Week 4 – Sources
Hi everyone in this blog post I will be talking about the paper “Theatricality and Cultural critique in Chinese Cinema” and the narrative it establishes, as a part of my final paper.
In this paper, the author talks about the ability of film to be cultural critique in Chinese cinema. Hui introduces the evolution of traditional theatre in China. With the theatrical side of cinema being represented by traditional forms of performances, popular before the early 1900s such as Jingju. The process of transforming theatre into film had many challenges. One was the issue of the aesthetic, according to Paul Clark. This was because of the inability to combine the Chinese style of theatre where many things are symbolic, or abstract, while film usually requires realistic settings and props. An example is when in the 1956 Mulan movie, a scene included the actor riding across the screen in the traditional Chinese theatre style — with no horse but only the action of riding a horse.
“Art is prostitution”
In comparison to the difficulty that came with the clashing styles, the evolution of Jingju came more smoothly. Hui takes note of the role the use of propaganda has played in the process, but also that its success required more than the cultural revolution. The author uses this to compare various films: Two Stage Sisters, Farewell My Concubine and To Live.
These films utilize theatre itself to demonstrate and critique the political forces behind theatrical performances in China. They all display the cultural revolution and the effects it had on art. While Two stage sisters displays various forms of theatre, it ended with the character (and the film)’s surrender to its role as a part of a larger political message. In To Live, Fugui’s puppet set serves as a metaphor for how the cultural revolution has altered the role of art. While Fugui uses it to survive during the civil war, it later becomes economic and political tools — similar to the art itself. Hui mentions how the prostitution of this traditional art form has led to its survival — the survival of the physical puppet set, yet it has given away the art itself. In terms of Farewell My Concubine, the film is controversial for not only its criticism of the cultural revolution but also the homosexual relationship between two characters in the film. Since it was released in a different time period, during a time of “political tolerance”, it was able to shed light on how when film is made into propaganda, it serves as a denunciation of the art itself.
A new generation
Hui mentions how while these films attempt to use the traditional art forms to demonstrate the damage the cultural appropriation has done, they are not effective in reaching the audience now, because the critiques are based on an art of the past, one that is distanced from audiences now. It is suggested that the newer generation of Chinese filmmakers have been using new forms of theatre in films such as Jiang Jie and Platform to convey critical messages, yet similar challenges arise.
Through exploring various sources, I will further look into the divide between the fifth and sixth generation of film makers and how they shape a critical message against propaganda. I will also watch some of the films mentioned in the paper to expand my analysis.
- Hui, Luo. “Theatricality And Cultural Critique In Chinese Cinema.” Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2008, Pp. 122–37. JSTOR, Http://Www.Jstor.Org/Stable/27568438. Accessed 1 Apr. 2023.