- Shiji zhuanzhe shiqi de Zhongguo yingshi wenhua (Film and television culture in China on the eve of the new millennium)
Although much has been written about Chinese film in the last decade, there is a noticeable absence of any systematic analysis of new developments since the late 1980s. Even more regrettable is the fact that virtually no serious study has been done on the proliferation of television programs in China over the last ten years. On both accounts, Yin Hong has made a major contribution with his most recent book, Shiji zhuanzhe shiqi de Zhongguo yingshi wenhua (Film and television culture in China on the eve of the new millennium).
The book is divided into three parts, totaling twenty-one chapters, not counting an introduction, epilogue, bibliography, and filmography. While part 1 deals with film, part 2 focuses on television. The final section consists of three chapters, with two on film and one on television. Taken as a whole, the strength of the book lies in its discussion of films, although the author also offers many insights in his discussion of television programs as well. Given the limited space in this review, I will focus on the part of the book that deals with films.
One of the book's merits is that it carefully situates its subject in the context of the rapid social and economic changes that have been unfolding since the late 1980s and examines how these changes have shaped Chinese filmmaking. Yin singles out several key factors that have affected the output, quality, and political as well as aesthetic orientations of Chinese films. These factors include renewed state control over culture and ideology, increasing market pressure, interactions with the West, and the intellectual outlook of the filmmakers. Other film scholars may have touched upon one or two of these dimensions, but none has brought them together in a more systematic and comprehensive way.
In the first six chapters, the author provides an overview of developments in the Chinese film industry in the last decade and identifies five major trends, each illustrated by a number of examples. According to Yin, one change since the late 1980s is that the state has recast itself as a major player in the filmmaking business. The films that the government has promoted tend to be biographies of Party leaders or epics dealing with victories of the CCP. Underneath a façade of pseudorealism, these films reveal a thinly disguised attempt to re-legitimize the CCP's political legacy. Yet, unlike the outright propaganda of the past, these films deploy several new narrative devices. Chief among them is the tendency to code political messages in moral and ethical terms. In so doing, these films accomplish indoctrination by manipulating the emotions of the audience. [End Page 569]
Parallel to the reemergence of the propaganda film has been the rise of the "commercial flick." As economic reforms gained momentum after Deng Xiaoping's southern tour, the market compelled the pursuit of profits as the only real objective of filmmaking. In the new commercially oriented films, there is little concern for contemporary social or political issues. Their purpose is to entertain, and they are preoccupied with spectacles that are in many ways cheap imitations of Hollywood or Hong Kong box-office hits. Yin's disdain for this genre of films is easily discernible.
A third trend is the appearance of films that are funded by overseas capital and produced primarily for the Western market. The majority of the fifth generation's films, particularly those of Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, fall into this category. Yin argues that these films are deliberate attempts to cater to Western tastes by creating a "China fable" that both satisfies Westerners' need for the "exotic" and affirms their sense of superiority. Hence, despite their dazzling visual quality, these films are devoid of any substance and are completely disconnected from Chinese reality, historical or contemporary.
Yin gives the...