JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Rush Hour: Jackie Chan’s transnational repertory moves beyond multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism to explore a cosmopolitical identity.

The Matrix is an allegory of Hollywood’s version of transnational capitalism. Hollywood’s cinematic fantasy creates the agility of the major hero Neo who exists flexibly in two worlds.

The presence of an internationally well-known Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung in Oliver Assayas’s French movie Irma Vep (1996) represents the increasing visibility of the Asian continent and Asian films, and the film demystifies the French female vampire muse by interrogating such a cinematic construction.

In Hulk, Ang Lee explores Hulk's primitiveness as an allegory of transnational capitalism in a political critique that extends beyond the confines of Hulk’s cartoon frames and the generic conventions of Hollywood action-fantasy.

John Woo's Face Off: Beginning in the 1990s, Hollywood saw the influx of Hong Kong-based film artists, such as John Woo, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, among others.

An essay on East Palace, West Palace looks at China’s emergent gay and lesbian culture by reviewing the connection between Zhang Yuan’s interest in social marginality with his position as an independent filmmaker.

Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx: Asian martial arts also offer challenges to the Western understanding and cultural ideas of gender, and the static dichotomy of self and Other

12 Storeys: Eric Khoo’s art-house films undermine the official discourse of economic achievements and good governance that is embedded in the ideals of self-sacrifice, family, consensus, and harmony of the national ideology.

Mee Pok Man: The Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo deals with the important social issues such as poverty, prostitutions, suicide, child abuse, incest and alternative life-styles among dysfunctional individuals, families and communities that show the underbelly of the capitalist and affluent Singapore.

Tsai Ming-Liang explores the absurdities and paradoxes of modernity, and reveals hollowness in Taiwanese experience, especially within the larger discourse of Taiwanese nationalism.

Hero strives to fashion a historical leader Emperor Qin as a unifying narrative of China as an ideal capitalist state.

 

 

Transnational China and Hollywood-ized Chineseness: interventions and discontents

Review of Gina Marchetti, Tan See Kam, and Peter X Feng’s edited volume Chinese Connections: Critical Perspective on Film, Identity, and Diaspora (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009); and Kenneth Chan’s Remade in Hollywood: The Global Chinese Presence in Transnational Chinese Cinemas (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009).

by Kin-Yan Szeto

In this age of transnationalism, the flow of capital, people, and ideas shapes the ways we perceive cultural identity—beyond national or ethnic contours. Film participates in such a global circuit of capital flow, talent and culture. Its popularity alone provides critics with important justifications for attending to its representations of society, popular culture, and processes of cultural production and consumption. More important, the transnational nature of film production and circulation problematizes using ancestry and nationality as a prior rationale and logic to define identity. The increasing global presence of Chinese-language cinema and the international influence of its producers, directors, and actors have caused scholars and critics to raise important questions about this cinema’s sociocultural consequences. Considering Chinese and Chinese diaspora film, two recent scholarly volumes tackle issues of spectatorship, representation, and identity from a transnational perspective: Gina Marchetti, Tan See Kam and Peter Feng’s edited volume, Chinese Connections: Critical Perspective on Film, Identity, and Diaspora, and Kenneth Chan’s Remade in Hollywood: The Global Chinese Presence in Transnational Chinese Cinemas. Both Chinese Connections and Remade in Hollywood reveal how today’s cinema calls for a reconsideration of issues such as cultural identity and demands new critical models regarding spectatorship, production, consumption, nationalism, and hybridity in the process of border-crossing. In addressing the global circulation of films, both books deal with the overlapping contact zones between Chinese diasporic cinema and other cinemas (such as Hollywood, etc). Each book suggests a different paradigm for theorizing the multidirectional flows of capital, people, film traditions, and politics in the overlapping zones.

Marchetti et al., editors of Chinese Connections: Critical Perspective on Film, Identity, and Diaspora, note that the concept of “transnational China” presents a particular challenge to film studies because it throws issues of spectatorship, representation, national cinema, and genre as well as gender into a state of crisis.[1] [open endnotes in new window] “Transnational China” is also the book’s guiding concept. The anthology deals with the multidirectional trajectories of filmmaking networks and cultural production, particularly focusing on the work produced by major filmmakers and film artists who shuttle between Hollywood, European, Asian American, and Chinese cinemas. In fact, “transnational China,” as suggested by Marchetti et al., is a concept that expands upon Tu Wei-ming’s notion of “Cultural China” (1-34). In this case, Marchetti et al. use this concept within the larger framework of a transnational public sphere, a framework that attempts to contest China-centrism in its analytical paradigm. Alternatively, Kenneth Chan’s Remade in Hollywood: The Global Chinese Presence in Transnational Chinese Cinemas suggests that the arrival of Chinese cinemas in Hollywood is an “Asian invasion” into U.S. multiplexes. He examines how Chinese cinemas deal with “Hollywood’s multiculturalist approach to cultural appropriation and syncretism” (1). In general, Chan indicates that such an uneven power relation in the Chinese-Hollywood relation is revealed in two major ways: the Hollywood representation of Chinese as the ethnic Other and the Chinese film artists’ self-representation as “autoethnography” (11). Both of these aspects reflect how mainstream U.S. consumers continue to consume “Hollywood-ized Chineseness as Chineseness, with its Orientalist and stereotypical elements, reconfigured and transformed for contemporary audience consumption, remaining more or less intact” throughout Hollywood’s history (176). Under these uneven situations, Kenneth Chan notes that these Chinese directors or film artists making films in Hollywood are further limited by Hollywood’s ideological and cultural biases about the Chinese Other.

Chinese Connections in transnational China:
global connections

The book’s first section, “Global Connections,” consists of eight articles that examine the interactions among U.S., European, and Chinese cultures as they are represented in films. It explores the flow of Hong Kong film talent to Hollywood through examples such as The Matrix (1999), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), and Rush Hour (1998). This section deals with the intersections of Hong Kong action films and African American hip-hop, the use of music in Taiwan’s New Wave cinema, an account of the Chinese reception of Hollywood films, and a study of Hong Kong cinema in the context of a globalization. Overall, the transnational interactions demonstrated in various case studies in this section offer different ways of thinking and contesting the East/West dichotomy.

Peter X Feng highlights through the example of Matrix (1999) that Hollywood’s cinematic fantasy, film diegesis and narrative continue to be defined as by the local instead of the global, despite the fact that our contemporary economic reality depends on the flow of transnational capital, which has already restructured local and global economies. Alternatively, Grace An examines Irma Vep (1996), a remake of Les Vampires (directed by Louis Feuillade, 1915), and the way that Oliver Assayas’s French remake utilizes the presence of an internationally well-known Hong Kong star, Maggie Cheung. An finds in the film “Parisan” and “Asian” geocultural encounters of cinemas. She problematizes the East/West dichotomy as she interrogates issues such as Orientalism and misunderstandings about the East, and reflects on the state of French cinema in globalized political economy of film culture (34). In another essay, Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park examines the reception of Hong Kong cinema in France and discusses how Hong Kong cinema, particularly action film, should not be considered simply as ethnic cinema but instead as part of a transnational film phenomenon.

In a different vein, Frances Gatward suggests that a “culturally hybrid approach” can subvert “categorical oppositions” (66). In particular, she investigates close links between hip-hop and Hong Kong martial arts films, and how these cultural phenomena address experiences such as marginalization, cultural imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, and political subordination. In contrast, Gayle Wald points out important transitions in the U.S. multiculturalist imagination of race, masculinity, and citizenship in Hollywood films such as Lethal Weapon 4 and Rush Hour. She concludes that the multicultural representations of minorities such as African-Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans in these Hollywood films, however, only re-inscribe the dominant racial discourse, which does not pose any threats to the U.S. nationalist narratives. Wald’s investigation ties in with what Feng suggested earlier about The Matrix: it may be interpreted as “an allegory of transnational capitalism” that reveals how Hollywood’s cinematic fantasy continues to be characterized by the local instead of a more global discourse (16-17).

By revealing that the neocolonial interface between local and foreign cultures is more complex than an East/West dichotomy can explain, Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh examines transnational connections in Taiwan’s New Wave cinema. Yeh states that the music in Edward Yang’s films, particularly in A Brighter Summer Day, demonstrates Taiwan’s neocolonial appropriation of U.S. popular music and illustrates a kind of freedom and pleasure that allows the restless youth of the 1960s to enact their independence and individuality. Such an essay traces an historical moment of allegiance to Western culture in Taiwan. In another perspective on Taiwan, Gina Marchetti explores Ang Lee’s Hollywood film Hulk within the discourses of the history of Taiwan, the politics of U.S. minorities, Orientalism and the “threats to [U.S.] national security” as a result of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (96). By examining Lee’s work “not only geopolitically, but ideologically, culturally, and aesthetically,” Marchetti provokes an analytical framework that takes into consideration Lee’s film transnational trajectory and also contests the local/global dichotomy (94).

This section concludes with Chuck Kleinhans’s essay that examines how transnational interactions between Hong Kong and Hollywood require an analytical model that also contests an East/West dichotomy. Kleinhans asks: If the game of competition in a global film market considers only box-office success, what critical criteria we would take into consideration in our analysis and discussion. Would it be economic, ideological or artistic success? Kleinhans’ critical questions echo many similar concerns with spectatorship, representation, identity, and processes of cultural production and consumption discussed by other authors throughout this volume.

Chinese Connections: questions of gender

The six articles in second section of Chinese Connections, “Questions of Gender,” deal with the representation of masculinity, femininity, sexuality, and queer sexualities and identities in the films made in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong from the postwar years onward. This section indicates how examining gender representation in film can reveal the complex cultural aspects of presenting various local, transnational, flexible and interpersonal structures and processes, as these function inside and outside “transnational China.”

This section begins with Zhou Xuelin’s essay that relates the limitations placed on gender and sexual representation in the films made in the PRC to the fact that Mainland China is “currently a developing country still in the initial state of socialism” (134). Thus, gender and sexual representations found in modern films made in Mainland China embody contradictions surrounding nationalism, tradition and modernity. Expounding on the same theme of tradition and modernity, Andrew Grossman indicates that many Chinese films reveal “the ideological tensions between Eastern and Western feminism” and are often weighted against discourses such as “liberal humanist content” and “Hollywood xenophobia” (139, 150). He argues that both Western patriarchy and the economics of international film distribution also have great impact on how women are represented in Chinese films.

In a different way, Helen Hok-Sze Leung considers “queer sexuality as a metaphor for Hong Kong’s postcolonial predicament” in Hong Kong comedies (162). Similarly, Chris Berry looks at China’s emergent gay and lesbian culture by reviewing the film, East Palace, West Palace, taking up the connection between the director Zhang Yuan’s interest in social marginality and position as an independent filmmaker. Both Leung and Berry examine how the representations of queer sexualities and identities in films can either contest “the homogenizing discourse about Chinese nationalism” or reveal contradictions between “the government’s efforts to control access to public discourse” and the “eagerness of citizens to engage in public discourse” (162, 174). Both authors not only articulate how queer sexualities and identities challenge heteronormative discourse of sexual orientation, but they also unearth paradoxes found in the hegemonic representation of geopolitical locality, nation, ethnicity or social class.

Li-Mei Chang points out how a First and Third dichotomy exists in the geopolitical separation between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Cinematic representations of the Mainlanders and Hong Kongers in Hong Kong cinema demonstrate “binary oppositions and power dominance of Hong Kong/First World/male and mainland China/Third World/female” (181). Chang shows that such a binarism is sustained by patriarchal discourse, desire for capitalist consumption, and internal Orientalism despite the ethnic ties between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

With a different approach, Aaron D. Anderson concludes this section by examining Asian martial-arts cinema. He suggests that Chinese martial arts movement cannot be described in static dichotomous terms as masculine versus feminine (196). He indicates that Western scholars can see by way of contrast with Asian conceptions of the body the contradictions within Western “cultural ideas of gender” and static notions of an ethnic Other (202). Thus, Anderson contests the contradictory dichotomies often used for understanding gender relations, femininity/masculinity, bodily movement, culture, and identity.

Chinese Connections:
at the millennium and beyond

The concluding section “At the Millennium and Beyond” maps “transnational China” by including films made in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. It brings together five essays about Hong Kong directors, new Taiwanese filmmakers like Tsai Ming-Liang, contemporary Singaporean films by Eric Khoo, and Chinese Fifth and Sixth Generation Filmmakers.

Giving an account of modernity’s economic, social, and cultural implications is the strategy of essays written by Tan See Kam and Jenny Lau. Tan See Kam brings into focus how the Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo portrays a dark and deviant side of the nation state that undermines “one dimensional Singapore” in the way that his scripts challenge the official discourse of “economic achievements, good governance, and obedient citizenry” (207, 216). Similarly, Jenny Lau examines the films of the 1990s made by the so-called Sixth Generation, whose films show that how Beijing is caught between “its role as a city of culture, history, community governmental power, national symbolism, and revolutionary idealism, and its new role as a city of modernization and materialism.” (222). These films show “instability in identity, life, and human relationships” as Chinese cities like Beijing move toward globalization and a market economy (231). 

On a different note, Peter Hitchcock suggests that Tsai Ming-Liang’s films problematize the politics of place and Taiwan’s desires as a nation. Tsai deemphasizes “the specificity of his urban locales in order to generalize his commentary on the human condition,” and thus his films question monolithic notions of Chineseness, Taiwanese identity and Chinese modernity (242). Alternatively, Esther C. M. Yau discusses how nostalgic songs and tender disembodied female signing voice in Hong Kong films such as Victim are entwined with the patrilineal logic of capitalism. In conclusion, Evans Chan critically explores how the film Hero reveals Zhang Yimou as a “self-elected national myth-maker” whose creation of “facist aesthetics” and “facist hero” strives to fashion an unifying narrative of China as a “ideal capitalist state” with “superpowerdom and expansionism” in the global capitalist system (268, 269, 271, 273, 274). Chan reveals the intricate politics of power and art woven by China, a driven economic giant in the global entertainment industry, as Chan observes “China’s resurgence in the new millennium” (276).

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