectacular China, BFI

Introduction written by Patrick Frater

Like Steven Spielberg, with whom he is often compared, Feng Xiaogang is a director with the common touch; a skilled storyteller whose consistent box-office success is the envy of most of his contemporaries.

Feng started out as a stage designer before establishing himself as a screenwriter and occasional actor, and in the 1990s he was one of the first directors to target mass-entertainment movies during the Chinese New Year period. Whether apocryphal or not, the tale of Feng’s visit to West London a decade ago in search of the locations used in the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts comedy Notting Hill also pinpoints him neatly as possibly China’s answer to Richard Curtis – self-aware and skilful with a dinner table skewer. Feng made his name with comedies and satires Dream Factory and Be There Or Be Square, and gained a modest international reputation with 2004’s A World Without Thieves. In 2001 he was one of the first mainland Chinese directors to have a film (Big Shot’s Funeral) backed by Columbia TriStar’s short-lived Hong Kong production unit. But his reputation and popularity in China were truly sealed with 2002’s Cell Phone, a mockery of evolving social mores in contemporary China, set in the TV industry.

In Feng’s world, bicycles and conical hats are, frankly, old hat. His middle-class characters are always en route to Los Angeles, Singapore or Japan. And his joyful romantic comedy If You Are The One matches a feckless dotcom millionaire with an equally flighty air stewardess. China has moved on – in case you hadn’t noticed!

Of late, Feng has alternated comedy with darker material: war (Assembly, Back to 1942) and natural disasters (Aftershock). But in Aftershock, a gutsy melodrama about the life-changing impact of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, there’s a sequence where even Feng essentially stands back and marvels at the extraordinary progress China has made since the end of Maoism.

Films to be shown:

  • Cell Phone
  • Assembly
  • If You Are the One
  • Aftershock
  • Back to 1942
  • Aftershock
  • Feng Xiaogang in Conversation

Feng Xiaogang: Spectacular China starts on the 8th and ends on the 21st February.
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