BFI Southbank will be hosting a four-month celebration of A Century of Chinese Cinema from June-October of 2014. The massive event will be comprised of five sections of Chinese filmmaking and the BFI’s Noah Cowan sets up this impressive introduction which is summarized below.
The Golden Age will be highlighted in June at Southbank. Cowan writes, “The 1930s in Shanghai were a golden age in many spheres of Chinese culture, cinema chief among them. Widely considered by the rest of the country as a den of iniquity, catering to foreign invaders walled off in concessions throughout the city, Shanghai presented an ‘anything goes’ attitude that proved enormously fruitful for the upstart new medium.
Despite heavy censorship by the Guomindang (Nationalist) government, Shanghai filmmaking during this period – aided considerably by the Chinese Communist Party cadres who infiltrated the growing studio system – was able to shatter age-old taboos and champion utopian ideals. Early masterpieces such as The Highway (1934) and Street Angel (1937) not only look towards a more just and equal society, but question how the art of cinema itself might be reconceived along progressive lines by experimenting with innovative visual techniques and unusual narrative structures.
A New China will also be highlighted in June: “…it is intriguing to trace the continuities between the cinemas of the pre- and post-Revolution periods. Despite the state-sanctioned dictates of socialist realism, many of the most critically and commercially successful Mainland films up to the Cultural Revolution continued to derive from the acknowledged classics of Chinese progressive culture associated with the prewar May 4th Movement.
Meanwhile, brief periods of cultural experimentation such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign emboldened filmmakers to once again engage in social commentary and take both political and aesthetic risks, leading to such recently rediscovered masterworks as Lu Ban’s extraordinary An Unfinished Comedy (1957). This intriguing period would come to an end with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, the last and most brutal crackdown on intellectuals, which halted narrative film production for more than a decade.”
Genre Cinema will be shown in July: “First emerging near the end of the 1920s, the wildly popular martial-arts films (known as wuxia pian, literally ‘chivalrous combat films’) quickly became a target of official sanction. The Guomindang (Nationalist) government, taking umbrage at the films’ outré special effects and bevy of louche women, banned them for promoting “superstition and moral decadence”…
The 80s and 90s saw several major evolutions in the genre as the craze for the ‘classic’ martial-arts film began to wane. Jackie Chan found global superstardom as the clown prince of kung fu, blending the often solemn martial-arts template with slapstick and sensational stunts; prolific Hong Kong New Wave leader Tsui Hark would take the wuxia film into a lavish new era with a series of ambitious epics; while the enormously influential, Hark-produced A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) brought fantasy and the supernatural into the martial-arts mix. Finally, at the turn of the century, martial-arts cinema returned to the Mainland that once spurned it: following Ang Lee’s global success with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), a series of baroque, Mainland-produced wuxia epics such as Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) and Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet (2006) garnered significant domestic and international success.”
New Waves in August: “As with all the other arts, cinema was profoundly affected by the ravages of the Cultural Revolution: film production was stopped altogether for a time, and only gradually restarted with an exclusive output of ideologically orthodox model operas.
As the Mainland finally emerged from the shadow of this cataclysmic event a decade later, the filmmakers who became known as the Fourth Generation – a pre-Cultural Revolution cohort, many of whom had themselves been denounced, ‘re-educated’ and forced to endure the ridicule of young militants for their commitment to culture life – sought for ways to express the ordeal that had been visited upon the country. The result was the so-called ‘scar films’, simple, affecting dramas that employ intimate and small-scale narratives focusing on individual tragedies as microcosmic representations of massive societal trauma – a style of storytelling that would prove remarkably influential even beyond the context of the Cultural Revolution.”
New Directions in September-October: “Mainland filmmakers who comprised the so-called Sixth Generation – Wang Xiaoshuai and Jia Zhangke chief among them…display some marked group characteristics: an increased cosmopolitanism, a preoccupation with urban life that has much in common with the Hong Kong New Wave, a predilection for exquisite compositions and gentle pacing that owes much to Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, and a taste for small-scale, delicately wrought narratives of ordinary people buffeted by vast social change that rhymes with the Fourth Generation ‘scar’ films and rejects the largesse (some would say excess) of the flamboyant Fifth Generation epics.”
Read the full article here.