During the days of November 18-21 my school, Fayetteville State University, held the event “China On The Screen” A Chinese Movie Week. We were shown four films: Shanghai Dream, Still Life, The Drifter, and The World in the language lab in our univesity. I attended all screenings and enjoyed the movies. My favorite was Shanghai Dream. The organizers of the film week were FSU faculty and staff. They included my Chinese language professor, Dr. Hongbing Zhang, Dr. Yali Li, Director of our Language Lab, and Yikang Bai who assists Dr. Li in the lab and teaches Chinese language. Dr. Li worked very hard to ensure that the films shown ran smoothly and she was a wonderful hostess during Chinese Movie Week. I spoke with Dr. Zhang a little about the background of China On the Screen.
Maimounah: Why did you decide to have a Chinese Movie Week at FSU?
Dr. Zhang: I think at FSU we don’t have much exposure to cultures other than European American cultures. I believe by having this Chinese Movie Week our students will have a better understanding of what is going on in China. I also hope they will become more interested in China
Chinese Movie Week was also introduced as a precedent for our proposal for a minor in Chinese language and culture at Fayetteville State University. The next step for the proposal is to go to the university’s provost and then to the university’s chancellor. Hopefully if they approve it, a minor in Chinese language and culture will be in place by Spring semester of 2009.
I plan to have Chinese Movie week every academic year. I also want all the foreign languages to come together to organize a global film week and Chinese film will be a part of that global film week. I want students to know that there is a lot more out there beyond the United States of America.
Dr. Zhang also gave some background about Chinese film: “All of the films shown are by young directors, more commonly referred to as the “sixth generation” in China. There is almost 100 years of film history in China. All of the movies that will be shown this week are produced in a “realistic” style or manner. They are very different from the movies made in the 50’s, 70’s, and even 90’s of what we used to call socialistic movies from China. These types of movies were also shown in the eastern bloc of Europe, in particular the Soviet Union at that time. They always highlighted the subjectivity of the individual who is considered to be the hero of the representative and collective. You saw a lot of close-ups during these types of movies. The camera was focused on the side of production and on a social gathering
In the “sixth generation movies” the focus is more on the family. You will hardly see the close-ups on the face and highlights of subjectivity they always kept a distance. There is a shift of content in terms of what the camera is focusing on. The camera focus is on the family life inside, a small gathering, and on private, intimate, spaces of the individual. These movies are known as “post-socialist” as some Chinese film critics define China today.
The films that will be shown this week will focus on China today and in the urban setting. What you see on the screen is about China for sure, but it is not China itself. It is not a reality to say, it’s a perspective on the reality.”
SHANGHAI DREAM (Qing hong)
This is my synopsis of this film which was directed by Xiaoshuai Wang.
Qinghong is wrapped up in teenage puppy love with a boy whom her father, Laowu, doesn’t want her to be with. Her father wants her to think of only going to college in Shanghai, where their roots lie, so he is strict with Qinghong. He wants a better life for her than he and his wife had. Qinghong often hangs out with her friend Xiaozhen to get an outlet from the serious surroundings that she lives in. Qinghong and her family had to leave Shanghai and go to the country side due to the China’s “Third Front” program at the time. Entire families and people were forced to live in the countryside to be re-educated. There were no universities out there. Some people found ways to get back to their home towns by paying certain people or by selling themselves.
STILL LIFE (Sanxia Haoren)
This film was introduced by Dr. Heather Griffifths of the Department of Sociology of at FSU.
“Three Gorges Dam recently got started, began construction in 1994, as part of the process over one million people were displaced. The object of the dam, which is the world’s largest hydro-electric power station, is to prevent flooding on the Yangtze River. It will not be fully completed until the year 2012 and some people believe nearly four million people will be displaced at that point. The dam is necessary, but it is a controversial plan. The director Zhang Ke Jia uses the story of the Three Gorges Dam to center his narrative.
Still Life is a movie about reconnecting with your past. Many of the director’s films are about alienation, isolation, the estrangement of the working class, social upheaval, loss of family, disorientation. This film is no exception. The director uses his color palette to express something about contemporary China and he’s trying to illustrate the loss of family experience by the two protagonists.
The story the director tells is that of a coal miner named Tong who travels to the Three Gorges Dam to find his ex-wife. He hasn’t seen his wife in over sixteen years and during the film’s beginning, there is a definite sense of peril, he’s going to get taken advantage of, he’s being cheated, but then you find out about the story of the Three Gorges Dam and how the people got displaced. In the middle of the film the narrative shifts to the story of a nurse. She goes to Three Gorges Dam as well to discover her husband who just slipped away one day. She hasn’t seen him for a couple of years.
This particular film calls to mind the literary and visual style of contemporary Mexican culture with its emphasis on magical realism. Some images to watch for include: a collapsing building, a building which inexplicably takes off like a rocket, and tightrope walkers in the background of the action. This directive emphasizes narrative. The American eye is used to very quick cuts, very rapid camera motion, so this film might seem slow. A good thing to do is concentrate on the story being told and the visual imagery that is being used. Some of the more striking imagery he does imply involves the use of the masculine body, typically a semi-nude masculine body juxtaposed against the urban landscape.”
THE DRIFTER (Er Di)
This film was introduced by Dr.Gary McConnell of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at FSU.
“The director, Xiaoshuai Wang, lingers over scenes and there is a good bit deal of silence, especially when it comes to the protagonist, Er Di. The film tells the story of the immigration from Fujian province to the United States. Er Di has a son in the United States that has been brought back to China, but kept away from him. There are two angles being played here. One is a class angle: Er Di goes to his in-laws house to see his son and their house is on a higher scale than the house his family lives in, they are better off than his family. The other angle is a cultural angle: that revolves around the importance of the son, the first and only son of the family and it is this that moves him and obsesses his older brother to get this boy into their family and away from the in-laws. A very important point to mention about the film is the beginning of the film over against the very end of the film. The director is making an explicit point about the desire of these people to leave their own situation and look for something better.”
THE WORLD (Shijie)
This is my sypnopsis of this film which was directed by Zhang Ke Jia.
“The World” is a theme park outside of Beijing. It contains within it some of the world’s famous landmarks. The movie follows the workers that are confined within the walls of the park and how they cope with their lives day to day. The main characters are Tao, who is one of the performers at the World Park, and her boyfriend, Taisheng, who is Chief of Security there. The director Zhang Ke Jia is the same one who directed Still Life, so as in Still Life, he uses magical realism through the use of cartoons. These cartoons which pop up every now and then, sort of in an anime style, represent the desires of the characters in the movie. Zhang Ke Jia also exposes us to the world of some of the Eastern European women who are exploited by the people who brought them to work at the World Park. The World was definitely a memorable experience into the world of the workers in the park in which you were able to feel both their pains and joys.