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Transnational Chinese Cinemas Identity, Nationhood, Gender

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Although this is not the only recent book which uses Chinese new cinema to analyze Chinese identity and politics, it is still a useful contribution to the limited literature in this field. A collection of fifteen loosely connected essays which are of various levels of theoretical sophistication and academic quality, this volume can serve as a reference book to academics. It can also be used as supplementary materials for undergraduate film teaching. The book is divided into three parts which deal respectively with (1) the films of mainland China; (2) films of Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas; and (3) gender issues.

Following the editor’s introduction which outlines themes of the book, Zhiwei Xiao presents a historical study of film censorship by the Nanjing government during the period of 1927–37. The author concludes that when foreign films were censored because of content that degraded the Chinese, the film industry hailed the government policy because it helped the industry in its competition with foreign rivals. The government also made political gains by appearing patriotic in front of the public. But when the censorship was used in controlling domestic films, the relationship between the industry and the government became problematic.

In analyzing Two Stage Sisters made by Xie Jin in 1964, Gina Marchetti concludes that in terms of film styles, it was a combination of Hollywood, Soviet, and Chinese tradition; in terms
of politics, it was more in line with the leftist Shanghai tradition, instead of the Yan’an communist tradition. Theoretically sophisticated and academically excellent, Yingin Zhang’s essay, which was previously published elsewhere, deals with the minority films. The author makes the interesting point that in making films about minorities, the real interest of the filmmakers was really the Han identity (pp. 90, 92). Part I of the book concludes with the editor’s essay about the transnational nature of the films by Zhang Yimou. Lu argues that in Zhang’s mind, the audience was people outside of China, because the funding came primarily from overseas.

While every essay in Part I addresses politics and the Chinese identity to varying degrees, the five essays in Part II, which include films made by Hong Kong and Taiwan directors, may or may not
do so, especially regarding those made by Hong Kong filmmakers. June Yip discusses the politicization of Taiwanese films which before 1987 had described Taiwan, not mainland China, as the legitimate inheritor of the Chinese tradition. Those Taiwanese films made after the lifting of martial law, however, have intended to distinguish mainland China from Taiwan by creating a distinct
Taiwanese identity. In their study of the films by Ang Lee, a well-known Taiwanese filmmaker, Wei Ming Dariotis and Eileen Fung assert that the identity crisis in Wedding Banquet was caused by the fact that the protagonist was not only a Chinese who settled in America, but also gay, which was traditionally considered to be part of Western rather than Chinese culture.

In their studies of Hong Kong filmmakers John Woo and Jackie Chan, Anne T. Ciecko and Steve Fore do not focus on the problem of identity, politics and gender issues, in spite of the fact that Ciecko mentions in the beginning of his essay that Kung Fu was very political. Instead, their studies focus on how the Hong Kong filmmakers tried to get into the Hollywood mainstream. The authors also realize the fact that the cultural identity of the people in Hong Kong has always been ambiguous. However, the authors never inform us how ambiguous this identity was.

The five essays in the third part focus on gender issues. In a very short essay on Farewell My Concubine, E. Ann Kaplan uses the allegory theory by writing that the play was about the fate of the country, not of individuals. In her study of The New Woman, which was made in 1935 and was in the tradition of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Kristin Harris discusses not only the film itself, but also the social and political events around it. The New Woman included actress Ruan Lingru, whose own fate was no better than the woman she depicted in the film.

In her study of Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou, Shuqin Cui argues that the film shows that in China, sexual instinct was always subordinated to social castration. In addition, “All men’s burdens, desires, and losses are laid on a single woman’s