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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Films in Focus II
  • Stephen Teo (bio)
Chris Berry, editor. Chinese Films in Focus II. Second edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan, on behalf of British Film Institute, 2008. 287 pp. Paperback $31.95, ISBN 978-1-84457-237-3.

Chinese Films in Focus IIis an expanded edition of the volume Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes,first published in 2003 by the British Film Institute, edited by Chris Berry. The new edition, which retains Berry as editor, has commissioned new articles on thirteen more films, bringing the total number of films to thirty-four (there are some deletions of articles from the previous edition). The choice of films is not “to establish a canon” but to suggest a rich resource of Chinese films “to be dipped into,” as Berry explains in his introduction (p. 1). Nonetheless, a glance through the titles suggests an outline of a classical canon. For example, Wu Yonggang’s The Goddess(1934); Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town(1948); Zheng Junli’s Crows and Sparrows(1949); King Hu’s A Touch of Zen(1971); Chen Kaige’s The Yellow Earth(1984); Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Time to Live, A Time to Die(1985); Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu(1997); and Edward Yang’s Yi Yi(2000) are all indispensable titles in any ten-best lists of great Chinese films. That the book includes these timeless classics is a way of acknowledging their status, but these films are juxtaposed with many other films whose status is more dubious or perhaps only evolving. In truth, the new volume of Chinese Films in Focuspresents an eclectic range of films that pits a film such as the Shaw brothers’ huangmeiopera film The Love Eterne(1960) against a classic of the Maoist era, Red Detachment of Women(1960), and PTU(2003), a Hong Kong Kowloon-specific cops-and-robbers film, against Formula 17(2004), a contemporary Taipei-specific gay melodrama. The choices are far too eclectic for any critic to discern a clear canonical line of Chinese cinema emerging out of the book. The rubric of “Chinese films” and the choices therein are meant by the editor to suggest broadness and something all-encompassing, with the result that sometimes a minor film is chosen alongside a great one. (For example, Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone for Thousands of Milesis, in my opinion, a very minor film that coexists awkwardly with a great work such as Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu,or indeed with The Yellow Earth,which was photographed by Zhang.) Chinese Films in Focus IIis not just an expansion of a previous volume but a veritable expansion of the idea of Chinese films.

The first idea, then, that comes across is that Chinese films do not constitute a monolithic national cinema. Rather they are a group of diverse cinematic works of many genres and moods, different forms and contents—and different kinds of cinematic time, as Berry himself has suggested in his own article on Xiao Wu,which compels “the corresponding need to understand time as differential or multiple and disaggregated rather than homogeneous” (p. 251). Berry’s point of departure for conceiving the volume is that the source of Chinese films is not a single stream but a system of manifold streams. The new volume covers Chinese [End Page 312]films produced in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore and, as such, gives the reader a more far-reaching notion of Chinese cinema than a volume that concentrates on just one territory or production center of Chinese films. Indeed, it tells us that there is no single Chinese-language cinema but at least four cinemas. This fact imposes a certain imperative on defining the films and isolating the details and characteristics of what makes them Chinese in the broadest possible manner. Hence, the volume’s concept of focusing on single films is an important methodological structure, allowing the reader to examine closely the narratives and themes of some favorite Chinese films from the points of view of individual film scholars selected to write the articles. Many of the scholars are distinguished, indeed, including Yingjin Zhang, Kam Louie...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 312-317
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-15
Open Access
No
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