History of Chinese Film

The history of Chinese film was developed in three places together: Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. The art of movie-making was first introduced to Mainland China soon after the medium’s initial conception. The first films made by the pioneering Lumière brothers were screened in Shanghai in 1896, less than a year after their debut in Paris (Anniina Koivula).

Shanghai as China’s movie capital

At the beginning of the 1900s, Shanghai became China’s movie capital. Many factors contributed to this development, including Shanghai being spared from the worst of the war and its role as a center of international trade.

Shanghai came to be known as the Paris of the East, where modern ideologies intermingled with an uninhibited and frivolous mind-set. These novel modes of thought, drawing on European, Russian and American values, particularly pervaded the minds of China’s literati.

Theme of Chinese Film

Theme of Chinese film changed a lot in different decades. Late 1940s, is the second golden age of Chinese film; the film industry continued to develop and most films were depicting revolutions under oppressive environment.

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During culture revolution of China, the film industry was severely restricted as most previous movies were banned. Feature form production became the mainstream from 1966 to 1972. After that, culture revolution brought emotional traumas style movies which were called “scar dramas” around 1990s. Beginning in the mid-late 1980s, Chinese filmmakers began to create a freer and liberal approach in storytelling but after, films were shot quickly and cheaply which produced a documentary feel.

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As Chinese film obtained some success from 1999, hero film became popular and opened international market from “Made for China” to “Made for world”. Nowadays China has become the world’s second largest box office market, an influx of foreign investors and film producers have shown willingness to cooperate with China. Theme of Chinese film now allow different cultures to intermingle without losing their own identities.

Famous Director

Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou, as a Chinese film director, producer, writer and actor, and former cinematographer. He is part of the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, having numerous awards and recognitions. His movies dared to be different and deconstruct restriction. Two decades on, Zhang Yimou is one of the most prolific, versatile and significant of these Fifth Generation directors. His signature as a filmmaker is a storytelling mode dominated by visual display, especially of his female stars. This display is part of a complex picture of generation and gender in Zhang’s work that reaches back to debates on Chinese modernity in the early 20th century.

The style of his movies are very distinctive by having highly intense scenes through controlled, formalized color photography. Red Sorghum (1987), being a hallmark of Zhang’s early films winning him critical praise and the Berlin Golden Bear, which were deserving nominees for the Academy Awards. The Story of Qiuju (1992) marked a significant change in direction for Zhang. Far less unrelenting with scenes of everyday humor, Zhang used non-professional actors together with his long-time collaborator Gong Li to achieve a neorealist effect in telling a tale. As in The Story of Qiuju, Zhang returned to the neorealist habit of employing non-professional actors and location shooting, taking it further by sometimes even retaining the original names of actors in the script, for the highly effective companion piece in Not One Less (1999).

In 2002, Hero (movie)|Hero was made as a second attempt to produce a Chinese film with the international appeal of Crouching Tiger, Hiden Dragon. The cast and crew featured many of the most famous Chinese actors who were also known to some extent in the West, including Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, and Zhang Yimou. The film was a phenomenal success in most of Asia and topped the U.S. box office for two weeks, making enough in the U.S. alone to cover the production costs.

The successes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero blur the boundary between what is Mainland Chinese cinema and a more international-based Chinese-language cinema. Crouching Tiger, for example, was made by a Taiwanese director, but its leads include Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland Chinese actors and actresses; the funding is from overseas. This merging of people, resources, and expertise from three regions (China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) meant Chinese-language cinema is moving toward an international Chinese arena.

King Hu

was a Hong Kong and Taiwan-based China Chinese film director whose wuxia films brought cinema of China Chinese cinema to new technical and artistic heights. Also a noted screenwriter and set designer, it was his films Come Drink with Me and Dragon Gate Inn which inaugurated a generation of wuxia films in the late 1960s.

Hu was born in Beijing, and he emigrated to Hong Kong in 1949. After moving to Hong Kong Hu worked in a variety of occupations, such as advertising consultant, artistic designer and producer for a number of media companies, as well as a part-time English tutor. In 1958 he joined the Shaw Brothers Studio as set decorator, actor, scriptwriter and assistant director. Under the influence of Taiwanese director Li Han-Hsiang, Hu embarked on a directorial career, helping him helm the phenomenally successful The Love Eterne (1963).

Hu’s first film as a full-fledged director was Sons of the Good Earth (1965), a film set during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), but Hu is better remembered for his next film, Come Drink With Me (1966). His first success, Come Drink with Me remains a classic of the wuxia genre and catapulted the then 20-year-old starlet Cheng Pei-Pei to fame. Blending Japanese samurai film traditions with Western editing techniques and Chinese aesthetic philosophy borrowed from Chinese music and Chinese opera, Hu began the trend of a new school of wuxia swordplay films and his perpetual use of a female heroine as the central protagonist.

Famous Film

Painted Skin

Painted Skin is based on one of Pu Singling’ s classic short stories in Stories from the Strange Studio. Painted Skin is Ningxia Film Studio’s first shot since adopting this strategy. In the 1970s, Hong Kong released a horror film telling the same story. That film is considered as a classic, and the scene depicting the fox painted the human skin as its mask was regarded as the most thrilling scene by many audiences. This time, to attract more people to see the new version, the film was tried a new twist to the ancient story, by transforming the ghost tale into a romantic love story.

Equal parts love story, martial arts film and supernatural flick, Painted Skin gives audiences a fast paced, visual stunning, and romantically compelling movie. And it has demons that eat human hearts. Painted Skin includes three love triangles and unrequited love becomes a theme throughout the film. Though Xiao Wei is a cold blooded killer and eats human hearts, she is also surprisingly emotionally fragile. Her unrequited love for Wang Sheng lends an unexpectedly poignant tone to the film. In the midst of these love triangles are some rather gory supernatural scenes and rapidly edited fight scenes. This blend of genres is unexpected but also refreshing. The cinematography is wonderful. The image is crisp and the rich golden yellows of the desert and deep blues of night are a pleasure to see on the big screen.

Painted Skin is a story not only known to and delighted in talking by every household, but influential among generations of Chinese readers as well as audiences. By the means of representing devils in beautiful woman, the original story reveals man’s greed for vanities and superficiality of indulgence in the beautiful appearance, so as to emphasize the meaning of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, the three traditional Chinese virtues. Only by the simple, innocent and genuine human emotions can the lost minds be saved when they are deviated from track, engrossed in the deep abyss of enslaved desires. The good will in the end conquers and destroys the evil. Weakness of man can only be saved by his virtue. With the help of grand humanity, even ordinary people can become great minds. Man will finally end his nightmares and return to his normal life. By the special means of movies, they present the essence of the original version to audience, focusing on the profound meanings embodied in the story. Upon watching, viewers will both feel touched and excited at the same time.

Farewell My Concubine

Deserving of its award at Cannes and of its prominent position in 1993’s New York Film Festival, Farewell My Concubine, a 1993 Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige, is one of the central works of the Fifth Generation Movement that brought Chinese film directors to world attention. Initially banned in China but shown to international acclaim, Chen Kaige’s film is one of the year’s true masterpieces.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Lilian Lee. Lilian Lee is also one of the film’s screenplay writers. Farewell My Concubine spans fifty-three years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. Like other Fifth Generation films, Farewell My Concubine explores the effect of China’s political turmoil during the mid-20th century on the lives of individuals, families, and groups, in this case, two stars in a Peking opera troupe and the woman who comes between them.

In 1924 Beijing, the youthful Douzi and Shitou are brought together under the thumb of the strict master of a small acting troupe. It quickly becomes apparent that these are the most talented of the master’s pupils, and he pushes them harder than his other students. Thirteen years later, their suffering has paid off. Douzi, now going by the name of Chen Dieyi and Shitou, called Duan Xiaolou, are major opera stars, and their production, ‘Farewell My Concubine’ (the story of the Chous emperor’s concubine who kills herself rather than to be taken by the forces of the new Han Dynasty emperor) is nationally known. The two are inseparable, until the woman Juxian comes between them. This is when it becomes quite clear that Cheng’s feelings for Duan are more than brotherly. He is in love with Duan, and sees Juxian as a threat to their relationship both on and off the stage, something that Duan seems to interpret as an obsession with the opera that Cheng cannot separate from real life.

From the Japanese invasion of 1937, the Guo Ming Dang consolidation of power, the Communist takeover in 1949, to the Cultural Revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, Both Duan and Cheng get into trouble with these new regimes. Duan because of his hotheadedness, and Cheng because of his naivete. Sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of love, both do things that come back to haunt them later in life in tragic fashion. Somehow they survive all this and following the end of the Cultural Revolution (1977) they try go get together to perform their famous opera once again. They replay the famous scene where the concubine slits her own throat and this time Douzi slits his own throat at the climax of the performance now leaving Xiaolou totally alone.

Running through the film is the Peking Opera also known as Farewell My Concubine. The opera becomes Dieyi and Xiaolou’s staple act and scenes from it are performed throughout the film. The events in the film parallel the play. The opera concerns the loyalty of the concubine Yu Ji to the King of the state of Chu after Liu Bang soon to found the Han Dynasty has defeated him. The transition to Han Dynasty rule parallels the transition to the People’s Republic of China. The Concubine’s fatal devotion to her doomed emperor is echoed by Dieyi’s devotion to Xiaolou.

The power of this film was not missed by Chinese censors who banned, removed, and then banned the film again several times over, debating whether or not its artistic brilliance was worth subversive portrayals of suicide and homosexuality. Unlike ‘The Last Emperor’, this film was made by Chinese film makers and is in tune with its subject. The most wonderful illustration is that the same drama, the difference opera stage backdrop can show us clearly Chinese history and the lives of the characters: Warlords, Japanese invasion of 1937, Culture Revolution and Communist takeover. Farewell My Concubine is a motion picture experience that few will soon forget after leaving the theater. It is really a masterpiece.

Cite this page

History of Chinese Film. (2021, Aug 18). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/history-of-chinese-film-essay

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