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Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Filmmaking in the PRC (1990-present). Economic Background. Intensification of economic reforms in 1992 with Deng Xiaoping’s “southern tour” ( 南巡 ) Move toward a market economy and the gradual removal of the “iron rice bowl”

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economic background
Economic Background
  • Intensification of economic reforms in 1992 with Deng Xiaoping’s “southern tour” (南巡)
  • Move toward a market economy and the gradual removal of the “iron rice bowl”
  • State enterprise reform: rise of unemployment as state enterprises “restructured” and were forced to turn a profit
economic background1
Economic Background
  • Establishment of a new ideology of entrepreneurship, profitability, free markets, consumerism, and globalization
  • Collusion of PRC state with global capital
  • “Neoliberalism” and state capitalism
social background
Social Background
  • Rapid social change and rise of social problems (drugs, prostitution, divorce)
  • Rural/urban, class, and regional inequities emerge
  • Rise of urban unemployed let off by state enterprises (xia gang下岗)
  • “floating population” (盲流) of migrant workers and rapid urbanization
  • Globalization (全球化), especially in the cities

Migrant workers often have deplorable living conditions

cultural background
Cultural Background
  • Commercialization of the cultural sphere
  • Reducing or eliminating state subsidies
  • Profitability
  • Wang Shuo王朔 and the bestseller phenomenon
market reforms in the film industry
Market Reforms in the Film Industry
  • State studios forced in the mid-80s to become profitable, something that some studio directors welcomed and others did not
  • meant an increase in popular films (including wuxia and detective films); some use the revenues of these to fund more serious art films
  • Film industry now responds to market and popular demands
  • Market reforms instituted in the film industry in early 1990s a response to decline in film production and film spectatorship in the early 1990s caused by (1) poor quality post-1989 propaganda films; (2) threat from other media and forms of entertainment (tv, Karaoke, etc.); and (3) pirating of films on VCD
market reform titanic and blockbusters
Market reform, Titanic, and “blockbusters”
  • In 1993, capitalist reforms began to undermine the state’s distribution monopoly for films
  • Ministry of Broadcast, Film, and Television in 1994 agreed to import 10 current Hollywood films (based mostly on market appeal, not cinematic quality)
  • Chinese film production suffered as domestic filmmakers struggled to compete with multi-million dollar American productions, (which received 70% of film revenues)
  • Propelled the film industry toward greater commercialization
  • Titanic (1997) fever and the advent of the Chinese blockbuster (Noble
  • State begins to promote blockbusters as “healthy” to film industry
accession to wto in 2001
Accession to WTO in 2001
  • Since 2001, Chinese language filmmaking has been increasingly transnational
  • With accession to the WTO, the Chinese film market is now more open to Hollywood film importation (30 films per year and then to 40-50 per year on “revenue sharing” basis)
  • And the Chinese film industry has responded by exporting its own blockbusters (e.g., Hero, House of Flying Daggers, The Promise)
  • Emergence of independent production companies (e.g., Imar Films); joint venture production companies (e.g. Warner China Film; Columbia); and new Chinese film conglomerates (e.g., Oriental Divine Dragon Film Co. a merger of the Changchun Film Studio and Poly Group)
  • This cooperation has increased in recent years, e.g., Walt Disney Co. and DMG Entertainment
popular film in china
Popular Film in China
  • Feng Xiaogang and the “New Year’s Film” (贺岁片)
  • Big Shot’s Funeral: product of commercialization of culture or critique of it?
t he martial arts blockbuster
the martial arts blockbuster
  • Zhang Yimou’s most recent films should be understood in this economic context of WTO, etc.
  • His martial arts films have been heavily promoted in China and have been pushed into the foreign market
  • In the summer of 2004, there was a gala event celebrating the premiere of House of Flying Daggers
  • Response to success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Clip from premiere gala of House of Flying Daggers

emergence of sixth generation postsocialist film
Emergence of Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Film
  • This generation were not “sons and daughters” of the Cultural Revolution; they grew up in the era of the Four Modernizations and the market reforms of the 1990s
  • Most graduated from Beijing Film Academy around 1989
  • Their films are a response to Fifth Gen and its symbolic and allegorical style; its obsessive concern with grand “cultural” issues; and its lack of attention to contemporary society
  • loss of faith in value systems, heroism, and idealism

Still from Zhang Yuan’s Beijing Bastards (北京杂种), one of the first Sixth Gen films--about disaffected artists and rockers; one of the themes of Sixth Gen films is “youth subcultures”

sixth generation postsocialist style
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Style?
  • in some sense, there isn’t really a coherent style that unites this generation of filmmakers
  • however, they tend to focus on contemporary urban society and draw attention to very contemporary concerns, such as urbanization, globalization, social change, the new economy, migration and the floating population
  • have a “documentary impulse” and gritty realist style
  • Focus on youth and youthful subcultures (e.g., Beijing Bastards)
  • Also tackles difficult themes such as drug use (e.g., Quitting) and homosexuality (e.g., East Palace, West Palace)
  • Themes are treated in an “objective” style that avoids moralism or didacticism
  • Sometimes fragmented or disjointed narrative style
sixth generation postsocialist style1
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Style?
  • Interaction with other arts (rock, avant-garde art)
  • Beijing Bastards
  • Frozen (1997), film about an avant-garde performance artist
  • Dong(2006) documentary by JiaZhangke on the avant-garde artist Liu Xiaodong (刘小东)
sixth generation postsocialist film production
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Film Production
  • For the first time in PRC filmmaking, some of these directors have attempted to work outside of the studio system; some “underground” with little funding; some with funding and production support from abroad
  • This has been made possible by the film industry market reforms of the 1990s
  • Prevalent use of non-professional actors; rarely shoot in studios
  • Films often not permitted in China because they were made without approval or because of their content
  • Recently, some of the key members of this generation, such as Zhang Yuan (e.g., Green Tea), have opted to rejoin the studio system to make more popular films; Jia Zhangke’s films, The World and Sanxia haoren (三峡好人) were approved for distribution in China
sixth generation postsocialist examples
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Examples
  • Wang Xiaoshuai 王小帅
  • So Close to Paradise (扁担-姑娘; 1998)
  • third film by Wang Xiaoshuai (whose other credits include The Days [日子] and Beijing Bicycle [十七岁的单车], and Shanghai Dreams [青红]); was held up by censorship for three years
  • two central characters are migrant laborers from the countryside who come to the provincial city of Wuhan to find their fortunes. One, a naif, becomes a dock worker; the other, more worldly, a small-time con man;
  • looks at alienation, crime, and prostitution among those who leave rural areas for economic opportunities in China’s cities

Still from end of So Close to Paradise

Frozen (极度寒冷; 1995):

Based on the story of an actual student artist who committs suicide as an act (and performance) of protest; produced under the pseudonym Anonymous (无名) and “smuggled” out of the country

sixth generation postsocialist examples1
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Examples
  • Zhang Yang 张扬, Quitting (昨天; 2002)

-A feature film about the real heroin addiction of a real actor/singer Jia Hongsheng 贾宏声, starring Jia Hongsheng and other people from his real life

-pseudo-documentary style

  • Zhang Yuan 张元, East Palace, West Palace (东宫西宫; 1996)

A young gay writer, Ah Lan, is arrested by the police; a long “interrogation” ensues; Ah Lan is masochistically attracted to the policeman, who is himself drawn, against his will, to Ah Lan

Jia Hongsheng playing Jia Hongsheng in Quitting

Ah Lan, a gay writer, and his captor in East Palace, West Palace

sixth generation postsocialist examples2
Sixth Generation/Postsocialist Examples
  • Ning Ying 宁赢, On the Beat (民警故事; 1995): a sometimes humorous take on the daily work of Beijing cops on the streets
  • He Jianjun何建军, The Postman (邮差; 1995)
  • Zhang Ming 章明, Clouds over Wushan, aka In Expectation (巫山云雨; 1996)

Above: Still from Clouds over Wushan; right: still from On the Beat


Still from the opening of West of the Tracks

  • Wu Wenguang 吴文光, Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers (流浪北京:最后的梦幻者; 1991)
  • Chen Jue 陈爵 and Shi Jian 时间, Tiananmen (天安门; 1991)
  • Zhang Yuan, Square (广场; 1994)
  • Jiang Yue 蒋樾, The Other Shore (彼岸; 1994)
  • Cui Zi’en 崔子恩, gay writer and filmmaker who has made numerous documentaries (e.g., Men and Women [男男女女; 1999]; Enter the Clowns [丑角登台; 2001]
  • Wang Bing 王兵, West of the Tracks (铁西区; 3 parts; 2003)

Documentarian, Wu Wenguang (above); poster for Wu’s Bumming in Beijing (1990) (right)

jia zhangke
Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯
  • Xiao Wu (小武; 1997)
  • Platform (站台; 2000): about the lives of a group of young people in small-town China from late 1970s to early 1990s
  • Unknown Pleasures (任逍遥; 2002)
  • The World (世界; 2004)
  • Still Life (三峡好人; 2006)
  • 24 City (二十四城记; 2008)
  • I Wish I Knew (海上传奇; 2010)
  • critiques of moral vacuum of contemporary life; the difficult transition from socialism to a market economy; rootlessness in a modernizing and globalizing society, etc.

Still from Xiao Wu

the documentary impulse in 5th gen directors
the documentary impulse in 5th Gen directors
  • Zhang Yimou, The Story of Qiuju (秋菊打官司) (lower left image)
  • TianZhuanzhuang田壮壮, Delamu (2005): documentary about the Tea-Horse road (lower right)