CHINESE CINEMA

Last Updated: July 5, 2007By

The first golden period of Chinese cinema, mostly in Shanghai, generated a slew of left-wing ideological films from notable directors Cheng Bugao and Sen Yu. With the arrival of the Japanese forces in 1937, followed by the advent of World War II, several Shanghai directors fled to Hong Kong. Later, China would go through a second wave of creativity, and the first years after Mao Tse Tung’s takeover have often been compared to the powerful ideological output of early Soviet cinema (namely Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov). In the decades that followed, Chinese cinema continued to be profoundly influenced by the political atmosphere of the country. Its latest visionaries, like Chen Kaige (1999’s The Emperor and the Assassin, 1993’s Farewell My Concubine; 1993) and Zhang Yimou (1994’s Life, 2002’s Hero), are both well-known figures of the so-called “fifth generation,” that of directors born in the midst of the 1950s Cultural Revolution. These filmmakers and their peers have continued a Chinese tradition of wide-ranging frescoes and expansive epics—this is cinema as spectacle, combining visual feats with accurate historicity. Sometimes, as was the case with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, traditional themes of honor and revenge can be interwoven with stunning special effects to create a commercial behomoth (that film grossed $209M worldwide). Crouching Tiger is also a good example of how East and West can collaborate to foster Asian cinema. Ang Lee was born in Taiwan but attended college in America, later partnering on eight feature films with Focus Features’ James Schamus (Read Bartering Below Radar: Schamus Speaks at Columbia).The duo is one of the most successful ones in recent, professional film history. Cinema produced in Hong Kong has always had a name—Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee come immediately to mind. After years of huge, bloated Bollywood-like productions, Hong Kong has staged a remarkable comeback in recent years, strongly oriented toward action but also featuring cutting-edge stories that have developed a cult following and scores of imitators. Hong Kong has been known for its heavy output of movies about gangsters, stories ripe with revenge and general annihilation. The international language of violence and “masculine” honor codes is such that Hong-Kong has carved its niche in the West, with video stores often keeping dedicated sections stocked with favorites such as The 36th Shaolin Chamber and Five Deadly Venoms. Directors such as John Woo grew up in Hong Kong’s unique Chinese-British culture, and the aforementioned Wong-Kar Wai is now a global cinema icon.Taiwanese cinema also now boasts world-renowned directors. Although kung-fu movies continue to attract their usual delighted audience, the new wave includes Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Kohi-Jiko, 2004) with a film at Cannes this year and Edward Yang, who won best director award at Cannes in 2000 for Yi-Yi. (pictured: Zhang Yimou’s Hero)

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