Beyond the Great Wall

For U.S. fans eager to see the latest films from China (or India or Japan, for that matter), DVD has long been the mode of choice. There’s a lot to be said for speed and convenience, but what’s lost is the communal experience of sitting with strangers in a dark theater. The third annual Chinese American Film Festival, with its up-to-the-minute program and cozy venue, delivers on both counts. The final day of the festival boasts the riveting big-budget nail-biter, The Message, in which a sadistic Japanese interrogator circa 1942 aims to root out the resistance operative in Nanking’s puppet government. The Founding of a Republic enlists Chinese stars including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Ziyi Zhang, among many others, for its diligent recitation of the events that culminated in the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. History also provides the backdrop for Turning Point 1977, a drama about a band of marooned young people weighing choices and commitment on a distant farm at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The fest wraps on a feel-good note with a revival of Stirring Trip to Mutuo, a fact-based 2003 saga inspired by an elderly Shanghai man who trekked high into the mountains to build a school. Shot under the most primitive and arduous conditions, Mutuo — like the other epics — deserves to be seen on the big screen.
Nov. 12-22, 2009

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