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Chinese Films in Focus II (review)

Chinese Films in Focus II (review) 312 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.17,No.3,2010 ChrisBerry,editor.Chinese Films in Focus II.Secondedition.London: PalgraveMacmillan,onbehalfofBritishFilmInstitute,2008.287pp. Paperback$31.95,isbn978-1-84457-237-3. Chinese Films in Focus IIisanexpandededitionofthevolumeChinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes, firstpublishedin2003bytheBritishFilmInstitute,editedby ChrisBerry.Thenewedition,whichretainsBerryaseditor,hascommissioned newarticlesonthirteenmorefilms,bringingthetotalnumberoffilmstothirtyfour(therearesomedeletionsofarticlesfromthepreviousedition).Thechoiceof filmsisnot"toestablishacanon"buttosuggestarichresourceofChinesefilms "tobedippedinto,"asBerryexplainsinhisintroduction(p.1).Nonetheless,a glancethroughthetitlessuggestsanoutlineofaclassicalcanon.Forexample, Wu Yonggang'sThe Goddess(1934);FeiMu'sSpring in a Small Town(1948);Zheng Junli'sCrows and Sparrows(1949);KingHu'sA Touch of Zen(1971);ChenKaige's The Yellow Earth(1984);HouHsiao-hsien'sA Time to Live, A Time to Die(1985);Jia Zhangke'sXiao Wu(1997);andEdwardYang'sYi Yi(2000)areallindispensable titlesinanyten-bestlistsofgreatChinesefilms.Thatthebookincludesthese timelessclassicsisawayofacknowledgingtheirstatus,butthesefilmsarejuxtaposedwithmanyotherfilmswhosestatusismoredubiousorperhapsonlyevolving.Intruth,thenewvolumeofChinese Films in Focuspresentsaneclecticrange offilmsthatpitsafilmsuchastheShawbrothers'huangmeioperafilmThe Love Eterne(1960)againstaclassicoftheMaoistera,Red Detachment of Women(1960), andPTU (2003),aHongKongKowloon-specificcops-and-robbersfilm,against Formula 17(2004),acontemporaryTaipei-specificgaymelodrama.Thechoicesare fartooeclecticforanycritictodiscernaclearcanonicallineofChinesecinema emergingoutofthebook.Therubricof"Chinesefilms"andthechoicestherein aremeantbytheeditortosuggestbroadnessandsomethingall-encompassing, withtheresultthatsometimesaminorfilmischosenalongsideagreatone.(For example,ZhangYimou'sRiding Alone for Thousands of Milesis,inmyopinion,a veryminorfilmthatcoexistsawkwardlywithagreatworksuchasJiaZhangke's Xiao Wu,orindeedwithThe Yellow Earth,whichwasphotographedbyZhang.) Chinese Films in Focus IIisnotjustanexpansionofapreviousvolumebuta veritableexpansionoftheideaofChinesefilms. Thefirstidea,then,thatcomesacrossisthatChinesefilmsdonotconstitutea monolithicnationalcinema.Rathertheyareagroupofdiversecinematicworksof manygenresandmoods,differentformsandcontents--anddifferentkindsof cinematictime,asBerryhimselfhassuggestedinhisownarticleonXiao Wu, whichcompels"thecorrespondingneedtounderstandtimeasdifferentialor multipleanddisaggregatedratherthanhomogeneous"(p.251).Berry'spointof departureforconceivingthevolumeisthatthesourceofChinesefilmsisnota singlestreambutasystemofmanifoldstreams.ThenewvolumecoversChinese © 2012 by University of Hawai`i Press Reviews 313 filmsproducedinmainlandChina,HongKong,Taiwan,andSingaporeand,as such,givesthereaderamorefar-reachingnotionofChinesecinemathanavolumethatconcentratesonjustoneterritoryorproductioncenterofChinesefilms. Indeed,ittellsusthatthereisnosingleChinese-languagecinemabutatleastfour cinemas.Thisfactimposesacertainimperativeondefiningthefilmsandisolating thedetailsandcharacteristicsofwhatmakesthemChineseinthebroadestpossiblemanner.Hence,thevolume'sconceptoffocusingonsinglefilmsisanimportantmethodologicalstructure,allowingthereadertoexaminecloselythe narrativesandthemesofsomefavoriteChinesefilmsfromthepointsofviewof individualfilmscholarsselectedtowritethearticles.Manyofthescholarsare distinguished,indeed,includingYingjinZhang,KamLouie,ReyChow,Jason McGrath,andBerryhimself. Allthewriterswhohavecontributedtothevolumecertainlyhaveaknackfor bringingoutthecomplexityandintricatevarietyoftheChinesecinemas.Berry haschosenhiswritersknowledgeablyandwithaneyeforeachwriter'sexpertise onaparticularterritoryofChinesecinema.Still,itistheindividualwriter'stake onChinesefilmsthatgivesthereaderthekindofinformationthatmakesthetask ofrecognizingwhatisChineseaboutChinesefilmsdemandingandstimulating. Thevolume'sfocusonsinglefilmsisamirrorofthecomplexityofChinesefilms, tobesure,butthesinglefilmsmotivatethedifferentwriterstofleshouttheminutiaeofhowChinesefilmsactuallydifferfromeachotherwhenlookedatwith microscopicprecision.LookingatChinesefilmsindividuallyisalsoawayof ascertaininganddistinguishingthe"differentvaluesystems"oftheseparateindustriesproducingChinesefilms,asBerryexplains(p.5).Thoughonemayquibble withthechoiceoffilms,onecannotreallyarguewiththescopeofthecoverage. However,withtheinclusionofonlyonefilmfromSingapore,thenewvolumeis stillheavilyweightedinfavorofthecoreindustriesproducingChinesefilms, namelythemainlandChinese,HongKong,andTaiwanindustries.AstheSingaporeindustryisaverysmallone,comparedwithitscounterparts,thisisonlytobe expected,butonecannothelpbutfeelthatperhapsthechoiceofonemoreSingaporeanfilm,byadirectorsuchasEricKhoo,JackNeo,orGlenGoei,mightclinch thepropositionthatthevolumesuggests:that"Chinesefilms"isanall-inclusive ideathatchallengesone'sperceptionsofChinesecinemaasasinglenationaland culturalentity. ThechapterontheSingaporeanfilmRoyston Tan's 15(2003),writtenbySong HweeLim,openstheexpandededition.Itisworthwhileinthisreviewtogiveabit moreattentiontoLim'sanalysisbecausehischapterissignificantinsettingthekey themeofthevolume.Almostimmediately,itgivesasomewhatasymmetrical impressiononthewholeideaofChinesefilmsbylocatingthefilmwithinthe contextofaSingaporethatis"slangedup."ComparedwithChina,HongKong,or Taiwan,Singaporeisamoremulticulturalandmultiethniccountrycomposedof Chinese,Indian,andMalaypopulations.ItsuseofEnglish,differentChinese 314 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.17,No.3,2010 dialects,Malay,andTamilmilitatesagainstthesortofsingle-linguisticidentity thatprevailsinotherChinesesocieties--indeed,Singaporeisnotanorganic Chinese-speakingsociety(mostofitsChineseinhabitantsactuallyspeakoneform ofdialectorother).Lim'sconceptofslangingup,asitisappliedin15,is,therefore, aninterestingonebecauseitpresentsaSingaporeanmodelofaChinesefilmthat isnotsomuchChineseasonethatisthoroughlyambivalent.AsLimexplainsit, theslangthatisfeaturedin15isnotmerelyalinguisticconceitbutalsoametaphoricalone. First,thefilmitselfshowsSingaporeasafailurestoryratherthanthesuccess storythatismoreusuallyhowSingaporeisportrayedinthemainstreammedia.In asense,theslangof15setsSingaporeasideasasociety,butitalsodistinguishesthe filminitsownright.Thustheslangis"rootedinadecidedlylocalinflectionowing toSingapore'scoloniallegacy...[butalso]servesasametaphorforTan'sdressing upofhisfilminagloballyidentifiablevisualaesthetics"(p.13).Thisisthecruxof theideaofslang.Limpointsoutthattheslangasalocalcode"maybenotsomuch indecipherableasinvisibletoglobalaudiences"(p.13).Whilethefilmmaybe aestheticallyattractive,Limremarksthattheslangisindecipherabletoanaudience outsideSingaporebecauseofaclassissue"embeddedintheuseofdifferentlanguages"(essentiallyChineseandEnglish)(p.13).Thereisnotenoughspacehereto dwellontheintricaciesoftheclassissueorontheuseoflanguagesinvolvingthe notionofslangintheparticularenvironmentofSingapore.Sufficeittosaythatthe film'stakeonChinesenessisaremarkableamalgamofthelocalandtheglobal-- withmoreemphasisontheformerwhiletheaccentontheglobalisaquestionof aesthetics,asLimattemptstodemonstrate:"15'slocalcontentisotherwiserenderedgloballydecipherablethroughtheuseofpasticheandparodyinitsaudiovisualform"--aformthattakesintoaccount"transnationalChinesecinemasboth presentandpast,notonlyfromWongKar-waiandTsaiMing-liang...butalso fromearlykungfufilms"(p.14). Thus,arguablyafilmlike15andLim'stakeonitsetthetoneforthevolume's choicesofChinesefilms,whichveerbetweenthelocalandthetransnational. FeliciaChan'sanalysisofthemartialartswuxiafilmCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000)appropriatelypresentsthefilmasatypicalmodeloftransnational production(thefilmwasacoproductionofChina,HongKong,andTaiwan,with fundingalsofromHollywoodandotherforeignsources)byexpoundingideasof culturalmigrancyandtranslatability.Thefilmhasnowpassedintotherecord booksbybeingthemostsuccessfulsubtitledforeignfilmeverreleasedinthe UnitedStates.Ontheotherhand,KamLouie,inhisanalysisofZhangYimou's Hero(2003),whichwasmadeasthemainlandcinema'sresponsetoCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,pointsoutthatZhang'smuchcriticizedfilmisentrenchedin Chinesemythandtraditionalprinciplesofwenandwu,orliteraryandmartial attributesmanifestedasadichotomybetweenthementalandthephysicalthat "hasbeenanidealthroughoutChinesehistory,fromthefirstmythicalsagekings Reviews 315 untilthepresentday"(p.138).Louie'sanalysisofHeroisinterestingnotonly becauseitcomplementshisworkonwenandwuinhisbookTheorising Chinese Masculinity,butalsobecauseitemphasizesthatthereareChinesefilmsthatare culturallyrooted,creatingmythsthatare"notuniversal"butareinstead"solidly groundedinChineseculture"(p.141). Interestingly,Herodidachieveamodicumofcommercialsuccessglobally, thoughnotonthesamescaleasCrouching Tiger, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png China Review International University of Hawai'I Press

Chinese Films in Focus II (review)

China Review International , Volume 17 (3) – Jun 15, 2010

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312 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.17,No.3,2010 ChrisBerry,editor.Chinese Films in Focus II.Secondedition.London: PalgraveMacmillan,onbehalfofBritishFilmInstitute,2008.287pp. Paperback$31.95,isbn978-1-84457-237-3. Chinese Films in Focus IIisanexpandededitionofthevolumeChinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes, firstpublishedin2003bytheBritishFilmInstitute,editedby ChrisBerry.Thenewedition,whichretainsBerryaseditor,hascommissioned newarticlesonthirteenmorefilms,bringingthetotalnumberoffilmstothirtyfour(therearesomedeletionsofarticlesfromthepreviousedition).Thechoiceof filmsisnot"toestablishacanon"buttosuggestarichresourceofChinesefilms "tobedippedinto,"asBerryexplainsinhisintroduction(p.1).Nonetheless,a glancethroughthetitlessuggestsanoutlineofaclassicalcanon.Forexample, Wu Yonggang'sThe Goddess(1934);FeiMu'sSpring in a Small Town(1948);Zheng Junli'sCrows and Sparrows(1949);KingHu'sA Touch of Zen(1971);ChenKaige's The Yellow Earth(1984);HouHsiao-hsien'sA Time to Live, A Time to Die(1985);Jia Zhangke'sXiao Wu(1997);andEdwardYang'sYi Yi(2000)areallindispensable titlesinanyten-bestlistsofgreatChinesefilms.Thatthebookincludesthese timelessclassicsisawayofacknowledgingtheirstatus,butthesefilmsarejuxtaposedwithmanyotherfilmswhosestatusismoredubiousorperhapsonlyevolving.Intruth,thenewvolumeofChinese Films in Focuspresentsaneclecticrange offilmsthatpitsafilmsuchastheShawbrothers'huangmeioperafilmThe Love Eterne(1960)againstaclassicoftheMaoistera,Red Detachment of Women(1960), andPTU (2003),aHongKongKowloon-specificcops-and-robbersfilm,against Formula 17(2004),acontemporaryTaipei-specificgaymelodrama.Thechoicesare fartooeclecticforanycritictodiscernaclearcanonicallineofChinesecinema emergingoutofthebook.Therubricof"Chinesefilms"andthechoicestherein aremeantbytheeditortosuggestbroadnessandsomethingall-encompassing, withtheresultthatsometimesaminorfilmischosenalongsideagreatone.(For example,ZhangYimou'sRiding Alone for Thousands of Milesis,inmyopinion,a veryminorfilmthatcoexistsawkwardlywithagreatworksuchasJiaZhangke's Xiao Wu,orindeedwithThe Yellow Earth,whichwasphotographedbyZhang.) Chinese Films in Focus IIisnotjustanexpansionofapreviousvolumebuta veritableexpansionoftheideaofChinesefilms. Thefirstidea,then,thatcomesacrossisthatChinesefilmsdonotconstitutea monolithicnationalcinema.Rathertheyareagroupofdiversecinematicworksof manygenresandmoods,differentformsandcontents--anddifferentkindsof cinematictime,asBerryhimselfhassuggestedinhisownarticleonXiao Wu, whichcompels"thecorrespondingneedtounderstandtimeasdifferentialor multipleanddisaggregatedratherthanhomogeneous"(p.251).Berry'spointof departureforconceivingthevolumeisthatthesourceofChinesefilmsisnota singlestreambutasystemofmanifoldstreams.ThenewvolumecoversChinese © 2012 by University of Hawai`i Press Reviews 313 filmsproducedinmainlandChina,HongKong,Taiwan,andSingaporeand,as such,givesthereaderamorefar-reachingnotionofChinesecinemathanavolumethatconcentratesonjustoneterritoryorproductioncenterofChinesefilms. Indeed,ittellsusthatthereisnosingleChinese-languagecinemabutatleastfour cinemas.Thisfactimposesacertainimperativeondefiningthefilmsandisolating thedetailsandcharacteristicsofwhatmakesthemChineseinthebroadestpossiblemanner.Hence,thevolume'sconceptoffocusingonsinglefilmsisanimportantmethodologicalstructure,allowingthereadertoexaminecloselythe narrativesandthemesofsomefavoriteChinesefilmsfromthepointsofviewof individualfilmscholarsselectedtowritethearticles.Manyofthescholarsare distinguished,indeed,includingYingjinZhang,KamLouie,ReyChow,Jason McGrath,andBerryhimself. Allthewriterswhohavecontributedtothevolumecertainlyhaveaknackfor bringingoutthecomplexityandintricatevarietyoftheChinesecinemas.Berry haschosenhiswritersknowledgeablyandwithaneyeforeachwriter'sexpertise onaparticularterritoryofChinesecinema.Still,itistheindividualwriter'stake onChinesefilmsthatgivesthereaderthekindofinformationthatmakesthetask ofrecognizingwhatisChineseaboutChinesefilmsdemandingandstimulating. Thevolume'sfocusonsinglefilmsisamirrorofthecomplexityofChinesefilms, tobesure,butthesinglefilmsmotivatethedifferentwriterstofleshouttheminutiaeofhowChinesefilmsactuallydifferfromeachotherwhenlookedatwith microscopicprecision.LookingatChinesefilmsindividuallyisalsoawayof ascertaininganddistinguishingthe"differentvaluesystems"oftheseparateindustriesproducingChinesefilms,asBerryexplains(p.5).Thoughonemayquibble withthechoiceoffilms,onecannotreallyarguewiththescopeofthecoverage. However,withtheinclusionofonlyonefilmfromSingapore,thenewvolumeis stillheavilyweightedinfavorofthecoreindustriesproducingChinesefilms, namelythemainlandChinese,HongKong,andTaiwanindustries.AstheSingaporeindustryisaverysmallone,comparedwithitscounterparts,thisisonlytobe expected,butonecannothelpbutfeelthatperhapsthechoiceofonemoreSingaporeanfilm,byadirectorsuchasEricKhoo,JackNeo,orGlenGoei,mightclinch thepropositionthatthevolumesuggests:that"Chinesefilms"isanall-inclusive ideathatchallengesone'sperceptionsofChinesecinemaasasinglenationaland culturalentity. ThechapterontheSingaporeanfilmRoyston Tan's 15(2003),writtenbySong HweeLim,openstheexpandededition.Itisworthwhileinthisreviewtogiveabit moreattentiontoLim'sanalysisbecausehischapterissignificantinsettingthekey themeofthevolume.Almostimmediately,itgivesasomewhatasymmetrical impressiononthewholeideaofChinesefilmsbylocatingthefilmwithinthe contextofaSingaporethatis"slangedup."ComparedwithChina,HongKong,or Taiwan,Singaporeisamoremulticulturalandmultiethniccountrycomposedof Chinese,Indian,andMalaypopulations.ItsuseofEnglish,differentChinese 314 ChinaReviewInternational:Vol.17,No.3,2010 dialects,Malay,andTamilmilitatesagainstthesortofsingle-linguisticidentity thatprevailsinotherChinesesocieties--indeed,Singaporeisnotanorganic Chinese-speakingsociety(mostofitsChineseinhabitantsactuallyspeakoneform ofdialectorother).Lim'sconceptofslangingup,asitisappliedin15,is,therefore, aninterestingonebecauseitpresentsaSingaporeanmodelofaChinesefilmthat isnotsomuchChineseasonethatisthoroughlyambivalent.AsLimexplainsit, theslangthatisfeaturedin15isnotmerelyalinguisticconceitbutalsoametaphoricalone. First,thefilmitselfshowsSingaporeasafailurestoryratherthanthesuccess storythatismoreusuallyhowSingaporeisportrayedinthemainstreammedia.In asense,theslangof15setsSingaporeasideasasociety,butitalsodistinguishesthe filminitsownright.Thustheslangis"rootedinadecidedlylocalinflectionowing toSingapore'scoloniallegacy...[butalso]servesasametaphorforTan'sdressing upofhisfilminagloballyidentifiablevisualaesthetics"(p.13).Thisisthecruxof theideaofslang.Limpointsoutthattheslangasalocalcode"maybenotsomuch indecipherableasinvisibletoglobalaudiences"(p.13).Whilethefilmmaybe aestheticallyattractive,Limremarksthattheslangisindecipherabletoanaudience outsideSingaporebecauseofaclassissue"embeddedintheuseofdifferentlanguages"(essentiallyChineseandEnglish)(p.13).Thereisnotenoughspacehereto dwellontheintricaciesoftheclassissueorontheuseoflanguagesinvolvingthe notionofslangintheparticularenvironmentofSingapore.Sufficeittosaythatthe film'stakeonChinesenessisaremarkableamalgamofthelocalandtheglobal-- withmoreemphasisontheformerwhiletheaccentontheglobalisaquestionof aesthetics,asLimattemptstodemonstrate:"15'slocalcontentisotherwiserenderedgloballydecipherablethroughtheuseofpasticheandparodyinitsaudiovisualform"--aformthattakesintoaccount"transnationalChinesecinemasboth presentandpast,notonlyfromWongKar-waiandTsaiMing-liang...butalso fromearlykungfufilms"(p.14). Thus,arguablyafilmlike15andLim'stakeonitsetthetoneforthevolume's choicesofChinesefilms,whichveerbetweenthelocalandthetransnational. FeliciaChan'sanalysisofthemartialartswuxiafilmCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000)appropriatelypresentsthefilmasatypicalmodeloftransnational production(thefilmwasacoproductionofChina,HongKong,andTaiwan,with fundingalsofromHollywoodandotherforeignsources)byexpoundingideasof culturalmigrancyandtranslatability.Thefilmhasnowpassedintotherecord booksbybeingthemostsuccessfulsubtitledforeignfilmeverreleasedinthe UnitedStates.Ontheotherhand,KamLouie,inhisanalysisofZhangYimou's Hero(2003),whichwasmadeasthemainlandcinema'sresponsetoCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,pointsoutthatZhang'smuchcriticizedfilmisentrenchedin Chinesemythandtraditionalprinciplesofwenandwu,orliteraryandmartial attributesmanifestedasadichotomybetweenthementalandthephysicalthat "hasbeenanidealthroughoutChinesehistory,fromthefirstmythicalsagekings Reviews 315 untilthepresentday"(p.138).Louie'sanalysisofHeroisinterestingnotonly becauseitcomplementshisworkonwenandwuinhisbookTheorising Chinese Masculinity,butalsobecauseitemphasizesthatthereareChinesefilmsthatare culturallyrooted,creatingmythsthatare"notuniversal"butareinstead"solidly groundedinChineseculture"(p.141). Interestingly,Herodidachieveamodicumofcommercialsuccessglobally, thoughnotonthesamescaleasCrouching Tiger,

Journal

China Review InternationalUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Jun 15, 2010

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