Chapter 7: Asian cinema

Asian Cinema

◉ Multiple cinemas of Asian countries–China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and other East Asian countries–are often discussed in film studies under the rubric of ‘Asian cinema.’ Their collective strength in production volume is significant, totaling nearly 1,500 films a year, making Asia the third largest film industry in the world after Indian cinema and Nollywood

◉ The conception of Asian cinema emerges at a crucial moment for new world cinema, in the post-1980s era of globalization, neoliberal economic policies, and greater global circulation of images and technologies. Asian cinema is a product of the regionalization of Asia, with three major factors dominating the landscape of globalization since the 1980s.

➞  These factors are: (a) the geopolitical emergence of Asia as an economic-cultural power and concurrent appropriation of Asia as a market by the West; (b) the increasing power of the film festivals in the region that shape and promote a collective identity for those cinemas; and (c) the hegemonic influence of Western film studies and responses to it within the region. Asian cinema is continually shaped by the forces in the West, as well as the need to define its identity in the era of globalization

Asia, regionalization, and Asian cinema

◉ Asian cinema, too, is hardly a cinema of the region or an aggregate of cinemas in a geographic area, but rather a discursive construct shaped by economic, industrial, and academic perspectives, all of which have taken on specific roles in shaping the current concepts in film studies. It is important to identify the three historic periods of the notion of Asia–that of the region before and after the Second World War, the Cold War, and globalization–which, we will see, are closely connected to and influence the changing notions of Asian cinema…

➞  The Second World War brought forth a different role for Asia, exposing the imperial global ambitions of Japan and reminding the world of the long-festering imperialization within the region. This period witnessed the earliest form of ‘pan-Asianism, absorbed into Japanese imperialism’ (Duara, 2010: 973)

➞  The post-war era was marked by the decolonization and deimperialization in many parts of the region, creating the possibility of a new dynamic among Asian nations. During the Cold War period, the political polarization between the two superpowers divided the nations of Asia along ideological lines, forging partial regional alliances on economic and political fronts, yet maintaining the nations as dominant players.

➞ Globalization in the 1980s further changed the ideological alignments, with free-market economies and neoliberal trade policies dominating the geopolitical spheres and cultural domains… Throughout the 1980s, realignment in old power relations, globalization, and neoliberal policies swept through the region. Vast political transformations within China, Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian countries changed their internal policies… The new economic and political climate created conditions that were ripe for greater cross-border exchanges in the region, forging a new phase of regional dynamism in the world

Trans-Asian cinema

◉ As in the case with other centers engaged with world cinema, Asia’s connections and exchanges outside the region occur in the same uneven, multi-directional, and interactive patterns 

◉ Asian cinema in particular assumes a distinct position on this map, insofar as its output of transnationally influential popular films is as powerful as its art cinema. Asian cinema’s trans-Asian profile is thus made of both dimensions, popular and art cinema 

Popular cinema, blockbusters, and Hollywood

◉ As Hollywood moved to appropriate the marketplace of Asia in the 1990s, it faced entirely different circumstances from the previous decades, with a fast-growing economy and audience size in China, and the tempting market appeal of the action-film styles of Hong Kong, Korean, and Chinese filmmakers

◉ Hollywood films include nods to their power in the forms of narrative references placed in blockbuster films 

➞ The transformation and adjustment to the Chinese market is only expected to intensify as the Chinese buy Hollywood studios or its shares

Martial arts and wuxia style 

◉ When Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) exploded on the global stage, it had imported the native wuxia pian (Chinese sword action film) into its global blockbuster formula 

➞  The revitalization of wuxia pian from Bruce Lee to Ang Lee shows a transformation from the glamour of one star to the powerful image machine of Hollywood

➞ The choreographer of Crouching Tiger, Yuen Woo-ping lent his talents to many Hollywood films, including the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and Rob Minkoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)


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