Viva Great Chinese Movies

If you’re a fan of Chinese movies, this weekend will make you shout “Viva!” Four films from China open this weekend, and two of them are must sees. One is the Janus Films restoration of a wuxia cinema classic. The other is Johnnie To’s musical satire of capitalist greed.

Cuba and Brazil are the settings for two other noteworthy films. The Brazilian film concerns a cowboy who wants to become a fashion designer. The Cuba-set film concerns an aspiring drag performer whose stage name comes from a magazine called Viva.

From the US, Jason Bateman directs a dysfunctional family comedy/drama involving avant-garde performer parents.

L’Attesa (The Wait)

In Piero Messina’s debut feature, a meeting between two women of different generations leads to emotional fireworks. In Sicily, Anna (Juliette Binoche) is happy to meet son Giuseppe’s French girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laage) in the days before Easter festivities. While Jeanne shows up first, Giuseppe (Giovanni Anzaldo) seems beset by an endless series of delays. As the two women wait for Giuseppe to appear, the two women grow closer than they imagined.

Opens May 6 at the Opera Plaza Cinemas and the Shattuck Cinemas

Dragon Inn

King Hu’s game-changing 1967 wuxia actioner comes to American screens in a brand new 4K restoration. During the Ming Dynasty, a scheming eunuch frames a loyal defense minister and has his son and daughter exiled to a desert outpost known as Dragon Inn. Not content with having their father killed, the eunuch sends assassins to slay the disgraced minister’s children as well. But the corrupt official’s assassins didn’t count on the presence of wandering swordsman Xiao. Nor do they realize that the disgraced minister’s daughter is also an accomplished swordswoman in her own right. Soon the stage is set for a life-or-death battle. Viva Janus Films for making this restoration possible.

Opens May 6 at the Opera Plaza Cinemas and the Shattuck Cinemas

The Family Fang

Jason Bateman directed and stars in this comedy/drama about the adult children of avant-garde comedian parents. Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Buster (Bateman) Fang used to be known as Child A and Child B. They got those names from being unwilling stars in parents Caleb and Camille’s (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) avant garde comedy skits. Annie and Buster eventually built successful showbiz careers of their own, but never forgave their parents for exploiting them. When Caleb and Camille go missing, the two adult children need to determine whether their parents are truly in trouble or if this is Caleb and Camille’s final public prank.

Opens May 6 at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, the Smith Rafael Film Center, and the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Johnnie To’s Office

Johnnie To and Sylvia Chang adapt Chang’s hit play Design For Living into a musical which mixes in corporate maneuvering and romantic intrigue. The setting is the executive offices of a Chinese financial firm both immediately before and after the 2008 worldwide financial crisis. The Jones & Sunn trading company is about to issue its IPO. However, the company executives’ dreams of avarice are threatened by problems both internal and external. CEO Winnie Chang (Chang) is carrying on an affair with married chairman Ho Chung-Ping (Chow Yun-Fat). David Wang (Eason Chan) busily cooks the Jones & Sunn’s accounts and pursues an engaged co-worker. Lustrous cosmetics firm Madame, a business partner of the trading company, can hide its worsening revenue stream for only so long.

Readers with good memories will recall that To and Chang’s film previously screened in San Francisco last year. What makes this engagement notable is that audiences can choose between the 2-D and 3-D screenings of the film. Not to sway anybody’s decision (cough cough), but the 3-D version allows the viewer to better see To’s unique choreography and immersive filmmaking.

Screens at the California Theatre

Just The 3 Of Us

The newest Star Cinema romantic comedy/drama pairs Pilipino superstars Jennylyn Mercado and John Lloyd Cruz as the leads. Airline pilot Uno (Cruz) is success-driven to a fault. Quirky CJ (Mercado) is a family-oriented woman with a crush on Uno. After the duo have a one-night stand, CJ decides to scam Uno into believing he got her pregnant. Her hope is to spur Uno to commit to her. Absolutely no bets on whether Uno and CJ stay together in the final reel.

Opens May 6 at the Century at Tanforan

MBA Partners

Three ambitious 20-ish women return to China and eventually co-found an e-commerce aesthetic website with the intent of becoming business successes. Given their very different personalities and the challenges of starting up a business, their personal and professional lives soon get put through the proverbial wringer. Expect the line “The American Dream has passed. Now it’s time to live the Chinese Dream” to piss off Trump supporters.

Opens May 6 at the AMC Metreon 16

Mothers And Daughters

Rock photographer Rigby Gray (Selma Blair) discovers she’s pregnant courtesy of her now ex-boyfriend. As she tries to figure out her next move, her story interlinks with the tales of several other mother-daughter relationships including a haute-couture bra designer (Mira Sorvino) who gave up her child for adoption decades ago and a bickering mother (Sharon Stone) and her daughter. Long stretches of this ensemble drama unfold over Skype, which doesn’t help much. Avoid.

Opens May 6 at the 4-Star Theatre

Neon Bull

Iremar works as a Brazilian rodeo vaquiero, a cowboy on horseback who takes down bulls by grabbing their tails. Along with a makeshift family of co-workers, he travels from show to show through Brazil’s Northeast countryside. However, change in the form of a booming clothing industry has come to the Northeast. And Iremar begins to dream of cutting patterns and handling exquisite fabrics…

Opens May 6 at the Roxie Theater

Phantom Of The Theater

A Shanghai movie theatre is supposedly haunted by the vengeful spirits of a performance troupe that died in a horrible fire there 13 years ago. Now the theatre has been restored, and first time director Gu is determined to shoot his supernatural romantic melodrama in this possibly cursed building. Rising star Meng agrees to play the female lead, but she has a hidden agenda. When people start dying during filming, it’s soon revealed that a mysterious hideously scarred man is responsible for the deaths. But why he’s committing these killings is unknown.

Opens May 6 at the AMC Van Ness 14


In contemporary Havana, Jesus dreams of leaving his backstage job of makeup artist and becoming an onstage drag performer. On the night Jesus finally gets his chance to perform as Viva, an ex-boxer comes out of the audience and punches Viva in the face. The attacker is Angel, Jesus’ father. Reunited after Angel’s 15-year absence, father and son struggle to understand each other and become a family again. This film was Ireland’s submission for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar.

Opens May 6 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema

About the Author

I'm a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film...but don't tell anyone.

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