DJ and broadcaster Zoë Baxter has a keen interest in East Asian culture, from cuisine to film, arts and music. Zoë collects vinyl with a specialist interest in East Asian folk, 1960s ‘Asia Beat’, reggae and rhythm & blues. In 2005, Zoë began making programmes for arts radio station Resonance FM and has just concluded her 6th series of Lucky Cat. Other strings to her bow include talks on wu xia cinema, writing for BBC China and hosting numerous themed club nights. The third Friday of every month Zoë can be found DJing at Mango Landin bar in Brixton. On March 29, she will be DJing at China Inside Out, a day-long programme of debates, readings, film screenings, food and music aiming at better understanding the freedom to write and read in China. On March 30, she will be presenting a one-off radio show on Resonance FM previewing the Terracotta Film Festival. Below, she picks her favourite films.
1. The Gang’s All Here (1943)
This film is a Technicolor joy to behold. I grew up obsessed with the cinema of the 1940s and 50s – everything from lavish MGM musicals to wisecracking Warner Brothers gangster films. Busby Berkeley was an optical innovator: the choreographed overhead shots of girls’ legs moving in syncopated unison were a speciality. This film doesn’t have too much of a story line, but who needs one when Carmen Miranda does a number that features a 100-foot-high banana hat?
2. Hairspray (1988)
I saw this film as a teenager. It is the only time I’ve ever gone to the cinema twice to see a film. I was also into the clothes and music of the 50s and early 60s. When this movie came out I was in heaven – amazing soundtrack, dance routines, bright kitsch colours shot in John Waters’s inimitable style with a sharp script and fantastic character actors. I have the soundtrack on LP and often play ‘Madison Time’ by the Ray Bryant Combo when I DJ. In fact, I have collected a few different versions of the Madison. R&B legend Ruth Brown cameos as Motormouth Maybelle, who owns the record store. I want to be in this movie, in that record store in particular. It has echoes of 50s films such as The Girl Can’t Help It, which I absolutely love too. I haven’t seen the remake and I don’t intend to. Even on a plane.
3. Rockers (1978)
If you love reggae then this is the film for you. Yes, Jimmy Cliff is brilliant in The Harder They Come and that is a fine film too, but I saw Rockers first and was so elated to see so many reggae stars on screen. The lead is played by musician Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace and he bumps into Big Youth, Jacob Miller, Gregory Isaacs and others along the way. The soundtrack is exceptional and encapsulates that 70s roots rock reggae sound. Burning Spear’s ‘Fade Away’ is a favourite. Other Jamaican films of interest: Country Man, Smile Orange, Dancehall Queen and documentary Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae.
4. Drunken Master (1978)
The first martial arts film to make an impact on me. I remember watching this at various friends’ houses on dodgy VHS with the sound down and drum’ n’ bass or reggae blaring over the top. Here you have the synthesis of great action, a brilliant up-and-coming director (Yuen Wo Ping) and two charismatic leads – Jackie Chan and Simon Yuen Hsiao-Tien (as the drunken master Sam Seed – Yuen Wo Ping’s real-life dad!). This is one of the Jackie Chan greats – excellent and very cheeky comedic kung fu style. This film features the ultimate training montage sequence, balancing bowls of rice wine on different parts of the body while Sam Seed takes it easy, smoking in a hammock. The Beggar Su (Drunken Master) character first appeared in the 1966 Shaw Brothers classic Come Drink with Me and most recently was seen in Yuen Wo Ping’s film True Legend (aka The Legend of Beggar Su).
5. Talk to Her (2002)
I am a big fan of Pedro Almodóvar. I think he understands women and they are always strong and believable characters in his films. This film has two main interwoven story lines, and it features a homage to silent film and surrealism with a short sequence of a tiny man entering a huge vagina! A lot of the films I like are very colourful, perhaps harking back to my fondness of golden Hollywood and the Technicolor spectacle. Almodóvar always has a fantastic use of colour in his films and also an emotional drama that feels genuine. After I saw this film I was very deeply moved and I remember wandering around London gazing up at the moon just contemplating life for an hour or so.
6. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Well, what can I say that hasn’t already been said about this film? Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece (we’ll see what The Grandmaster holds in store when it opens later this year). Every shot in this movie could be a still and the music is wonderfully atmospheric. Such a powerful film of understated emotion and yearning, oh the heartbreaking yearning! The two leads are quite extraordinary – Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk. Apparently, there was not much of a script and the film took a year to shoot with lots of improvisation. Legendary Hong Kong singer Rebecca Pan also has a cameo role as the landlady and neighbour Mrs Suen. Oh and I would kill for Maggie Cheung’s cheongsam collection in this film.
7. Wing Chun (1994)
Michelle Yeoh is a goddess and this movie belongs to her. I wish more people could see this film. It’s old-school kung fu, very loosely based on the story of Wing Chun, the woman who invented the fighting style of the same name. As well as kicking ass Michelle can also make a mean block of tofu. A bewildered-looking Donnie Yen stars as her rather dopey sweetheart and Shaw Brothers legend (star of wu xia classic Come Drink with Me) Cheng Pei Pei cameos as Michelle’s grand sifu. Michelle literally emasculates a man in this film – I love that.
8. Rouge (1988)
Stanley Kwan makes some beautiful movies and this is one of them. This film has become more poignant with time as sadly both leads died young. They were known as the king and queen of Cantopop and were both great actors too – Leslie Cheung committed suicide aged 46 in 2003, and a few months later Anita Mui Yim Fong died of cancer aged 30. Great friends in real life, in this film they play lovers in the 1930s who promise to devote themselves to each other for all eternity and form a suicide pact. The film picks up with Anita’s character wandering round a modern day Hong Kong as a ghost trying to find her love. See also Center Stage, starring Maggie Chueng Yuen: a biopic/documentary about legendary Chinese silent film star Ruan Ling Yu.
9. Ghost World (2001)
Steve Buscemi, record collecting and a cracking blues soundtrack – what’s not to love? Let’s just say I identified a lot with Enid – only swap an obsession with Bollywood films for Hong Kong ones.
10. Kamikaze Girls (2004)
If you’ve made it down to the bottom of this list you’ll know I like colourful films. This is a visual sweetie shop with two great strong female leads played by Kyoko Fuyada and Anna Tsuchiya. I love the depiction of intense adolescent friendships and subculture tribes. There really is a shop in Japan selling rococo-inspired bonnets and ruffle dresses called Baby The Stars Shine Bright – you can’t make this stuff up (or if you’re in Japan you don’t need to – it exists!). See also Memories of Matsuko and Confessions. Paco and the Magic Book is for die-hard Anna Tsuchiya/Tetsuya Nakashima fans only.
Also of note:
My Neighbour Totoro, Infernal Affairs, A Matter of Life and Death, The Naked Kiss, The New Legend of Shaolin, Prodigal Son, Imitation of Life, Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain, Sanjuro and A Woman’s Face.