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85 C hapter 4 Commerce and the Critical Edge The Politics of Postsocialist Film and the Case of Feng Xiaogang In this chapter, I will investigate how the uneven social and cultural conditions in postsocialist China shape the field of commercial filmmaking . Arguably, Feng Xiaogang may appear to be one of the most relevant cases in point, since his filmmaking is regarded as a typical example of Chinese commercial cinema. In studying Feng’s filmmaking, I will concentrate more on the internal problems of his films than on external problems. This is mainly because since the 1990s, commercial filmmaking has become a burgeoning field in Mainland China, and many studies have been completed to explain how social and institutional changes have contributed to its rise at this historical juncture of great social transformations. The most meticulous study of this aspect is Rui Zhang’s recent book, The Cinema of Feng Xiaogang: Commercialization and Censorship in Chinese Cinema After 1989. It is my intention to approach the question of the relationship between unevenness and commercial filmmaking in Feng’s case by analyzing how the characters in his films reflect and respond to the uneven sociocultural features that determine the field of commercial filmmaking. The questions I will be addressing are, first, how the symbolic order in the field of Chinese cinema that shapes and defines Feng’s productions is implied and expressed in his films; and, second, how Feng negotiates his way within this order towards a more effective expression as cultural intervention. I will also address the question of what sociopolitical conditions have moved commercial filmmaking into a position of discursive visibility. Where does its critical agency lie? And how does its cultural intervention illustrate the dialectics of the specific historical juncture it occupies? Feng’s situation as a filmmaker in today’s conditions, I will argue, is broadly symptomatic of the current condition and politics of Chinese cinema. I will focus on three films made by Feng: A Sigh (Yi sheng tanxi, 2000), Cell Phone (Shouji, 2003), and A World Without Thieves (Tianxia wu zei, 2004). These 86 Commerce and the Critical Edge films demonstrate the ways in which the uneven postsocialist situation in China fundamentally shapes Feng’s filmmaking: his cultural intervention is strategically embedded within his films’ apparently commercial form. My investigation of Feng’s filmmaking has three phases. It begins with an analysis of the social space in postsocialist China as represented in his films. It then deals with the major focus of his films—common people’s everyday lives. Finally, it ends with an examination of the most intriguing aspect of his films and the most powerful weapon of his cultural intervention: his humor. The Discourse of Commercial Filmmaking in a Postsocialist Condition It is difficult to find a film director in China more blatantly unapologetic about his or her commercial orientation than Feng Xiaogang.1 In the forum Crises and Hopes of Chinese Language Films held in Guangzhou in 2003, he made the following statement: “If we compare the Chinese film market to a human body, then art films are blind intestines, which we can simply do without; main melody (zhuxuanlü) films [films that propagate the orthodox socialist ideology] are tonsils , which can somewhat help us know about the climate and wind direction; but commercial films are our stomach—although we can still live with part of it cut off, our appetite will be hurt and our living standards will be degraded. I hope film directors can do their best not to be a blind intestine.”2 This statement is typical of Feng’s language—cynical, playful, and unexpectedly blunt. His poignant humor may seem to demean film as an art form. However , this is not the first time that Feng has shown his disrespect towards art and main melody films. On other occasions, Feng has declared that his films were not intended for foreign film festivals or film scholars, but for his audiences.3 The allusion to his contemporary Fifth and Sixth Generation directors, frequent attendees of foreign film festivals and popular subjects of contemporary film studies, is obvious . Feng also has an often-quoted metaphor on the generational relationships among Chinese directors: The Sacred Hall of Chinese Cinema is now very crowded—some people guard the door, another group, the windows, and even the underground tunnel is blocked by the Sixth Generation. I realized that it was impossible for me to break in, and that in any case there wouldn’t be...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780824860400
Related ISBN
9780824835316
MARC Record
OCLC
793012716
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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