A Cultural Revolution-era ballet film, a briskly paced contemporary romantic comedy and an affecting portrayal of the lives of a working-class family represent the eclecticism of the debut edition of the two-week-long China Onscreen Biennial (COB) taking place in Los Angeles this month (with a smaller selection also being screened in the Washington, DC, area from October 26 to November 11).
"There were in excess of a hundred films in consideration. In the beginning we were casting a wide net," says Shannon Kelley, head of public programmes at the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Film & Television Archive, a co-organiser of the 23-film event along with seven other non-profit institutions including the UCLA Confucius Institute.
The final selection includes art-house offerings and commercial blockbusters, feature-length works made for theatrical release, and short videos that serve as art installations. "We wanted to mix things up," says Lim Cheng Sim, chief curator of the programme, "and show people what is really happening today in China."
Some of the films in the programme are having their US premieres at the COB. One such is Feng Shui. Directed by Wang Jing, it revolves around a young wife and mother who continually belittles her husband, forcing him to take extreme measures to appease her. "Things aren't good enough and she tries to push everything and everyone around her," Kelley says of the drama's lead character.
There is something for everyone: one of the older films is The Red Detachment of Women, a ballet film from 1970 whose heroine escapes from an evil landlord and becomes the leader of a women's militia.
Other notable works include this year's mainland box-office star, Painted Skin: The Resurrection, as well as the 3-D makeover of Wan Laiming and Tang Cheng's 1960s two-part animated feature, The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven.
Some screenings include Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Hong Kong's Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung was present at the opening-night presentation of Lacuna, the zany romantic comedy he co-directed with Jimmy Wan Chi-man, which had its North American premiere in Los Angeles. Audience members enjoyed a lively exchange with the director, many remarking on how modern and resonant they found his portrayal of youth culture in Beijing.