Similar to previous years, 2011 will begin with a glut of films which will please serious cinephiles and the occasional movie-goer alike. January will see bombastic mainland productions opening during the New Year holidays, a group represented this year by Jiang Wen's allegorical tale Let the Bullets Fly and Feng Xiaogang's romantic comedy If You Are the One 2. Next up will be the festive family entertainment released to coincide with the Lunar New Year holidays, with films such as Mr and Mrs Incredible, All's Well Ends Well 2011, The Green Hornet and Tangled. A fortnight later, it will be the turn of Academy Award frontrunners to emerge on local screens, as local distributors roll out 127 Hours, The King's Speech, Black Swan and True Grit as Oscar frenzy begins to build in the media.
But much more is at stake in 2011. This will be the year in which local viewers will be treated to more martial arts thrillers, revisionist historical dramas and delightful returns of long-disappeared masters.
High kicks and wire work
Love them or hate them, martial arts epics are here to stay - and Chinese-language filmmakers' own blend of heritage cinema will again be well represented in 2011. Kicking off the year will be Benny Chan Muk-sing's Shaolin, which showcases China's most well-known kung fu institution through a story set in the early 20th century about how a blood-thirsty warlord (Andy Lau Tak-wah) rediscovers his humanity when he joins the Shaolin Temple, which he once tried to suppress.
On the back of the success of his high-octane thriller Bodyguards and Assassins, Peter Chan Ho-sun has upped the ante with two action-packed projects this year. First out will be Wuxia, his remake of the Shaw Brothers classic The One-Armed Swordsman, starring Bodyguards star Donnie Yen Ji-dan, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jimmy Wang Yu, the star of the original film. Chan will then produce Teddy Chen Tak-sum's remake of another Shaw Brothers film, The Bloody Guillotine. Yen will then appear as Three Kingdoms-era general Guan Yunchang in Alan Mak Siu-fai and Felix Chong Man-keung's The Lost Bladesman.
Having regained some lost momentum with the warmly received Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Tsui Hark will unleash The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Starring Jet Li Lianjie and Zhou Xun, the film - which was shot in 3-D - is a reworking of the 1992 Dragon Gate Inn, but Tsui has gone on record as saying his film will have an original story.
One of the more intriguing martial arts films to see the light of day is Lady Warriors, which revolves around the much-documented historical tale of the Yang clan of female fighters who take over the defence of the Song dynasty after the deaths of their warrior husbands. Starring Cheng Pei-pei, Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi and 1980s action-film icon Yukari Oshima, the film is directed by Frankie Chan Fan-kei, who is better known for directing and starring in romantic comedies in the 1980s.
Some of Chan's films from that time were written by a then relatively unknown (and sunglasses-free) screenwriter called Wong Kar-wai - and Wong himself is also slated to finish his Ip Man biopic, The Grandmasters, this year. Shooting has been continuing since last year and reports say filming hasn't been wrapped up yet - a 'trailer' released last month in Beijing featured no footage at all from the film - but rumour has it that Wong is aiming for a premiere at Cannes in May. Whether that's May 2011 or 2016, however, is anyone's guess.
Historical epics will again be plentiful this year, with 2011 being both the 100th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen's republican revolution and the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. Marking the former will be The 1911 Revolution, a film produced and co-directed by Jackie Chan. Also starring Li Bingbing, it won't do Chan's nationalistic credentials any harm.
Han Sangping's Founding of a Party will be flooding mainland cinemas in June, with a re-enactment of the key events during the decade before the birth of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Similar to 2009's Founding of a Republic - which Han made to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic - Founding of a Party boasts an all-star cast from the mainland, Hong Kong and even Taiwan. The key roles of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai went to Liu Ye and Chen Kun, with supporting roles played by Tang Wei (as Tao Yi, Mao's first wife), Chow Yun-fat (Yuan Shih-kai), Chang Chen (Chiang Kai-shek), Nick Cheung Ka-fai (the reformist politician and writer Liang Qichao) and Wen Zhang (Deng Xiaoping).
Among the many actors who appear in Party is John Woo Yu-sum, who plays Lin Sen, a revolutionary who served as the figurehead president of the national government in the 1930s and 40s. Woo himself will be busy this year working on his own historical film, Flying Tigers, a project about the Sino-American air squadron who, under the leadership of Claire Lee Chennault, fought vicious battles with the Japanese during the second world war.
Jia Zhangke, that chronicler of the turbulent social changes in 20th-century China, will also dive headlong into historical drama with In the Qing Dynasty. Produced by Johnnie To Kei-fung, the film - which is expected to start production this year - is set in 1905 and features a bunch of action scenes, but the director, who attained fame with gritty realist fare such as Platform and Still Life, has said the story will highlight the ways that the practices and traditions of imperial China slowly gave way to influences from outside the country.
Sequels and adaptations
Meanwhile in Hollywood, 2011 will be all about numbers - check the release schedules and there are, among others, Scream 4, Fast Five, The Hangover 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks 3D, and Piranha 3DD (yes, it's actually called that). And that's not to mention the latest, numerical-free instalment of the Fockers series (Little Fockers), Transformers (Dark of the Moon), Pirates of the Caribbean (On Stranger Tides), Twilight (Breaking Dawn Part 1) and Mission: Impossible (Ghost Protocol), and of course Harry Potter (Deathly Hallows Part 2). And then there're the 'rebirths' (Johnny English Reborn), the spin-offs (Puss in Boots, from the Shrek series) and the prequels (for The Thing, Planet of the Apes and X-Men).
Plus there are the adaptations of comic books into widescreen, stereoscopic experiences. Captain America, Green Lantern and The Avengers will make appearances this year, while Steven Spielberg looks to Europe for inspiration as he brings Belgian artist Herge's Tintin into the live-action 21st century with a film version of The Secrets of the Unicorn.
Leaps of faith
The most intriguing screen adaptation of a comic is probably Thor. Based on the Marvel original about the Norse god of thunder, the film was originally to be directed by Matthew Vaughn of Kick-Ass fame. When he left, in came, of all people, Kenneth Branagh, up until now probably more well-known for playing straight drama roles (he was Oscar-nominated for playing Henry V, and Emmy-nominated for his turn as Franklin Roosevelt) and starring in and directing Shakespearean plays and adaptations.
But he's not the only director who's venturing outside their niches this year: Michel Gondry, who impressed with wacky films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, is behind the remake of The Green Hornet, while David Cronenberg has seemingly ditched his body-horror day-job for some literally psychological drama with A Dangerous Method, a film about rivalry between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) over their expertise in psychology and also the affections of young psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
Even more intriguing is the remake of Jane Eyre by Cary Joji Fukunaga (whose sole credit is Sin Nombre, a remarkable and gritty film about young illegal immigrants travelling from Mexico to the US) and that of Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold, the British director behind gloomy working-class dramas such as Red Road and Fish Tank.
The one film to look out for this year will be Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, a project subjected to so many delays since it was announced in 2005 that it makes Wong Kar-wai look prolific. The film is set in the 1950s, when an 11-year-old boy contends with humanity and mortality in his family (with the parents played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) in the Midwest. Interwoven with that are segments set in the present day, as the grown-up protagonist (Sean Penn) struggles with a life scarred by the confusion of his childhood.
With the film's US release date finally locked at May 27, its premiere on the Croisette is nearly ensured. It's only the fifth film in Malick's career since he made his debut, Badlands, in 1973.
Malick will probably be joined by Terence Davies, who is now finishing his fifth feature film in 20 years and his first in 10. Having seen his reputation soar after his 2008 documentary Of Time and the City and an extensive re-evaluation of his past work courtesy of the British Film Institute's re-release of his early films, Davies will be seeing in 2011 with The Deep Blue Sea, an adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play about a socialite (Rachel Weisz) who becomes a social outcast when she leaves her court judge husband (Simon Russell Beale) for an alcoholic army pilot (Tom Hiddleston, star of Thor).
Another British filmmaker making a return after several years of inaction is Lynne Ramsay. We Need to Talk About Kevin, about a mother (played by Tilda Swinton) recollecting the events which led to her son undertaking a bloody rampage in his school, has been in development since 2005. Ramsay's last film, Morvern Callar, was released in 2002, and the years since have seen her joining and leaving the production of The Lovely Bones, and her work limited to a video for Doves' Black and White Town single.
And then there's the Hungarian master of gloomy long takes, Bela Tarr, who has proclaimed his latest film, The Turin Horse, as his swansong. Revolving around the last deranged days of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche - the title refers to the animal whose suffering reputedly caused his mental breakdown - The Turin Horse is already completed, but there is no news about when it's going to see the light of day. Long a favourite at Cannes, Tarr will probably surface there - and if he does, his appearance will be a highlight of the festival.
Cannes was shorn of big names last year, but this year it's looking to be infested with auteurs, with the expected arrivals of new films by Pedro Almodovar (The Skin that I Live In), Paolo Sorrentino (with the English-language This Must Be The Place, starring Sean Penn as a rich, bloated goth-rocker hunting a Nazi war criminal in the US) and Lars von Trier (Melancholia, a 'psychological disaster movie' with Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland).