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Reviewed by:
  • East Asian Screen Industries
  • Zhang Zhen (bio)
East Asian Screen Industries by Darrell William Davis and Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh. British Film Institute 2008. $84.95 hardcover; $28.95 paper. 202 pages

In the past two decades, a rising Asia has played a major role in the post–cold war world order and the so-called Asia-Pacific era. East Asian countries in particular, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, have been riding the roller coaster of economic and cultural globalization in varied styles and at varying speeds. The region has emerged more interconnected than ever before, and nowhere is this interconnectedness more evident than in the expansive and pulsating realm of transregional mass culture, including cinema and television. East Asian Screen Industries offers a timely and user-friendly compass for navigating this complex and quickly evolving media landscape. Indeed, the volume's most salient contribution to the expanding field of Asian cinema studies lies in its insistent reliance on a transnational framework and institutional analysis. This combination has been rare in scholarship on the region, which has been largely informed by a national cinema model with a predominant focus on the nexus between politics and aesthetics. This is more than an update of John Lent's 1990 The Asian Film Industry; it offers a critical intervention into a transformed field within the context of globalization. [End Page 170]

Davis and Yeh provide a wealth of information and an ingeniously designed structure accommodating panoramic vistas as well as critical details, regional and global frameworks, and local and national specificity. The volume is not simply a comprehensive introduction to an array of East Asian screen industries and their apparent relations; rather, the urgency for such a project informs the volume's central concern with the phenomenon of a phoenix (the regional film industry) reborn "on the artistic and commercial ashes" of the Asian economic crisis, of Hollywood's aggressive incursions, and of dramatic sociopolitical changes (in particular, Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997 and China's meteoric rise as an economic super power).1 Tackling the question of the market head on, the authors locate the keys for success in a multilayered media landscape reshaped by decentralization, deregulation, and flexible specialization. While outlining in broad strokes the changing contours of the national film industries and their underlying structural affinities and disparities, the authors also periodically pause and delve deeper into specific sites and the profiles of individual players (studios, producers, distributors, and directors). Indeed, portraits of a number of major figures—such as Hong Kong's Jonnie To and Stephen Chow, Japan's Kitano Takeshi and Miyazaki Hayao, Taiwan's Peggy Chiao Hsiung-ping and Chen Kuo-fu, and Korea's Lee Chang-dong and Kim Ki-duk—underscore the critical importance of human agency, creativity, and sociocultural imperatives in what on the surface seems an intensely competitive business world shaped by the logic of late capitalism. All the while, these "local heroes," who come from different sectors of the industry or take on multiple roles, are firmly situated in their cultural and institutional contexts. Their creative visions combine high artistic standards with commercial acumen and a keen sense of which tastes contain both regional and global potential.

Overall, the book employs a revolving kaleidoscopic matrix structure. The six chapters are organized by a number of interlocking angles and case studies, amplifying and strengthening the book's main argument regarding flexibility and inter-connectivity. Chapter 1 showcases several globally influential benchmarks—Korean blockbusters, Chinese-language martial arts spectacles, and Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs trilogy (Mou gan dou [Andrew Wai-keung Lau and Alan Siu Fai Mak, 2002–2003])—and probes the cultural dynamic and commercial logic behind these phenomenal successes. The authors' institutional and policy analysis of the Korean Film Council and its pivotal role in fostering a commercially viable and regionally popular new Korean cinema is compelling and methodologically refreshing. Moving beyond the global ambition and cultural nationalism vis-à-vis Hollywood embodied by the East Asian benchmarks, Chapter 2 presents the alternative of a new localism that "is not local at all; it is international, yet decentralized and Asia-specific."2 Here the examples...


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pp. 170-172
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