Friday, October 28, 2005

Bourdieu_boy on Hero

Bourdieu_boy has a smart analysis of Zhang Yimou's Hero that I've been meaning to link to. One quote in particular, that compares Hero to Crouching Tiger, stood out for me:
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon spoke from the margins of the Chinese-speaking world, from the diaspora, Chinese-America, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan, and from this position addressed both the rest of the world and mainland China itself. Hero has stepped up to speak from the centre in an indignant register, aiming to be more spectacular, more impressive and more successful than its marginal rival. Hero can be understood as an emphatic and wholly deliberate response by mainland cultural producers to both the globalization of Chinese culture and the presumption of other "Chinas" to speak for China.
I remember when Crouching Tiger came out, I looked somewhat condescendingly upon its "Chineseness." So this piece is something of an antidote to my previous chauvinism. (What right would I have to be a Chinese cultural chauvinist, anyway?)


M.C. said...

I would be interested in hearing your original, "culturally chauvinist" take on Crouching Tiger's "Chineseness". Did you see it here in Taiwan? If so, what can you remember of its reception, locally?

I do remember that my Taiwanese emigre parents were so jealous that I was able to attend a full-house, midnight screening of CTHD at a Umich arthouse theater, they bragged about my attendance for at least, uh, days... like I stood in line for them in proxy, joining the queue of fanatics.

Lee Ang has, since then, come out stating pretty clearly that his vision of China in CTHD was based on a wholly fantastic, pan-Asian ideal of cultural Chineseness. That admission somewhat legitimizes Zhang's desire to 'rectify' Lee's take on cultural China. Where I identify most directly with Bourdieu_boy's analysis of Hero is when he calls it the "disheartening trajectory of Zhang's Yimou's career". Zhang is undeniably one of the most influential directors in the latest incarnation of Chinese film, and for him to be so wholly, graciously, kowtowingly accepted into the fold is somewhat embarrassing for cultural analysts who used to uphold him as the critical, internationally-authorized voice [via European film festivals] in Chinese media. I guess Rey Chow was right to be skeptical of his influence.


Jonathan Benda said...

I first saw Crouching Tiger in the U.S., but I mainly associated with a community (or perhaps communities) of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese at the time. I think part of the reaction I saw among them was surprise at how popular the movie was among Americans. Some of the Chinese I talked to felt there was nothing exceptional about the plot of the movie (typical wu xia story, with a few "un-Chinese" elements) and quite a few were actually critical of the different "non-standard" accents of some of the actors. These things they felt Americans couldn't notice because most Americans wouldn't have much experience with this kind of movie. They (and I) figured that Americans were just making a big deal of it because Lee Ang was the director and it was a big-budget Hollywood movie.

I hadn't heard about the vision of China Lee Ang was trying to promote in the movie, but as you say, it makes the contrast between it and Zhang's movie even stronger. Interestingly, I wonder how many American viewers of Hero would notice (or care about) the subtexts of Zhang's film?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your interest and thoughts on CTHD.