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Reviewed by:
  • Âges inquiets: Cinémas chinois: Une représentation de la jeunesse
  • Luisa Prudentino (bio)
Corrado Neri. Âges inquiets: Cinémas chinois: Une représentation de la jeunesse Lyon: Tigre de papier, 2009. 533 pp. Paperback €25, ISBN 978-2-917-96901-4.

As M. Claire Quiquemelle says in her foreword, we must appreciate Corrado Neri’s achievement in being the first to dare initiate a deep research of the rich and complex field of the theme of youth in Chinese cinema.

As is the case of any valuable pioneering study, Neri’s book develops original views that open new inroads into Chinese cinematography, but also has inherent weaknesses, most of which are related to the complexity of the author’s study. This is, indeed, a transnational and historical analysis of the representation of youth in Chinese cinema, understood in the largest meaning of the word, as it includes the Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland cinemas. It must be emphasized that Neri does not study Hong Kong and Taiwan as minor cinemas, secondary to mainland cinema, and this is a particularly valuable aspect of his work. However, at the same time, his basic initial guidelines are also the main reason why he sometimes faces difficulties in confronting the three cinemas and outlining their differences.

Neri started from the concept of Bildungsfilm, which he coined for the purpose of his analysis, analogous to Bildungsroman, which generally describes the upheavals experienced by a young person through the process of his coming of age. Thus, Neri attributes to Chinese cinema the same function as the one exercised by the coming-of-age novel in the West. In his study, Neri, therefore, asserts “the possibility of using youth as an often unrecognised paradigm to evaluate the development of the cultural history of China” (p. 15), since the point of view of young people is “the most significant in order to understand and judge the historical process of a period of time” (p. 16).

The author bases his analysis on four main periods in the history of these three cinemas:

  1. 1. The 1920s and 1930s, the golden age of Chinese cinema. This period concerns idealist youngsters (“vanguard youth”) called upon to choose their camp because of the civil war. This is the period when the characters’ youth on the screen can be identified with that of the cinema of that age. Particularly interesting in this regard is the paragraph called “Youth in the interstitial spaces of modernity: Crossroads and Street Angels” (pp. 91–99).

  2. 2. From the post-war period to the end of the 1970s. This is the period when Chinese cinema benefits from a common realm of imagination in the three areas studied: “hybrid, composite and open to foreign influence” (p. 101). The term “common” is to be entended before 1949 since, afterwards, the three cinemas have been cut off from one another for some forty years. However, thanks to Neri, the representation of youth (“State Youth”) in the two totally opposed regimes — the Nationalist and the Communist — is “quite similar” (p. 103). In both cases, youth then becomes a “symbol of the new State they want to create” (p. 103). In Hong Kong, by contrast, the young escape political [End Page 102] positioning and already announce the “capitalist u-turn China will take [thirty] years later” (p. 104).

  3. 3. The 1980s. In Neri’s work, the period of “reinvented youth” coincides with the advent of a process of opening in mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. For the Chinese filmmakers of the so-called fifth generation, youth represents “an allegorical form of the awareness of a national as well as personal identity” (p. 471). In Taiwan, through its films, Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao Hsien mainly discuss problems of national identity. Finally, in Hong Kong, for the first time in the history of the three areas of Greater China, youth appears as “a consumer class per se” (p. 104).

  4. 4. The 1990s. During this period, youth appears as the symbol of “the uneasiness brought about by growth and the difficulties of the national development” (p. 49).

The diachronic study of youth in Chinese cinema, as well as its...