Animation, the Obsolescence of the Image, and the Disappearance of HK architecture

Source: Association for Chinese Animation Studies (5/23/23)
Animation, the Obsolescence of the Image, and the Disappearance of Hong Kong Architecture
By Yomi Braester

In this essay I hope to provoke scholars of animation into considering the role of time, both cinematic time and historical time. Like other genres of the moving image, animation often has at its core the disappearance of the image — an anticipated, even planned obsolescence. I examine here works exhibited as lightshows on the Hong Kong’s International Commerce Centre (ICC) façade between 2014–2016; these animations point explicitly toward the moment when the medium degrades and even vanishes.

Film relies on the ephemerality of perception, as images succeed each other, 24 times per second or even faster. The transition from one frame to the next is what allows for animation — designing one frame at a time, and animating the image by showing the frames in sequence. In this sense, animation is bound to the scale of the frame. However, we may also think at other magnitudes. At the size of an entire work, what matters is the speed with which the film hurtles toward its inevitable end — and possibly toward an afterlife in remediated and redistributed forms. In blown-up displays, in which the single pixel is visible to the viewer, the image expires also at the resolution of the pixel, many times within each frame. More than we have acknowledged, animation works pay attention to the possibilities opened up by calibrating these proportions up and down. Continue reading

Games, Gaming, and Interactive Aesthetics–cfp

CFP: Games, Gaming, and Interactive Aesthetics in Contemporary Chinese and Sinophone Cinema
A special issue of Journal of Chinese Film Studies (JCFS)
Guest editors: Li Guo, Hongmei Sun, Douglas Eyman

[Link to full CFP]

This special issue invites submissions of research essays on games, gaming, and interactive aesthetics in contemporary Chinese and Sinophone cinema and media. From Hong Kong’s first videogame adaptation in Future Cops (1993) to the recent film based on the mobile game Onmyoji The Yinyang Master (2021), from the videogame-adapted animation Dragon Nest: Warriors’ Dawn (2014) to director Cheng Er’s gamified narration in Hidden Blade (2023), contemporary Chinese and Sinophone cinematic productions provide diversified and remarkable works that call for an in-depth exploration of the subject of games and gameplay in film. Engaging Chinese and Sinophone film studies in dialogue with scholarships in game studies and media theory, this special issue inspects how games and gaming can transform or even reshape cinema through new experiences of interactive aesthetics through AI-generated algorithms, multiverse narratives, psychological mazes, game montages, and gamified gazes and points of view. Building on existent scholarship on game culture, media theory, and interactive cinema, we seek essays that examine the mutual adaptations of games and cinematic productions. Drawing from Lev Manovich’s media theory, we consider the effect of computerized gaming and computer-assisted gaming on traditional filmmaking, filmmakers’ diversified approaches to the introduction of computerized gaming to cinematic production, and the impact of new media and its own conventions on film industry and the process of filmmaking. As Manovich observes, it is difficult to “draw a strict line between interactive movies and many other games that may not use traditional film sequences yet follow many other conventions of film language in their structure” (Manovich 2002, 288). By exploring interactive movies and games structured around film-like sequences and simulating real-person interactions, we ask how cinematic apparatus contributes to the players’ experiences and is reconfigured through interactive video game play. Continue reading

Chinese Independent Cinema Observer no. 5

We’re delighted to announce a new issue of the Chinese Independent Cinema Observer is now online. Issue 5 is titled “The Chinese Independent Documentary Movement Revisited.” It includes interviews with some twenty significant Chinese independent documentary filmmakers, aiming to explore their creative journeys and the development of their aesthetic ideas, as well as presenting some new perspectives on their work, and new historical material. The Chinese version of this issue was originally published in Jintian (Today), as issue 3, no. 131, 2021, with Wang Xiaolu, one of the editors of our journal, as the guest editor. Today, founded in December 1978, is China’s first grassroots periodical, with the poet Bei Dao as editor-in-chief. Chinese Independent Cinema Observer has translated the Today issue into English and published it as a special issue.

The issue can be accessed on the CIFA website.

Luke Robinson

Appeasement at the Cineplex

Source: NY Review of Books (4/6/23)
Appeasement at the Cineplex
By Orville Schell (Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate)

Performers at a promotional event for Iron Man 3 before its Chinese release, the Forbidden City, Beijing, April 2013.

Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy
by Erich Schwartzel (Penguin Press, 380 pp.)
Hollywood in China: Behind the Scenes of the World’s Largest Movie Market
by Ying Zhu (New Press, 370 pp.)

Although Beijing and Hollywood inhabit political and cultural universes that have little in common, they are similar in one important respect: both have expended vast amounts of energy, time, and capital confecting imaginary universes. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long proselytized for sundry versions of its Maoist/Marxist/Leninist revolution through state-sponsored propaganda campaigns that have even airbrushed large chunks of its unsavory past from the historical record. Hollywood has engaged in its own escapist mythmaking by producing films filled with fantasy and backing them with promotional campaigns irrigated by galaxies of movie stars and inexhaustible reserves of PR and advertising. Both have wantonly employed wishful thinking, mendacity, and deception to create alternate realities that have managed to distract their respective mass audiences from the actual circumstances in which they have been living.

Despite the fact that these engines of fiction are otherwise so dissimilar, when China began “reforming and opening up” in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping, the CCP started sniffing around Hollywood, because its cultural overlords wanted to see if they could get some of Hollywood’s seductive storytelling magic to rub off on their turgid propaganda efforts to “tell China’s story well,” as the country’s current leader, Xi Jinping, later put it. For example, realizing that the word “propaganda” sounded indelibly malign to Western ears, the Propaganda Department changed its name (but only in English) to the “Publicity Department.” At the same time, encouraged by Washington’s policy of “engagement,” which sought to transform the Sino-U.S. relationship through the alchemy of increased interaction, Hollywood executives began to be enticed by the potential of China’s immense and still-unexploited film audience. Continue reading

Pema Tseden dies at 53

Source: Variety (5/8/23)
Pema Tseden, Tibet New Wave Film Director, Dies at 53
By Patrick Frater

Getty Images.

Pema Tseden, the Tibetan art house film director known for “Jinpa” and “Balloon,” has died. He was 53.

It is understood that he was in Tibet when he died suddenly of an unspecified illness. Some unconfirmed Chinese-language media said that he had a heart attack.

The news was reported by the China Academy of Art, where he taught as a professor.

“Pema Tseden, a famous Tibetan director, screenwriter and professor at the Film School of the China Academy of Art, died in Tibet in the early hours of May 8 due to an acute illness. Due to the sudden incident, the school will work with Mr Tseden’s family to deal with the follow up matters. The relevant information will be announced in due course,” the Academy said in a statement. Continue reading

Anti-May Fourth Films of Republican China

MAY 3 ONLINE EVENT: “Anti-May Fourth Films of Republican China”
Public online lecture by Christopher Rea
Hosted by the Australian Centre for China in the World

EVENT INFO: https://ciw.anu.edu.au/events/anti-may-fourth-films-republican-china

REGISTRATION: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/anti-may-fourth-films-of-republican-china-tickets-628191877817

EVENT DESCRIPTION

Nora should not step out and find her own way. She should stay at home, dress modestly, and be a good wife. Chinese silent films of the 1920s and early 1930s often convey ideological messages strikingly at odds with May Fourth ideals such as equality of the sexes and liberation of the individual. While some films express sympathy for progressive causes and outrage at present inequalities, others are overtly misogynistic and reactionary. This talk will focus on Chinese-made films that May Fourth figures would consider to be on the wrong side of history, and show how they harness the power of the film medium—charismatic stars, special effects, popular Hollywood tropes—to take us back to the good old days. On this May Fourth anniversary, bring your sense of righteousness and film studies sensibilities to a tour through moral dramas such as The Pearl Necklace 一串珍珠 (1926), Don’t Change Your Husband 情海重吻 (1929), Poor Daddy 怕老婆 (1929), Love and Duty 戀愛與義務 (1931), and The Peach Girl 桃花泣血記 (1931). #NoraStayHome

Christopher Rea

ACAS Lecture Series

Association for Chinese Animation Studies (ACAS)
Distinguished Lecture Series

CGI and “National Style”: Zhang Yimou’s Shadow
Online lecture by Professor Jason McGrath, 9-10am, May 15 (Monday, Hong Kong Time), Zoom

Abstract:

In the history of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in China, as in the much longer history of animation more generally, we find competing and yet intertwined trends toward, on one hand, absorbing technological advances made abroad and “catching up” with the state of the art as determined by others and, on the other, seeking to use those technologies in the service of a distinctively Chinese aesthetic, or even to use the possibilities of animation—particularly its liberation from the limitations of photographic realism—to give new expressions to figures and narratives from Chinese tradition. This paper examines Zhang Yimou’s 2018 martial arts film Shadow (影) as a recent example of how a Chinese aesthetic tradition—in this case ink landscape painting—forms the intermedial inspiration for the film’s visual imagination. However, rather than straightforwardly serving as a soft-power assertion of China’s national strength, Shadow employs the symbolism of the “Supreme Ultimate” from Daoist philosophy to subtly challenge hegemonic military, political, and patriarchal structures of power.

Animation, Collage, and the Afterlife of Images: Found Footage in/as Animation
Online lecture by Professor Yomi Braester, 9:30-10:30am, May 10 (Wed, Hong Kong Time), Zoom

Abstract:

In this essay I explore the porous boundaries between animation, found footage, and collage, and argue that these seemingly separate genres of the moving image coalesce, under certain circumstances, to form a cohesive discourse on the afterlife of images. In their more self-reflective moments, these genres show how they rely on an assemblage of individual frames, displacing images, so to speak elongating their shadows in time. The post-mortem reassembly of disjointed images may serve as a commentary on the need for medial and historical readjustment and relocation. I look at works as disparate as Recycled (Lei Lei, 2012) The Day of Perpetual Night (Yang Yongliang, 2012), Self-Surveillance (Ai Weiwei, 2012), Same Old, Brand New (Cao Fei, 2015), and Dragonfly Eyes (Xu Bing, 2017).

All Static and Noise

A new documentary film, All Static and Noise, on the ongoing atrocities against the Uyghur and Kazakh peoples in China, has just been released. Trailer on Youtube

Screenings can be booked via:

https://www.allstaticandnoise.com/

Story:

When Uyghurs and Kazakhs are arbitrarily detained in Chinese “re-education” camps, survivors and their families risk everything to expose the truth.

Jewher, a Uyghur teen from China with little English, lands in the U.S. after she is violently separated from her father, Ilham Tohti, at the Beijing airport as he is detained. Abduweli, a linguist and poet, imprisoned and tortured for teaching Uyghur language to 6-year-olds, makes his way to Istanbul upon his release. Testimony and action from survivors of China’s network of “re-education camps” (and their families, in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Europe and the United States, infuse All Static & Noise with an urgency that exposes the mass brutality of state-sponsored oppression in Western China. Together these voices highlight the moral dilemma between risking the safety of families back home by speaking out and the necessity of exposing atrocities in the hope that global awareness can bring change. With each voice we are brought closer to one of the most egregious human rights disaster of our moment.  This documentary combines intimate character-driven stories with brave testimony and honors those willing to speak out.  It poses difficult questions that are imperatives in our inter-connected global economy of the 21st century. Continue reading

Eat Bitter

Source: The China Project (4/21/23)
‘Eat Bitter’ personalizes China’s relationship with the Central African Republic
Co-directors Sun Ningyi and Pascale Appora-Gnekindy offer a depoliticized, if at times dismissive, look into the lives of a Chinese construction manager and a Central African laborer.
By Amarsanaa Battulga

Still from Eat Bitter

Eat Bitter, a co-production between China and the Central African Republic, is the latest documentary to shed light on China-Africa relations. The film had its world premiere last month at the prestigious Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, better known as CPH:DOX, just one day after news broke out that nine Chinese nationals were killed during an attack on a gold mine in the Central African Republic.

However, Eat Bitter largely avoids depicting such conflicts. Instead, Sūn Níngyì 孙宁忆 and Pascale Appora-Gnekindy choose to highlight personal stories and relationships between the Chinese and Central African residents in the capital city of Bangui in their first full-length film.

“I didn’t want to discuss China’s influence in Africa, or [make] a film that focuses solely on economy or politics,” Sun, who initiated the project, explained in an interview. The resulting observational documentary focuses almost exclusively on two men who represent different sides of the China-Africa relationship but also share the same basic pursuits in life: family, wealth, and happiness.

Eat Bitter — a literal translation of the Chinese phrase 吃苦 chīkǔ, or “endure hardships” — starts with a series of strikingly beautiful shots of the Ubangui River at dawn as two locals row a canoe. One of them stands up, prays aloud, and jumps into the water. Moments later, he emerges back on the surface while his partner pulls up from the bottom of the river a bucket that he’s filled with sand, and empties it on the canoe. Continue reading

Arts special issue–cfp

Call for Papers for Special Issue of Arts
Chinese-Language and Hollywood Cinemas

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue features a comparative study of Chinese-language films and Hollywood cinema. Hollywood cinema has represented the idea of an effective formula in making blockbusters since the 1930s, a powerful industrial system that inspires and challenges filmmakers around the world. The popular formula has been practiced, both successfully and not, in Chinese-language film studios in the Republic of China, the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, or through transnational collaborations. The formula has also been resisted or revised by filmmakers who questioned Hollywood’s global domination and turned to explore alternative styles of visual representation and storytelling. This Special Issue invites scholars to submit papers that explore the relationships between Chinese-language cinema and Hollywood cinema. Suggested topics include but are not limited to the following list:

  • A study of the Hollywood-inspired Chinese-language film industries, such as the popular genres, studio system, stardom, or franchise in transnational Chinese film histories.
  • Chinese-language cinema’s resistance, revisions, or alternatives to the Hollywood formula in a specific period such as the left-wing cinema in the 1930s or the individual film projects of the digital age.
  • A comparative study of Chinese-language cinema and Hollywood cinema in terms of narrative, style, or their sociopolitical implications in global film networks.
  • A study of the mutual influences between Chinese-language and Hollywood cinema. A potential focus may be Chinese-language remakes of Hollywood films or the other way around.
  • A study of transnational collaborations between Hollywood and Chinese-speaking film industries.
  • An examination of the global expansion of Hollywood media conglomerates to Chinese-speaking markets and how such expansion culturally, politically, and/or economically impacts both the local environment and the transnational network.
  • A study of the reception of Hollywood blockbusters in Chinese-speaking societies, or a study of Hollywood-accustomed audiences’ reception of Chinese-language films.

Continue reading

Indigenous Taiwan, Transpacific Connections talks

Indigenous Taiwan, Transpacific Connections
台灣原住民文化: 跨越太平洋的聯結

Bilingual videos of eight talks with four Taiwan writers and filmmakers about Indigeneity, art, and life in contemporary Taiwan:

Writer Badai 巴代

“Indigenous literary practices in postcolonial Taiwan” (43 mins): https://youtu.be/df48hcX2xCw

“Indigenous culture in modern society” (41 mins): https://youtu.be/z89TuiduB7o

Filmmaker Wei Te-sheng 魏德聖

“The making of the first blockbuster film about Taiwan’s Indigenous history” (43 mins): https://youtu.be/2lfaTFpm5tE

“Representing Taiwan tribes in ‘Warriors of the Rainbow'” (37 mins): https://youtu.be/-wEsvAS0EV4

Writer Ahronglong Sakinu 亞榮隆撒可奴

“Reviving Taiwan Indigenous practices for a new generation” (58 mins): https://youtu.be/vfMpMUpFEqI

“Mountain boars and flying squirrels in ‘Hunter School'” (44 mins): https://youtu.be/ISDPzkXTPrI
Continue reading

Return to Dust

Source: China Currents 22, no. 1 (2023)
Film Review: “China’s Last Peasant in Return to Dust (2022)”
By Jin Liu

Return To Dust Review

Stiil from Return to Dust.

Return to Dust (2022) is director and screenwriter Li Ruijun’s (born in 1983) sixth feature film. Similar to Li’s earlier films, including The Old Donkey (2010), Fly with the Crane (2012), and River Road (2015), this film is set in his hometown, a remote and sandy village in Gaotai county, located in Gansu Province in Northwestern China. Most of Li’s films are concerned with the marginalization and demise of the traditional agricultural lifestyle in the face of China’s rapid urbanization and modernization. Consistent with earlier generations of Chinese independent filmmakers such as Jia Zhangke, Li employs a documentary and vérité filmmaking style, featuring long takes, non-professional actors (most of them are Li’s relatives), and the use of the local Gansu rural dialect. In Return to Dust, Li further blends reality and fiction by casting a well-known actress, Hai Qing, as the disabled and incontinent female protagonist Cao Guiying, and a non-professional actor, Wu Renlin (Li’s uncle-in-law) as the male protagonist, Ma Youtie, an impoverished and exploited peasant. The plot revolves around how these two middle-aged social outcasts gradually develop love in their arranged marriage and find happiness in the everyday hardship of farming and home-building. In many senses, this is a typical arthouse film, which usually targets a small niche domestic audience in big urban cities and an international audience in film festivals. But this low-budget film, with a cost of about 2 million RMB1, became the greatest box office sensation in the summer of 2022 in China. It grossed over 100 million RMB during its 67 days of showing in theatres (July 8-September 12) before it was suddenly and mysteriously taken down from all the country’s theatres and streaming sites.2

The film can be read as an elegy for the vanishing rural world in contemporary China. With the mass exodus of local young peasants migrating to urban industrial cities like Shenzhen and Dongguan — which Ma Youwen and Ma Chengwan briefly represent in the film — there are many discarded vacant houses for the homeless Ma Youtie and his newlywed wife to dwell in temporarily. Continue reading

Horror film runs into trouble in HK

Source: NPR (3/23/23)
Why a horror film starring Winnie the Pooh has run into trouble in Hong Kong
By

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey was initially approved by Chinese officials to screen at more than 30 cinemas in Hong Kong and Macau on Thursday. But days ahead of the screening, the film’s distribution company was told it was no longer allowed to show the slasher film starring a murderous Winnie the Pooh. Chen Cici/AP

A gory, microbudget slasher film — in which the beloved children’s book character Winnie the Pooh is a murderous psychopath — has been pulled suddenly from theaters in Hong Kong and Macau.

While the plot may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is concern that the decision to spike the British movie has less to do with the film’s goriness and more to do with Beijing’s suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong and specifically, the government’s efforts to block an unlikely symbol of protest: the crop-top-wearing, pant-less bear.

“Winnie the Pooh has become a symbol for dissidents in China,” says Rongbin Han, an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia. “So now the character alludes to Xi Jinping himself and the president doesn’t like this.”

Pulled with no explanation from Hong Kong and Macau

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honeywritten and directed by British filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield, has become something of an internet sensation, exceeding all expectations with releases across Latin America and Asia. It was scheduled to start screening at more than 30 cinemas in Hong Kong and Macau on Thursday, but the distributor said all showings have been called off. Continue reading

Stonewalling at Williams

Last October I read Maja Korbecka’s piece on Stonewalling and independent film in China. I was very much intrigued by Huang Ji and Ruyji Otsuka’s cinematic expressions, film-making process, and production mode. The film is now showing again on the east coast and here is a NYtimes review ‘Stonewalling’ Review: A Young Woman’s Exchange Value.

We had the two directors on campus on 3/13-3/14 as the speakers for the First Transnational Asian Film Festival (TAFF) at Williams College, right before a severe storm hit our small town in northwest Massachusets. The public screening of Stonewalling and its afterward Q/A at Images Cinema invoked interdisciplinary interest on campus. Huang and Otuska’s three films in the past decade (Egg and Stone in 2012, The Foolish Bird in 2017, and Stonewalling in 2022), as well as their production method, offer great materials and ideas for both research and teaching!!

I’ve extended an invitation to the two directors, Huang Ji and Ruyi Otsuka, to come back to the US for a workshop and symposium between April and May 2024. Any colleagues who would be interested in inviting them as guest speakers for your campus, please contact me  mh11@williams.edu. We could jointly share their work with our students!

Don’t Change Your Husband

The Chinese Film Classics Project is delighted to announce the publication of Lorraine Shen’s translation of the film “Don’t Change Your Husband” 情海重吻 (Xie Yunqing 謝雲卿, dir., 1929):

https://chinesefilmclassics.org/dont-change-your-husband-1929/

ABOUT THE FILM

Qinghai chongwen 情海重吻
Alternative English title: Kissed Again in a Sea of Love
Directed by Y.C. Zai (Xie Yunqing 謝雲卿)
Cinematography: S.M. Chow (Zhou Shimu 周詩穆) and P.H. Yuen (Yan Bingheng 嚴秉衡)
Set design: S.K. Fu (Hu Xuguang 胡旭光)
Starring: Lyton Wang (Wang Naidong 王乃東), T.S. Tong (Tang Tianxiu 湯天繡)
Studio: Great China Lilium (Da Zhonghua baihe yingpian gongsi 大中華百合影片公司)
Date of release: January 20, 1929
Running time: 61 minutes
Silent, with bilingual Chinese-English title cards
English subtitles translated by Lorraine Shen
Subtitles created by Liu Yuqing

This conservative tale, in which a patriarch and his son-in-law forgive errant and meddling women, wins the Oscar for most male onscreen weeping. Female infidelity, male suffering, and marital reconciliation are dominant themes (with a little light farce thrown in), as in other moral dramas such as Love and Duty 戀愛與義務 (1931) and A Dream in Pink 粉紅色的夢 (1932). Lyton Wang 王乃東, who plays the victimized husband, went on to fame as the rake “Dr. Wang,” the nemesis of Ruan Lingyu’s character in New Women 新女性 (1935). Kissed Again in a Sea of Love, as its Chinese title might be translated, borrows its English title from Cecil B. DeMille’s Don’t Change Your Husband (1919), starring Gloria Swanson. Like many Chinese silent films, it features bilingual Chinese-English title cards. Continue reading