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Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema

Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema

Ying Zhu
Stanley Rosen
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema
    Book Description:

    Art, politics, and commerce are intertwined everywhere, but in China the interplay is explicit, intimate, and elemental, and nowhere more so than in the film industry. Understanding this interplay in the era of market reform and globalization is essential to understanding mainland Chinese cinema. This interdisciplinary book provides a comprehensive reappraisal of Chinese cinema, surveying the evolution of film production and consumption in mainland China as a product of shifting relations between art, politics, and commerce. Within these arenas, each of the twelve chapters treats a particular history, development, genre, filmmaker or generation of filmmakers, adding up to a distinctively comprehensive rendering of Chinese cinema. The book illuminates China’s changing state-society relations, the trajectory of marketization and globalization, the effects of China’s stark historical shifts, Hollywood’s role, the role of nationalism, and related themes of interest to scholars of Asian studies, cinema and media studies, political science, sociology, comparative literature and Chinese language. Contributors include Ying Zhu, Stanley Rosen, Seio Nakajima, Zhiwei Xiao, Shujen Wang, Paul Clark, Stephen Teo, John Lent, Ying Xu, Yingjin Zhang, Bruce Robinson, Liyan Qin, and Shuqin Cui.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-528-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Ying Zhu and Stanley Rosen

    Although motion pictures were exhibited and shot in China by foreigners within months of the first screenings in Europe and the United States, 1905 is the first year for which there is concrete evidence of films made in China by the Chinese themselves. In the decades that followed, Chinese cinema has been buffeted in response to the political and cultural upheavals of a Chinese society in transformation. With the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949, the mainland Chinese film industry was consolidated and nationalized by the early 1950s under Communist Party directives. Film production in...

  7. Part 1 Film Industry:: Local and Global Markets

    • 1 The Evolution of Chinese Film as an Industry
      (pp. 17-34)
      Ying Zhu and Seio Nakajima

      In the age of steamships and trains, already worldly Shanghai was among the earliest destinations of a new medium that would eventually establish popular culture as both a global commons and a site of international commercial, cultural, and ideological competition. On August 11, 1896, the first film in China was screened at the Xu Garden (Xu yuan) in Shanghai as an attraction in a variety show. It was less than a year after the Lumière Brothers had first screened their short “actualities” to paying patrons in a room at the Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895.

      Over a...

    • 2 Chinese Cinema’s International Market
      (pp. 35-54)
      Stanley Rosen

      From autumn 2004 to mid 2005, as Newsweek magazine noted at the time, Chinese films took off internationally, even conquering the notoriously parochial American market where filmgoers “historically have avoided movies with subtitles as if they were homework.”¹ The Newsweek report referred specifically to the box-office success of such films as Hero (Yingxiong), House of Flying Daggers(Shimian maifu), and Kung Fu Hustle (Gongfu), as well as the luminous star power of Zhang Ziyi.² Indeed, both Zhang and fellow actress Gong Li appeared in high profile American films from 2005 to 2007, with Zhang starring in the plum role of Sayuri...

    • 3 American Films in China Prior to 1950
      (pp. 55-70)
      Zhiwei Xiao

      Hollywood’s overseas operations have been receiving a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years. For many film historians, the performance of American films outside the U.S. border has a profound impact on how films are made inside the United States. From this perspective, a better understanding of the American films has to take into consideration their reception abroad. As film historian Ruth Vasey has observed, during much of the first half of the twentieth century the foreign markets contributed 35 percent to Hollywood’s gross revenue, and according to one scholar, the percentage today is even higher. For this reason,...

    • 4 Piracy and the DVD/VCD Market: Contradictions and Paradoxes
      (pp. 71-84)
      Shujen Wang

      Warner Bros., the Hollywood studio that provided the first revenue-sharing film (The Fugitive, see later discussion) to the newly opened Chinese film market in 1994, was again making headlines in 2005. On February 24 Time Warner announced the formation of CAV Warner Home Entertainment Co., a joint venture with China Audio Video (CAV), making Warner Bros. the first U.S. studio to establish its own DVD/VCD distribution and marketing operation in China, releasing 125 titles within a few months (previously, Hollywood majors normally distributed home videos in China through local licensees).² In addition to this bold move, which was closely watched...

  8. Part 2 Film Politics:: Genre and Reception

    • 5 The Triumph of Cinema: Chinese Film Culture from the 1960s to the 1980s
      (pp. 87-98)
      Paul Clark

      In June 1973 an unfamiliar phenomenon was seen in the streets of Beijing: long lines snaking around the sidewalks from cinemas had last occurred in the summer of 1966, when people queued up to watch documentaries of Chairman Mao reviewing Red Guards in Tiananmen Square. Now seven years later the lines were for a wide-screen, full-color melodrama, Maihua guniang (The Flower Seller), from North Korea. In a matter of weeks it sold six million tickets in Beijing alone.¹ New, Chinese-made feature films (other than films of the model performances) were almost a year away. Beijing filmgoers flocked instead to this...

    • 6 The Martial Arts Film in Chinese Cinema: Historicism and the National
      (pp. 99-110)
      Stephen Teo

      The martial arts historical film is one of the oldest genres in the Chinese cinema, often used by filmmakers to showcase Chinese history and its warrior myth, embellished with a touch of nationalism — such a trend is best exemplified in recent years by Zhang Yimou’s trilogy, Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). As a genre, the martial arts film dates back to the 1920s, the period when the Chinese cinema based in Shanghai really began to develop as an industry with distinct categories of genres that could be described as indigenous. However,...

    • 7 Chinese Animation Film: From Experimentation to Digitalization
      (pp. 111-126)
      John A. Lent and Ying Xu

      Throughout its eighty-year history, China’s animation has persisted and excelled under various political, economic, and socio-cultural conditions, including during military invasions, civil war, dictatorships, and both planned and market economies. Despite at times formidable obstacles and unstable states of existence, China in the past produced some of the world’s most exquisite animation, and even today promises to be a global behemoth in quantity of production.

      As this chapter shows, the government has been a key player in animation development since at least 1949, though its roles have varied widely over time, serving different functions and yielding almost diametrically opposed results....

    • 8 Of Institutional Supervision and Individual Subjectivity: The History and Current State of Chinese Documentary
      (pp. 127-142)
      Yingjin Zhang

      Throughout the history of Chinese documentary filmmaking, persisting tensions between institutions and individuals have structured patterns of experimentation, proliferation, and diversification. In the presocialist period, the Nationalist and Communist parties both sought to preserve their versions of history by investing in documentary filmmaking and by preserving their achievements (mostly military and political) on celluloid. Nation building was an overriding institutional policy during the socialist period, when the Communist regime expanded the networks of filmmaking and broadened the range of documentary genres beyond newsreels to include education, science, and stage performance. In part owing to the development of television, documentary bloomed...

  9. Part 3 Film Art:: Style and Authorship

    • 9 The Cinematic Transition of the Fifth Generation Auteurs
      (pp. 145-162)
      Ying Zhu and Bruce Robinson

      Synopsis: A scrappy band of arty intellectual types “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution emerge undaunted from (but also deeply affected by) their hard labor, finds their way into the first class at the newly re-opened Beijing Film Academy in 1978, graduate together in 1982, re-invent Chinese cinema almost in a matter of minutes, astound and amaze critics and art house audiences around the world, and then sell out. “Sell out”? Yes, but in a way that renders the term harmless.

      Part of China’s massive economic reform effort, between Yellow Earth(1984) and Red Sorghum (1987), the Chinese film industry was...

    • 10 Transmedia Strategies of Appropriation and Visualization: The Case of Zhang Yimou’s Adaptation of Novels in His Early Films
      (pp. 163-174)
      Liyan Qin

      Zhang Yimou’s film Ju Dou (1990) won the Luis Buñuel Award at Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award for the best foreign language film. The film is based on Liu Heng’s novel Fuxi, Fuxi. Yet, when we examine the novel, we discover that everyone meets a different fate than is the case in the film. The old man Yang Jinshan dies one day peacefully, instead of being drowned. Tianqing, despairing of his hopeless relationship with Ju Dou, drowns himself in a quite honorable and even graceful way, instead of being killed by his son. Ju Dou may be...

    • 11 Boundary Shifting: New Generation Filmmaking and Jia Zhangke’s Films
      (pp. 175-194)
      Shuqin Cui

      A significant component of contemporary Chinese cinema is the work of the new generation film directors. By “new generation,” I mean filmmakers born in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, whose maverick works are distinct from those of the Fifth Generation and counter to the mainstream film industry. Their coming-of-age experience reflects a historical moment when China changed from an egalitarian, socialist nation-state to a market-driven, postsocialist entity. Their filmmaking practice is persistent in the pursuit of subjective auteurship and alternative aesthetics. The early works are characterized by urban space as setting, rock music as expressive sound, and alienated...

    • 12 New Year Film as Chinese Blockbuster: From Feng Xiaogang’s Contemporary Urban Comedy to Zhang Yimou’s Period Drama
      (pp. 195-208)
      Ying Zhu

      For almost a decade now, Chinese cinema has cultivated a unique brand of film that caters to the Lunar New Year market. Originated in Hong Kong, New Year films quickly caught on in the People’s Republic of China, owing to the imperatives of China’s new market economy. Markets, obviously, like films that turn a profit, and the bigger the better. New Year films cash in on the Chinese winter “holiday economy,” an annual period of lavish consumption when the available audience is so massive that any major film release is a potential blockbuster. Leading the charge in cultivating the New...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 209-248)
  11. Filmography
    (pp. 249-260)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-292)