Cinema Paradiso alla China - review by Rosanna S. Lee


In the past few decades, films from China has advanced drastically as the country immerges herself into the 21st century. The films present a portrait of the Chinese culture, either in man versus idea, man versus nature or man versus society.

During the Communist occupation, films became a medium of propaganda. The styles were theatrical as in the 1959 film, Song of Youth by Cui Wei, with a storyline that is about the rising of Communism and the suppression from the Nationalist Chinese government. The film appears to be influenced by the Russian director, Sergi Eisenstein's Battleship Potempkin with a patriotic and dramatic acting style.

Throughout the years, the films have evolved from political to historical as the so called Fifth generation directors such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige were among the most famous. Their storylines are more earthy and nostalgic of the ancient China. Zhang Yimou introduced us the karma wheel in The 1990's film, Ju dou where he took the opportunity to express his personal style and combined it into an entangle tale of vengeance and reward. His 1991 Raise the red lantern was a realistic and stylish portrait of the concubines in the feudal Chinese cast system. Chen Kaige revealed the span of Chinese 19th Century history through the eyes of a Chinese opera troop and uninhibitedly showed us the era of the Communist China during the Chinese revolution in Farewell my concubine, 1993.

After the Fifth Generation directors had brought Chinese films to the attention of the western world, (their films are usually banned by the Chinese government) the younger generation filmmakers are bolder and more experimental in personal expression. Explorations into the taboo topics such as homosexuality in the film East Palace, West Palace, 1996 by Zhang Yuan, where he verily revealed the gay life in China today. The Sixth generation filmmakers departed from the nostalgic and earthy topics where the previous generation liked so much and started to focus toward individualism of modern day China. Many were influenced by the western film masters. The film Platform, 2000 by Jia Zhangke is an epic film with a ten year span into the lives of a group of teenagers to their adulthood. The idea of growing up in a Chinese cultural revolution society to the invasion of Rock n'Roll and bell bottom pants allows us to take a peek into the post-cultural revolution life where western influence still invades China no matter how Mao tries to prevent it. It's a slow 3 hour long film that fulfills one's cinematic appetite.

While the few indie films are struggling to get attention domestically but successful internationally, there are the more commercial ones such as Roaring across the Horizon, 1999 by Chen Guoxing, which is about China's first nuclear bomb. "My 1919", 1999 by Huang Jianzhong is about the Peace Conference at Versailles after WW1 where the entire world wants to split up China and yet she resisted. Both films are patriotic and proud of the Chinese 20th Century history and of course were very well received by the government and the people of China.

In the more recent ones such as "A Sigh", 2000 by Feng Xiaogang and "Beijing Bicycle", 2002 by Wang Xiaoshuao. Both films portrayed the lives in modern China and the big city. "A Sigh" is a story of an affair and how the modern Chinese society judges it. "Beijing Bicycle" is a story of a stolen bicycle and the determination of an individual's survival in the city. Both films reveal the city life and the struggle which the hero have to go through to obtain their own sense of value and existence.