Screening Room: ‘The China Hustle’

My review of  the new documentary The China Hustle, playing now in limited release, is at Film Journal International:

Threaded with booming music, slashing scare-cuts, and talking heads throwing around phrases like “financial tsunami,” Jed Rothstein’s documentary The China Hustle is stylistically easy to dismiss as just another scare story for nonfiction junkies always on the lookout for the next catastrophe. It may read at times like an overcaffeinated Alex Gibney attack piece—and Gibney is in fact one of the executive producers here. But by the time Rothstein is done, many viewers will be yanking any money they might have in Chinese stocks out as fast as they can get to their phones…

Here’s the trailer:

Nota Bene: A President Who Reads

In this year’s annual New Year’s address, Chinese president Xi Jingping sat in front of a wide array of bookshelves, as always. And as always, viewers scoured the shelves to see what the president is reading. To wit:

Xi is said to be a voracious reader, and other books spotted on his shelf this year included a growing collection of Western classics (from War and Peace and The Old Man and the Sea to The Odyssey and Les Misérables), economic texts like Money Changes Everything by William N. Goetzmann and Michele Wucker’s The Grey Rhino, and numerous titles on Chinese history and military strategy.

Apparently, per his remarks at a Seattle speech in 2015, Xi is also a Hemingway fan:

He said in his younger years he read Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Payne, and…

” ‘I was most captivated by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,’ Xi said.

“And that’s not all. When he visited Cuba, the Chinese president said, ‘I dropped by the bar Hemingway frequented and ordered his favorite rum with mint on rocks.’

Interesting. A president who reads. Books.

(h/t: MobyLives!)

Nota Bene: Top Risks for 2018

Earlier this week, the risk assessment firm the Eurasia Group published their take on the Top Risks that the world is going to face in 2018. It starts with China (which “loves a vacuum,” particularly the one left by the United States) and ends with Africa and a list of possibly surprising red herrings (among them, “Trump’s White House”):

In the 20 years since we started Eurasia Group, the global environment has had its ups and downs. But if we had to pick one year for a big unexpected crisis—the geopolitical equivalent of the 2008 financial meltdown—it feels like 2018. Sorry…

The full report is here.

Weekend Reading: December 9, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Hooligan Sparrow’

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This year’s Human Rights Watch Festival opens with a strong indictment of the institutional and moral corruption of modern-day China, as laid bare by a tiny insurgent band of determined women activists.

My review of Hooligan Sparrow, whose footage had to be smuggled out of China and which opens the festival this Friday in New York, is at Little While Lies.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mountains May Depart’

mountainsmaydepart1Now that the Chinese stock market is whipsawing from highs to lows and the permanent growth cycle appears to be broken, it’s probably the perfect time for a state-of-the-nation drama from one of the great modern Chinese directors: Jia Zhangke.

mountainsmaydepart-poster1Mountains May Depart is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Whatever is left of China at the start of Jia Zhangke’s epic triptych Mountains May Depart, it isn’t a place for which anyone will feel nostalgic. The first scene, set in 1999 in the small northern city of Fenyang, seems shrouded in grey. The crumbling brick buildings and bare landscape denote the only work that seems on offer here, at a coal mine.

Still, this is a time of economic boom, when China is transforming into an industrial powerhouse the likes of which had never been seen before. The film goes on to reveal the costs of that era’s sky-high promises of prosperity and accompanying irrational exuberance…

You can see my review of Jia Zhangke’s last masterpiece, A Touch of Sin, here.

Here’s the trailer for Mountains May Depart:

Quote of the Day: Trollope in China

Historian Simon Winchester in the Times Book Review on an unexpected encounter:

Traveling in China back in the early 1990s, I was waiting for my westbound train to take on water at a lonely halt in the Taklamakan Desert when a young Chinese woman tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I spoke English and, further, if I knew anything of Anthony Trollope. I was quite taken aback. Trollope here? A million miles from anywhere? I mumbled an incredulous, “Yes, I know a bit” — whereupon, in a brisk and businesslike manner, she declared that the train would remain at the oasis for the next, let me see, 27 minutes, and in that time would I kindly answer as many of her questions as possible about plot and character development in “The Eustace Diamonds”?

The lesson: Always know your Trollope.