Chinese Language Film
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0014
- LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0014
International interest in Chinese cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is often traced back to the showing of Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth at the Hong Kong Film Festival in 1985. Since then the number of publications from academics and film critics has grown steadily, and the teaching of Chinese cinema has spread through universities and, to a lesser extent, schools across the world. Although an increasing amount of attention is being paid to Chinese-language cinema produced outside Asia, most of the scholarship addresses film made in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Since the early 1980s each of these three very different regions has experienced peaks and troughs of productivity and popularity, both locally and internationally. Not surprisingly, the dramatic social and economic changes that have affected the PRC since the start of the reform period in the 1970s have resulted in that country’s cinema attracting the lion’s share of the attention. The PRC has opened up in many areas such that not only are more films are being made but also many more films from earlier periods, especially the prewar Shanghai era, have been made available. Apart from isolated journal articles, little had been published in non-Chinese languages before the arrival in 1985 of Chris Berry’s edited volume Perspectives on Chinese Cinema (Berry 1991, cited under General Overviews) and Paul Clark’s Chinese Cinema: Culture and Politics since 1949 (Clark 1987, cited under Maoist China) two years later. Over the course of the 1990s several volumes containing papers first aired at international conferences were published along with a number of monographs. More recently specialized studies have appeared, addressing those strands of film writing that are fashionable in any national or regional cinema. These include books about people, whether stars or directors; genres, from queer cinema to ecocinema; and more business-oriented topics, such as piracy and the changing ways people watch film. Furthermore, with the spread of globalization, matters have grown increasingly complicated. Feng Xiaogang, one of the most successful directors from mainland China, made Bu jian bu san in 1998 in America with Ge You and Xu Fan and Big Shot’s Funeral (2001) in Beijing with Donald Sutherland in the lead role. The Taiwanese director Ang Lee won the Academy Award for Best Directing for the English-language Brokeback Mountain (2005), while the biggest stars, including Jackie Chan and Jet Li, have appeared in several Hollywood films, such as The Forbidden Kingdom (2008).
Berry 1991 (originally published in 1985) appeared just as the films of the Fifth Generation were beginning to screen in cinemas worldwide. Quiquemelle and Passek 1985 was published to tie in with a major retrospective of Chinese film at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Lu and Yeh 2005, an impressive collection of essays stretching from the early days of silent film to the works of the Fifth and Sixth Generations, reflects a growing emphasis on Chinese-language film rather than Chinese national cinema. Berry and Farquhar 2006 covers a wide variety of topics, from opera to films about ethnic minorities and women. Zhu and Rosen 2010 brings together the writings of well-known scholars to provide overviews of different facets of the Chinese film world. Zhang 2002 is a key work on historical and other aspects, whereas Pickowicz 2012 is a compendium of book chapters and journal articles. Zhang and Xiao 1998, Encyclopedia of Chinese Film, is an invaluable guide.
Berry, Chris, ed. Perspectives on Chinese Cinema. 2d ed. Papers presented at the Conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, Cornell University, 1984. London: British Film Institute, 1991.
Originally published in 1985 (Ithaca, NY: China-Japan Program, Cornell University). The first edition marked the recognition of the emergence of a group of Western scholars interested in Chinese cinema after the hiatus of the Cultural Revolution. By the time of this revised edition, the Fifth Generation had inspired Chinese and Western scholars.
Berry, Chris, and Mary Farquhar. China on Screen: Cinema and Nation. Film and Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
Many years of scholarship culminate in this authoritative study of the cinemas of mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The appendixes include a chronological list of the key developments in China’s cinema history alongside the major historical events, a film list, and bibliographies of English- and Chinese-language material.
Lu, Sheldon H., and Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh, eds. Chinese-Language Film: Historiography, Poetics, Politics. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005.
Containing the sections “Historiography, Periodization, Trends”; “Poetics, Directors, Styles”; and “Politics, Nationhood, Globalization,” this edited volume covers martial films from the 1920s; Jia Zhangke’s Hometown trilogy; and well-known names from the Hong Kong and Taiwan film worlds, such as Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Ang Lee. There are also sections on films from Singapore and the United States.
Pickowicz, Paul G. China on Film: A Century of Exploration, Confrontation, and Controversy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012.
A collection going back to the 1970s that stretches across a most impressive range of topics, from the prewar Shanghai period to the 21st century.
Quiquemelle, Marie-Claire, and Jean-Loup Passek, eds. Le cinéma chinois. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1985.
The editors bring together the work of Chinese and other experts in a collection of essays that discuss aspects of film from mainland China from the pre–World War II period to the 1970s. The text is supplemented by a chronology, a filmography, and short biographical sketches of some leading directors.
Zhang, Yingjin. Screening China: Critical Interventions, Cinematic Reconfigurations, and the Transnational Imaginary in Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies 92. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002.
A key work that includes an invaluable chapter on the history of Chinese film studies in the West noting how conclusions were drawn on the basis of a relatively small group of films. Zhang also discusses Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (1987) and films about minority peoples in China.
Zhang, Yingjin, and Zhiwei Xiao, eds. Encyclopedia of Chinese Film. London: Routledge, 1998.
The bulk of this work is taken up with alphabetical entries on individual actors and directors, important films, and themes and genres. The appendixes list websites and film titles in English, Pinyin, and Chinese characters. An updated edition would be most welcome.
Zhu, Ying, and Stanley Rosen, eds. Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010.
Although the overarching theme of the collection alludes to issues of film production and consumption, in practice this is more of a survey book with summative chapters from a range of experts. Thus Paul Clark’s essay offers a condensed version of his work on cinema during the People’s Republic of China years, Stephen Teo outlines the development of martial arts films, and Zhu Ying and Bruce Robinson cover the Fifth Generation auteurs.
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