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New Chinese Cinema: Challenging Representations

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Sheila Cornelius

<I>New Chinese Cinema: Challenging Representations</I> examines the &#34;search for roots&#34; films that emerged from China in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Sheila Cornelius contextualizes the films of the so-called Fifth … see full wiki

Author: Sheila Cornelius
Genre: Performing Arts
Publisher: Wallflower Pr
Date Published: February 01, 2002
1 review about New Chinese Cinema: Challenging Representations

A Minimalist Guide to Chinese Film

  • Feb 16, 2006
Rating:
+3
Pros: Handy-dandy; goes well with a good Chinese movie

Cons: Feels slightly disorganized; a few other nitpicks

The Bottom Line: Handy in a fix; not for the more serious Chinese film-goers.

Let’s say you’re like me and haven’t the tiniest inkling about China’s past or the material directors use for their films. Then you enter into a film class that has a section focusing on movies like To Live, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and
Beijing Bicycle. Of course, without this book you won’t exactly understand all the references in To Live or be able to understand why some guy is freezing himself to death in the middle of summer in Frozen. But then I’m sure that’s why this was on our book list.

New Chinese Cinema is brought to you by Shelia Cornelius with a little help from Ian Haydn Smith. What are their credentials you ask? Well apparently this book is just one of many in a series called “The Short Cuts Series” that has a focus on film (there’s a long list just inside the book). Cornelius is “Visiting Lecturer in Chinese cinema at Morley College in London,” so the back of the book says, and Haydn Smith is a freelance film critic. I want that job…

So, published in 2002, what will you find in New Chinese Cinema? Here are the contents as it’s printed (no caps and all):

list of illustrations
acknowledgements
introduction
1 some recent history
2 the new wave
3 dissidence and disguise
4 confucius and patriarchy
5 post-socialist concerns
6 the sixth generation
conclusion
filmography
bibliography

For those of you who have to get this book for a class, don’t start thinking that just because there’s a list of illustrations that the book is going to be chock full of them. There are only ten, all of which are stills from whichever movie the section it happens to be placed in is talking about. They range in size – taking up 1/3 of the page to almost all of it, and are all in black and white, which is sort of disappointing considering how some of the directors they talk about and whom I’ve seen the work of have a very specific use for the color they place in their films, Zhang Yimou especially.

As for the chapters themselves, they do have a fair amount of information. Chapter 1 is pretty much a crash course in Mao Zedong’s life and his eventual rise to power among the Chinese people and the eventual desire to change China’s “backwardness,” including old practices like the values of Confucius. His death and the practices that came after him are also mentioned. Chapter 2 gives some detail on some of China’s most prominent directors such as Zhang Yimou (To Live, Hero), Chen Kaige (Yellow Earth), and Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), as well as the Chinese film industry in general. Chapter 3 is more of a discussion on the films previously mentioned in chapter 2 (more than just what I’ve listed) and how they reflect upon Chinese society and history through symbolism, music, color, etc. The titles of chapters 4, 5, and 6 are pretty self-explanatory.

The chapters have sub-sections as well, dividing things up as needed, such as different directors for chapter 2. Each chapter finishes up with a case study of a movie pertaining the most to the subject matter just discussed. At the end of chapter 1 it was To Live; at the end of chapter 2 The Blue Kite and so on. Essentially the movie is summarized with certain aspects pointed out to highlight the relation between film and subject.

Despite the usefulness of this book, there are a few drawbacks – even my professor mentioned them.

I mentioned in my titled “minimalist” and that’s what it makes me think of. China has a long, complicated history that is hard to condense into 30-some pages and I found myself checking things over to get my facts straight. Terms and movements like “The Hundred Flowers Movement” and “The Great Leap Forward” without a whole lot of detail. Literally the timeline starts at Mao’s birth in 1893 and skims along into the present. That is a lot of information to cover. Another minimalist impression comes from the font size itself. It’s in a sans serif font that has to be at least size 8, printed on some rather thick paper. As the final page count is only at 133, I’m sure they could rearrange things to make it a little bigger in case some people have problems reading it – just by tacking on a few pages if they want the same dimensions. I understand it’s a “short cut” book, but still.

There are also parts that aren’t really necessary. There was a section in chapter 1 entitled “The Western Gaze” which detailed the way America viewed the Chinese ad portrayed them in films. With the rest of the content this book contained, that whole section was literally a waste of time. At another point the book rambles off about American melodrama which even my professor wondered, “Why is that in there?” Aside from this, because history was so intermixed with film discussion and social topics, things felt a little jumbled. Looking back I think I can understand why they are in the order they are, but at the time I felt confused, thinking, “Why are we going back to talk about this when we were just talking about this and that and…oh I give up.”

The last thing I think is rather important is within one of the case studies about To Live. The statement is that a doctor Fengxia’s husband manages to procure from a prison “kills himself through over-eating” before he can help Fengxia. This is completely false; the doctor lives – he and his new eating habits are even a topic of conversation near the end of the film. Because this is so blatantly wrong (it cannot be a typo, come on) it makes me wonder whether or not whoever saw the movie was paying attention, or if he/she was wrong about this, then what else is wrong in this book?

There is room for improvement, but because all we watched were a few films from China and parts of others, it did come in handy – historical crash course especially, because then I could grasp what I needed to from such-and-such movie we were going to watch. I think To Live especially. So if your case is similar to mine, then yes, I recommend it, but if you’re wanting something more, then I suggest you only use it if you can’t find something better.

NT

Recommended:
Yes

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