NIGHT PEACOCK (aka LE PAON DE NUIT) (2016) review

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The sixth film of Chinese-French author and director Dai Sijie, Night Peacock tells of Elsa (Crystal Liu Yifei), a musician who spends her time between France and China. In the western city of Chengdu, she meets Ma Rong (Leon Lai) an expert player of the Shakuhachi flute who owns a silkworm factory. Elsa soon becomes both fascinated by silkworms – living beings that have to be sacrificed so that precious silk may be extracted – and infatuated with Ma Rong. But she also meet Lin (Yu Shaoqun), a young opera singer who’s in love with her to the point of following her around, breaking into her room and trying on her high-heels. But the film unfolds in non-linear fashion, with the other half of the scenes taking place later in Paris, where Elsa learns she’s pregnant (we don’t know whom from yet), and meets Ma Rong’s younger brother Ma Jianmin (Liu Ye), an undocumented tattoo artist who marvels at her skin and offers to adorn her back with a tattoo of a night peacock, a beautiful but rare and short-lived butterfly. Soon, Elsa and Jianmin are in love.

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THE MAN BEHIND THE COURTYARD HOUSE (2011) review

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Before he found success with the excellent courtroom thriller Silent Witness, Fei Xing directed The Man behind the Courtyard House, which despite its high-profile cast went fairly unnoticed. Much like Silent Witness, it starts out with a fairly straightforward narrative, whose conclusion arrives a bit too soon to satisfy. Then it rewinds itself not once but twice, each time revealing a new layer that helps not only to make sense of what we saw, but also to see it in a new light. And so after a first segment in which we see a group of backpacking students (Eva Huang Shengyi, Yu Shaoqun, Zhang Kejia and Zhang Shuyu) find shelter in a old traditional house whose sole inhabitant is cold, mysterious Chen Zhihui (Simon Yam) who claims he’s a distant relative of the old couple that is supposed to live there. What follows is a rote slasher where Chen kills the backpackers one by one by banging a nail in their skull, with no apparent motive. But then the film backtracks twice, and we are introduced to his backstory, and people he met in the days before : the old couple who lived in the house, but also an affable state investigator (Chen Sicheng), a recently-widowed hotel owner (Zhang Jingchu) and a desperate but determined ex-con (Wei Zi), among others. Slowly, Chen’s story takes fascinating, poignant shape.

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A CHINESE FAIRY TALE (aka A CHINESE GHOST STORY) (2011) review

Remaking Ching Siu Tung’s 1987 fantasy love story A Chinese Ghost Story was a bold move. The original is still a reverred classic, featuring a legendary screen couple in the person of the late Leslie Cheung and the now-retired Joey Wong, some of Ching Siu Tung’s most inventive choreography, and an effectibe blend of romanticism, tragedy and comedy, with crappy but well meaning special effects and a very popular soundtrack. It gave way to two sequels and a whole wave of fantasy love stories. A remake was always going to face a very tough challenge, especially since the legendary Leslie Cheung committed suicide in the early 2000’s, which adds a sheen of intensely emotional nostalgia to all his greatest successes.

Demon hunter Yan (Louis Koo in the role made famous by Wu Ma) fell in love years ago with demon Siu Sin (Liu Yifei replacing Joey Wong), but due to the forbidden nature of their union, had to leave her after suppressing her memories. Years later, naïve scholar Ning (Yu Shaoqun trying to fill the shoes of Leslie Cheung) is searching the forest trying to find a water source for a small village suffering from a drought, when he comes across a temple where he encounters life-sucking demons, one of whom is none other than Siu Sin. They fall in love with each other as she spares his life, thus finding herself hunted by her fellow demons. Things get more complicated when Yan re-emerges, setting demons, demon hunters, villagers and lovers on a collision course.

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