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Exploring ‘Chinese’ art film aesthetic influences on Chinese Malaysian indie filmmakers. Gaik Cheng Khoo Australian National University. structure. 1. The big question: does a ‘Chinese’ art film aesthetic exist? (Taiwan)

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exploring chinese art film aesthetic influences on chinese malaysian indie filmmakers

Exploring ‘Chinese’ art film aesthetic influences on Chinese Malaysian indie filmmakers

Gaik Cheng KhooAustralian National University

structure
structure
  • 1. The big question: does a ‘Chinese’ art film aesthetic exist? (Taiwan)
  • 2. The particular: local specificities and political positioning (Malaysia)

i . Formal influences

ii. influences on content: capturing

everyday life (my current research)

1 does a chinese art film aesthetic exist
1.Does a ‘Chinese art film aesthetic’ exist?

Problematize ‘Chinese’: mainland Chinese/Hongkong/ Taiwan

  • New Taiwan Cinema of 1980-90s: Hou Hsiao Hsien, Edward Yang, later Tsai Ming Liang
  • TSM: “long takes, long shots, empty spaces, urban sounds, narrative minimalism and quirky sexuality” (Hu)
  • HHH: popularised the long take (ASL of Dust in the Wind is 34 secs, ASL of Hollywood films by late ‘90s, 2-3 secs)
  • The long shot
  • Hou: “I renounce fragmentary editing for a sweeping style of montage, cutting not for the flow of the rhythm, but to capture the atmosphere and ‘feel’ of the shot and smooth transitions between the shots”
  • Use of non-actors
transnational influences on m sian indie filmmakers
Ho Yuhang’s favourites on Facebook

Scattered Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1967), Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson) , Unforgiven, Gun Crazy, Mamma Roma (Pasolini), Days of Being Wild (WKW), The Red Circle (Melville, Gangster film), Key Largo (Huston, Bogey & Becall noir), The Conformist, La Chienne (1931 Renoir), Buster Keaton, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Close-Up (Kiarostami), Fritz Lang, Chaplin, Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut), A Brighter Summer Day (1992 Edward Yang), Summer at Grandpa’s (Hou Hsiao Hsien).

Woo Ming Jin’s favourite films on Facebook:

The Turning Gate (Sang-Soo Hong & labeled a ‘TML ripoff’ on imdb!), The Man without a Past (Aki Kaurismaki), Woman is the Future of Man (Sang-Soo Hong), The River (TML), Yi Yi (Edward Yang), Colossal Youth (Pedro Costas, 2006… slow, no dialogue, etc….sounds like the kind of style he emulates)

Transnational influences on M’sian indie filmmakers
specific cultural and political reasons for the emergence of taiwan new cinema
Specific cultural and political reasons for the emergence of Taiwan New Cinema
  • “Taiwan New Cinema started out as political and cultural rebellion in the domestic context, got re-inscribed as an anticolonial cinema against Japanese, Chinese, or American imperialism on the international stage (but distinct from the category of ‘Third Cinema’), and ended up transforming itself into a supplier of international art cinema” (Chia-chi Wu 88).
changes in taiwan
Changes in Taiwan
  • Land reform
  • rapid industrialization with the economic and political support of the USA and multinational investments made Taiwan during the 1970s and 1980s the fastest growing economy in the world and brought radical socio-cultural transformations in lifestyles, social relations and value systems (Lu 11).
confronted by modernity taiwan new cinema directors reacted in their own ways
Confronted by modernity, Taiwan New Cinema directors reacted in their own ways:
  • Hou “traces disappearing traditional cultures mostly located in rural areas” (Lu 19).
  • For Edward Yang, Taiwanese modernity = urban and social alienation, the worship of money overtakes traditional familial ties and filial piety, and people are perceived to be fake (see Lu 19).
  • Tsai notes: films are very sad, there is very little plot, a “slice-of-life”, broken with some comic relief (Kraicer 583) to capture banal everyday life --“scenes of intimate cleaning, defecation, masturbation, grief, drinking, eating, telephone calls, ironing, coitus, etc.” (Rehm 27). Everydayness of the body which can fall apart, lose control, or be disgraced (Chan 6; see also Joyard 71, 74).
formal techniques norne yeh 1994 that constitute hou s poetics
formal techniques (Norne & Yeh 1994) that constitute Hou’s poetics:
  • The use of static, extremely long takes
  • Measured, rhythmic use of ellipsis
  • Minimal use of tracks, pans, intra shot reframing
  • Temporally unmarked transitional spaces
  • Tendency toward tableaux-like long-shots/few close ups
  • The geometricization of space
  • Delimitation of the frame (used to emphasize routine, domesticity & control)
  • Locking the camera/spectator into a single axis
  • Rare, strategic use of the shot/reverse shot figure
  • Gradual revelation and construction of spatial relationships
  • Repetition
tsai style s
Tsai Style’s
  • “long takes, long shots, empty spaces, urban sounds, narrative minimalism and quirky sexuality” (Hu);
  • “static camera, minimal dialogue and music, disaffected and almost mute male lead, obsessions withsexual longing and dissatisfaction, tension between an ascetic style and narrative unpredictability” (Andrew Chan describing Woo Ming Jin’s Elephant and the Sea having Tsai trademarks, 8).
slide10
Hou’s pan-East Asian minimalism (static long take) is a legacy on Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Maborosi (1995) Tsai Ming-liang, Korean director Hong Sang-soo, and mainland Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke’s Platform (2001) (Udden 194).
2 the particular local specificities and political positioning
2. The particular: local specificities and political positioning

i . Formal influences

Some precautions:

  • Need for close analysis of individual films
  • Malaysian Independent Filmmakers (MIF) is still a new movement; individual members still experimenting, defining and refining their personal styles.
  • Labelling may be shortsighted and rigid; it imposes a pan-Asian homogenous framework of art film aesthetics that frees the film from its specific geographical and historical meanings.
slide12
Labelling depoliticizes both the specific contexts and reasons for the emergence of Taiwan New Cinema in the 1980s & 1990s and significance of indie Malaysian filmmaking post-2000
  • Doesn’t account for changes over time in a filmmaker’s oeuvre.

e.g. James Lee’s Snipers (2001), three interconnected vignettes follow Chungking Express structure but Wong Kar Wai influences minimal in Lee’s body of work.

form and content
Form and content
  • Formal aesthetics need to support ‘mythos’ (recurring themes in auteur films, Yeh 2001:71)
2ii influences on content capturing everyday life
2ii. influences on content: capturing everyday life
  • Malaysian indies focus on everyday life of marginal, working class characters, using minimal dialogue and subtle storytelling (oblique narrative?)
  • External considerations – role of film festivals in supporting everyday aesthetics: looking for pseudo-individualised Asian art film that still falls within the standardised paradigm of ‘different but the same’? (Still Life, Blind Shaft)
  • Internal considerations – unique for representing Malaysian everyday life as multicultural and working class (cf with Malay films which focus on Malay middle class and elites, beneficiaries of the National Economic Policy or NEP).
why the everyday preliminary hypothesis on indie representations of malaysian everyday life
Why the everyday? Preliminary hypothesis on indie representations of Malaysian everyday life
  • Limited budgets
  • Response to rapid modernization of NEP (1971-1990), focus on darker side of modernity: showing those who have not benefited from the economic success of the NEP years, questioning development and suggesting consumption drive is irrational.
these cinematic representations of everydayness
these cinematic representations of everydayness
  • Possible sites of resistance and struggle or conforming to dominant ideologies?
  • Critique of everyday modernity?
critique of everyday life
Critique of everyday life
  • Through representations of everyday acts like smoking and eating, I argue that James Lee’s films hint of the fundamental alienation of the modern subject who, as workers alienated from their product of labour in capitalism, can never be satisfied or achieve complete happiness (Khoo, forthcoming).
focusing on those who have been left behind by the nep
Focusing on those who have been left behind by the NEP:
  • petty gangsters, prostitutes, food vendors, the unemployed, who trudge on in life with “cruel optimism” (Berlant) that it is possible to climb the ladder of success despite the pro-Malay policies and corruption that work against them. The predominant focus on working-class ethnic Chinese and Indian characters challenges ethnic stereotypes and provides complexity beyond racialised representations.
  • For example, Tan Chui Mui’s short film There Is Treasure Everywhere (2000) is the story of a karung guni man, a Malaysian modern version of Benjamin’s rag picker, who looks for scrap metal, old furniture etc. to sell. (but not using long takes or static shots)
walter benjamin the ragpicker
Walter Benjamin, the ragpicker
  • “The ragpicker deals in the second-hand, in the dreams of the past for a future that was never realized. The modern-day ragpicker treads a fine line between a sentimental attitude towards the past and a revolutionary nostalgia for the future. When the latter takes precedence over the former, the ragpicker’s radical task becomes one of cataloguing the broken promises that have been abandoned in the everyday trash of history” (Ben Highmore 2002: 65).
preliminary conclusion
Preliminary conclusion
  • Formal aesthetics are used to support and highlight effectively (& affectively) the content of everyday life in small town Malaysia. (a consideration for Everyday Life studies is the focus on small towns, not only the city).
bibliography
bibliography

Berlant, Lauren. “Cruel Optimism and its Objects.” Differences 17.3 (2006): 20-36.

Bordwell, David. “Transcultural Spaces: Toward a poetics of Chinese Film.” Post Script. 20.2&3 (2001):9-24.

Chan, Andrew. “Malaysia in the Movies: After This Our Exile, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, and The Elephant and the Sea.” The House Next Door blog. 14 November 2007. http://mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com/search?q=malaysia+in+the+movies

Highmore, Ben. Everyday Life and Culture Theory: an Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Hilo, Clifford. “Death by Drowning.” Asia Pacific Arts. 13 July 2007.

http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/070713/article.asp?parentID=73669

Hu, Brian. “Rebels of a Familiar God.” Asia Pacific Arts.26 May 2005.

http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/070713/article.asp?parentid=24757

Joyard, Olivier. “Corporeal Interference.” Tsai Ming-Liang. Paris: Editions Dis Voir, 1999, 45-76.

slide23
Khoo, Gaik Cheng. “Smoking, Eating and Desire: A Study of Alienation in the Films of

James Lee.”Cinema in Southeast Asia Today: Emerging Independent Film Cultures. Eds. Benjamin McKay & Adadol Ingawanij. Bangkok:SPAFA-SEAMEO (forthcoming

2008).

Kraicer, Shelly. “Interview with Tsai Ming-liang.” Positions 8.2 (2000): 579-588.

Lu, Tonglin. Confronting Modernity in the Cinemas of Taiwan and Mainland China. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Martin, Fran. “The European Undead: Tsai Ming-liang’s Temporal Dysphoria.” Senses of Cinema. June 2003. (online)

Nornes, Abe Mark and Yeh Yueh-yu. 1994.

http://cinemaspace.berkeley.edu/Papers/Cityofsadness/style.html

slide24
Rehm, Jean-Pierre. “Bringing in the Rain.” Tsai Ming-Liang. Paris: Editions Dis Voir, 1999, 9-40.

Scott, Jay. “A Cause for Rejoicing in a City of Sadness.” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 15 September 1989.

Udden, James. “‘This time he moves!’: the deeper significance of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s radical break in Good Men, Good Women.” In Cinema Taiwan: politics, popularity and state of the arts. Edited by Darrell William Davis & Ru-Shou Robert Chen. New York: Routledge, 2007, 183- 202.

Wu, Chia-chi. “Festivals, criticism and international reputation of Taiwan new Cinema.” In Cinema Taiwan: politics, popularity and state of the arts. Edited by Darrell William Davis and Ru-Shou Robert Chen. New York: Routledge 2007, 75-91.