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East Asian Cinemas Symposium Paper Abstracts

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Taipei—the Invisible City on Film
Yomi Braester, Dept. of Comparative Literature and Program in Cinema Studies, University of Washington

Taipei’s urban network can be understood only when one goes beyond what meets the eye and instead treats the city as a palimpsest of simultaneously existing layers. Taipei’s material spaces are merely the visible part of a city mostly submerged in memory. Film has played an important role during the transformation of Taipei’s cityscape, reproducing images of the disappearing landmarks—not to wallow in nostalgia but rather to emphasize the coexistence, in the collective memory, of the city in its various past, present, and future forms.

Suggested Film:
My Whispering Plan (Sharen jihua, dir. Qu Youning, aka Arthur Chu, TAIWAN, 2002)

An Auteur In Situ: Wong Kar Wai and Commercially Viable Art Film
Cindy S. C. Chan, Dept. of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin

Wong Kar Wai came from a film industry with no government support or protection, the system was commercial and the domestic market was small.  International film festivals has catapulted him into world fame and sustained his career.  In response to Hollywood’s domination, European countries fortify national cinemas and film festival circuit as an alternative system.  Art cinema as institution is no less commercial and the movies are no less commodities.  With his auteur cult status, theme of urban alienation, non-linear narrative and media hype, is Wong Kar Wai’s art film just an extension of European art cinema? Is the case of Wong Kar Wai an art cinema version of cultural imperialism, i.e. with Europe dominating major international film festivals non-European art films conform to the standard and textual and extra-textual rules of European art cinemas?  Wong Kar Wai, unlike the classic auteur depicted as artist transcending the Hollywood studio system, is a situated author working inside the commercial systems of Hong Kong cinema and international film festivals and develops personal style with sources from European art cinema, Asian and Latin American literatures as well as Hong Kong mainstream cinema’s extravagant style and neurotic energy.  Beneath the personal stories of unrequited love and incommunicado is his challenge to official discourse and mainstream media representation of Hong Kong in a decade defined by the sovereignty change, a historical event imbued with rhetoric of European imperialism, national redemption and Asian modernity.  This paper is a study of Wong Kar Wai’s films and filmmaking practice and how he carves out a space in a colony where filmmakers had no alternative to commercialism and local people had no voice in official talk over their future.  Wong Kar Wai is an auteur in situ poignantly commenting on Hong Kong politics with his commercially viable art films.

Suggested Films:
Ashes of Time (Dung che sai duk, dir. Wong Kar Wai, HONG KONG, 1994)
In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa, dir. Wong Kar Wai, HONG KONG, 2000)

The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)'s Virtual Landscape: Korean Cinema at the Age of Hallyu
Kyung Hun Kim, Department of East Asian Languages & Literature and Department of Film & Media Studies, University of California, Irvine

This essay investigates the recent commercial success of Korean cinema widely known as hallyu from an unusual place: the trope of landscape and its aesthetic relationship with modernity.  In its pursuit to establish itself as a new global standard and cosmopolitanism, cinema of hallyu abandoned innovations in forms and instead settled on a negotiation between a national pathos and a postmodern image appropriated from American and Japanese popular media.  This article argues, by analyzing landscapes depicted in The Host (2006) by Bong Joon-ho, that the Korean cinema of hallyu, despite its post-sublime and postmodern sensibility that seeks representations beyond the framework of realism, has successfully pulled away from language as its organizing intellectual principle, and has established a new national model of “virtual” cinema in which the image is merely just that: an image.  

Suggested Film:
The Host (Gwoemul, dir. Bong Joon-ho, KOREA, 2006)

The Ellipsis: Cinematic Aesthetics and East Asian Modernity
Jason McGrath, Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

As a critical practice if not a claim about direct influence or intertextuality, it is possible to trace an aesthetic strand in East Asian cinema that stretches from Ozu Yasujiro to various Chinese filmmakers who were both his contemporaries and his successors. One part of this aesthetic is the use of ellipses in ways that go well beyond their usual function in classical Hollywood-style continuity editing—not just condensing time for the purpose of efficiency but introducing radical ruptures in the spectator’s viewing experience, knowledge, and ultimately the “worldhood” of the film. By examining instances in films of Ozu, Fei Mu, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Jia Zhangke, this paper will discuss the implications of ellipses in terms of classical film theory, traditional East Asian aesthetics, and modernist philosophy. It will be argued that ellipses represent a historically situated response to the mass culture and contradictions of modernity, including the uncertainties of modernist thought, that nonetheless preserves and even reinvigorates elements of traditional Buddhist and Daoist philosophy and aesthetics. This suggests not simply the sort of cultural essentialism of those who seek a distinctively East Asian cinematic aesthetic rooted in tradition, but rather a still-evolving modernity which, as is increasingly apparent, is not and never was as essentially Western as has been widely assumed.

Suggested Film:
Spring in a Small Town (Xiao cheng zhi chun, dir. Fei Mu, CHINA, 1948).

Inclines, networks, and flows: Japanese cinema as (not) Asian cinema
Michael Raine, Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations, Committee on Cinema & Media Studies, and the College, University of Chicago

Film Studies is tired of taking Hollywood as the “big other” (Crofts) of national cinemas. In East Asia, a history of “influence” is replaced by the fond horizontality of “East Asian film networks” (Yau), replacing bilateral relations of domination with a regional conception of reciprocal, transnational flows. That tendency will only increase as the study of East Asian cinema shifts from film to area studies.

But aren’t we in danger of throwing out the baby (the real geopolitical incline that governed Japan’s relations with both West and East) with the bathwater (reductive ideas about copying, etc)? This presentation takes a “distant view” of Japanese cinema, studying censorship records, production
statistics, and plot summaries to claim that history, not geography, is destiny: for political and economic reasons, Japanese cinema faced East (across the Pacific) rather than West (to the Asian mainland) for most of its history, with the clear exception of WWII and -- perhaps, finally -- now.

Suggested film:
Forget Love for Now (Koi mo wasurete, dir. Shimizu Hiroshi, JAPAN, 1937)