- Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China
Yingjin Zhang, who has previously written seven books on Chinese film studies, views what he terms as the “messy state of contemporary Chinese cinema” (26) through several theoretical frameworks, namely that of place, space, “translocality,” or the coexistence of different locales in the same urban area, and polylocality, or the tension among these translocalities. His frameworks seem to come in threes: three concepts of space (1), three theoretical frameworks of space and cinema (2), three conceptualizations of globalization (5), three areas of translocality (9), not to mention three “significant shifts in Chinese cinema” and three “avant-garde “ movements in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in the 1980s (21). At times his analysis is choppy and repetitive, perhaps reflecting his dense references and quotes in the opening chapters. His most valuable contribution is to move criticism beyond films by the so-called Fifth Generation of directors, who came of age in 1982 as the first graduates from film academy since the end of the Cultural Revolution, to more contemporary films and documentaries, many of which were produced independently of state production facilities and/or with capital from outside China.
With China’s rapid rise on the global stage over the past thirty years, it is inevitable that globalization and the dislocation of millions of people from the hinterland to the coastal cities in search of factory jobs has affected its film industry. In fact, the salient difference between the so-called Sixth Generation of Chinese directors, dating from the early 1990s, and the Fifth Generation of directors, is the former’s focus on what Doreen Massey terms [End Page 24] as “stories-so-far”(1), characterized by Zhang as “drifting” protagonists cut off from a rooted past:
More than ‘mapping’—an attempt to formulate a rigidly coordinated mental map of the cityscape, Chinese cinema of the new century seems to have discovered in drifting an aesthetically gratifying, cognitively challenging, and psychologically complicating mode of urban imagination. Drifting captures a raw documentary effect, projects fantastic kaleidoscopic images, and enables perpetually changing psychological and emotional flows.(78)
To illustrate “drifting as a new mode of cinematic remapping” (78) Zhang uses four films from the first decade of the new millennium, each with a different mode of transportation as central focus: the bicycle in Beijing Bicycle (2001), the motorcycle in Big Shot’s Funeral (2001), the taxi in I Love Beijing (2001), and the airplane in The World (2004). It is in his analysis of the films that Zhang is at his best. It might be noted that a Fifth Generation film, The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), foreshadows much of these Sixth Generation films in focusing on a mode of transportation, in this instance the ox cart, as well as what he terms “direct cinema” or cinema verité (123) using actual scenes in the street filmed by hidden camera. In addition to the above-mentioned films, Zhang discusses a number of independent films on topics ranging from bad boy, counter-culture music groups (Dirt, 1994), and artists (The Days, 1994), to documentaries on gay culture, and homeless children, and displaced villagers and ethnic villages in Southwest China, subjects not exactly welcomed by the authorities. Politically sensitive topics lead Zhang to a discussion of audience and reception, both at home and abroad.
The text is enhanced by 34 illustrations variously drawn from scenes in films, their DVD covers, or film festivals where the films were first shown along with several tables and charts. It includes thirty pages of extensive notes, ten pages of useful bibliography using both Chinese and English sources, a valuable listing of filmography and videography from 1905–2008 of films mentioned in the text along with original Chinese titles in both pinyin and Chinese characters and year of production, and a short index round out the text. I have found only minor errors: a misspelling [“acquirinig”] (26), a mistranslation of laobaixing (122): “the old hundred names,” a term which refers to the common people, as the...