- Hitchcock with a Chinese Face: Cinematic Doubles, Oedipal Triangles, and China’s Moral Voice
The field of Chinese film studies has come a long way. English-language scholarship in the field has taken on a number of issues in a wide and healthy variety of forms, including encyclopedia entries, critical introductions, introductory surveys, and critical engagement with cinemas in the Chinese-speaking world (China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). However, despite rapid developments and a boom in both Chinese- and English-language studies of Chinese cinema in the past decade, a majority of scholarly inquiries focus on the relationships among nation building, nationalism, and national identity, as well as the perceived uniqueness of Chinese films (such as ethnographic cinema and cinematic realism with Chinese twists). Given the great number of Chinese-language films that focus on identity issues, it is understandable that scholarly debates were configured this way.
In this context, the fresh takes on three Chinese films in Jerome Silbergeld’s Hitchcock with a Chinese Face expand the horizon of inquiry. While the book joins such important works as Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes (ed. Chris Berry, 2003), Yingjin Zhang’s Screening China: Critical Interventions, Cinematic Reconfigurations, and the Transnational Imaginary in Contemporary Chinese Cinema (2002), and Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender (ed. Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu, 1997), it distinguishes itself from most publications through its unique format (single-film analyses in East-West comparative scopes) and features (comparative illustrations and the accompanying DVD). Silbergeld’s groundbreaking book makes an important contribution to this bourgeoning field through its scope (focusing on three post-1990 films, one from each of the highly contested locales within the triangulation of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), methodology (tracing the trajectories of imagery in both Chinese and Western visual cultures), and format (an elegant combination of textbook style and scholarly work).
While Western sourcing in modern and contemporary Chinese literature has become a worn topic, fresh angles on Chinese-Western cinematic exchanges have yet to be developed. Hitchcock with a Chinese Face boldly and convincingly argues that Western sourcing in post-1990 Chinese-language films is far more complex and intricate than simplistic, secondary imitation of Western styles, as some critics have believed. Silbergeld addresses a paradox in one’s viewing experiences of the three films in terms of their styles (appropriating film noir and others) and themes (deception and betrayal). As “markers of urban cultures,” Suzhou River (dir. Lou Ye, 2000; PRC), The Day the Sun Turned Cold (dir. Yim Ho, 1994; Hong Kong), [End Page 226] and Good Men, Good Women (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1995; Taiwan) “do not strike [a Western audience . . .] as the obvious product of an ‘other’ culture any more than do the films of Jean-Luc Godard or Ingmar Bergman” (p. 3). As such, these Chinese-language films are “comfortably familiar” to an Anglo-European audience. They are made in the “global here-and-now” even as “they [ . . .] depict the there-and-then” (p. 3). These paradoxes are some of the central concerns of the book.
In addition to a clear and user-friendly structure (one film per chapter), readers unfamiliar with these films will also benefit from plot summaries at the beginning of each chapter. The book sheds new light on the metaphoric images in these films by focusing on the ways in which Lou, Yim, and Hou utilize and reinvent Hitchcock, Dostoevsky, Freud, Faulkner, and film noir. Throughout the book, narrativity and imagery are not seen as “oppositional” or even “alternatives,” but as “one and the same thing” (p. 8). At stake are not just parallels and borrowings across film cultures, but what Silbergeld calls interactive “dialogues” (p. 25). To demonstrate this, Silbergeld combines his discussion with useful comparative illustrations (for example, similar scenes in Vertigo and Suzhou River placed side by side). His analysis is also enhanced by a great number of actual frames from the films rather than the publicity...