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China on Screen

China on Screen: Cinema and Nation

Chris Berry
Mary Farquhar
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    China on Screen
    Book Description:

    In China on Screen, Chris Berry and Mary Farquhar, leaders in the field of Chinese film studies, explore more than one hundred years of Chinese cinema and nation. Providing new perspectives on key movements, themes, and filmmakers, Berry and Farquhar analyze the films of a variety of directors and actors, including Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Gong Li, Wong Kar-wai, and Ang Lee. They argue for the abandonment of "national cinema" as an analytic tool and propose "cinema and the national" as a more productive framework. With this approach, they show how movies from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese diaspora construct and contest different ideas of Chinese nation -- as empire, republic, or ethnicity, and complicated by gender, class, style, transnationalism, and more. Among the issues and themes covered are the tension between operatic and realist modes, male and female star images, transnational production and circulation of Chinese films, the image of the good foreigner -- all related to different ways of imagining nation. Comprehensive and provocative, China on Screen is a crucial work of film analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51030-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. A Note on Translation and Romanization
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. 1 Introduction: Cinema and the National
    (pp. 1-16)

    Jackie chan’s 1994 global breakthrough film Rumble in the Bronx is a dislocating experience in more ways than one. This is not just because of the gravity-defying action, or because Jackie is far from his familiar Hong Kong. Set in New York but shot in Vancouver, the film shows a Rocky Mountain backdrop looming between skyscrapers where suburban flatlands should be. The film also marks a watershed in Chan’s efforts to transform himself from Hong Kong star to global superstar and his character from local cop to transnational cop. Funded by a mix of Hong Kong, Canadian, and American companies,...

  7. 2 Time and the National: HISTORY, HISTORIOLOGY, HAUNTING
    (pp. 17-46)

    In the mood for love (2000) is Wong Kar-wai’s tale of infidelity and frustration among the Shanghai émigrés of 1960s Hong Kong. It ends at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where Mr. Chow hides his secret by whispering it into a crevice in the ruins. He is a journalist, and the transition to Cambodia is marked by what looks like documentary footage of the visit of French president General Charles de Gaulle. We discuss In the Mood for Love again at the end of this chapter, and in particular the evocative image of history as a secret hidden in the ruins....

    (pp. 47-74)

    Crouching tiger, hidden dragon (2000) is a blockbuster that defies generic labels. According to the director, Ang Lee, it belongs to the Hong Kong martial arts genre. But Lee also calls the film a Daoist Sense and Sensibility that tries to recapture his favorite operatic romance as a boy in Taiwan. It blends Chinese and Western melodrama, psychological realism, and martial arts.¹ At the end of this chapter we return to Crouching Tiger in more detail, commenting on the particular rhythm of many Chinese films. We argue that this rhythm rests in part on an operatic aesthetic, which forms a...

    (pp. 75-107)

    Yellow earth (1984) is one of the most famous Chinese films. While it is not usually considered a realist work, we argue later in this chapter that it is a reflection on the Chinese nation that belongs to a realist lineage in two ways. Stylistically, it generates new standards of realism at a time when socialist realism had lost its credibility. Visually, as with all the other films we examine here, it also imagines the national through the family and home. The “yellow earth” of the title is the real location of both ancient and revolutionary Chinese civilization. The location...

  10. 5 How Should a Chinese Woman Look? WOMAN AND NATION
    (pp. 108-134)

    During the production of Stanley Kwan’s 1991 film Center Stage, an interesting casting incident made the news pages in Hong Kong and also highlighted the importance of star image in the cinema. Anita Mui had been cast to star in the biopic about ever-suffering 1930s Shanghai film star Ruan Lingyu. Critics had often seen Ruan as a metaphor for China itself, suffering under semicolonialism, semifeudalism, and Japanese invasion in the 1930s. For a Hong Kong director to make a film about this iconic Chinese national figure using an iconic Hong Kong star already pointed to the possibility that he was...

  11. 6 How Should Chinese Men Act? ORDERING THE NATION
    (pp. 135-168)

    In 2002, chinese audiences and Party leaders flocked to see Zhang Yimou’s Hero, which broke box office records around the country. Hero tells of the founding of the Chinese empire in the Qin dynasty (221–207 b.c.), complete with maps of neighboring states yet to be conquered and brought within its borders. While the film is a historical martial arts epic, many contemporaries, including China’s leaders, read it as an affirmation of the modern, territorial, and unified nation-state. In the film, an assassin called Nameless confronts the King of Qin. The drama revolves around Nameless’s choice to kill or not...

  12. 7 Where Do You Draw the Line? ETHNICITY IN CHINESE CINEMAS
    (pp. 169-194)

    Ang lee’s breakthrough hit, The Wedding Banquet (1993), is usually understood as a gay comedy. In fact, it is crucial that the lead characters’ relationship is not only same-gender but also interracial. In case there is any doubt that both race and sexuality could be a problem for Wai-tung’s parents, a prospective bride sent from Taiwan by his mother underlines the point. When Wai-tung is forced to reveal his situation to his potential wife, she understands completely: she has only gone along with the charade because, just like him, she dare not tell her parents she has a white boyfriend....

  13. 8 The National in the Transnational
    (pp. 195-222)

    In chapter 1, we noted that the idea of “national cinemas” has given way to “transnational film studies.” However, instead of following the rush to abandon the national altogether, we asked what happens to the national in transnational film studies. We called for the final abandonment of the old national cinemas model, which assumed nation-states were stable and coherent and that films expressed singular national identity. We suggested its place be taken by a problematic or set of questions around “cinema and the national.” And we have tried to explore how that problematic plays out through Chinese cinemas in the...

  14. Chronology
    (pp. 223-232)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 233-264)
  16. European-language Bibliography
    (pp. 265-286)
  17. Chinese-Language Bibliography
    (pp. 287-292)
  18. Chinese Film List
    (pp. 293-300)
  19. Index
    (pp. 301-314)