PANEL 5 – Cinema
Beyond Transnational and National Cinema – Chinese Martial Arts Cinema in Recent Decades
It is widely believed that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002) had both announced the beginning of the Chinese blockbuster (dapian) phenomenon and defined a new way to interpret the increasing trend of transnational co-productions in China. The success of these marked a new trend of understanding martial arts pictures with transnational production, budget and stars, such as The Promise (2005) and The Banquet (2006). In light of this phenomenon, it seems that the notion of national cinema or the national has become something evoking alarm and trepidation. This is because blockbusters in China and national identity are no longer tied to bounded territories. However, many martial arts blockbusters in recent decades have benefited from certain states’ control, such as the quota system or exhibition arrangements that are favourable to domestic production. Also, they directly address a national audience with shared imagination, identity, stories and heroes. These measures and imaginations have protected the national film industry and secured martial arts blockbusters the place of box office top ten in China. Martial arts cinema is indisputably a national genre. However, the notion of national cinema seems incapable of grasping the multiplicities, complexities and changes of the genre, such as the national in the genre may not entail nationalism but modernization, conservatism, individualization and even colonial structure. It is no surprising that many recent martial arts blockbusters are co-produced by Hong Kong filmmakers who are capable of modernizing national narration and imagination. In this regard, imagination, narration, and cultural assets in recent martial arts cinema are not always isomorphic. Today’s martial arts heroes are no longer rebellious knight-errants or engage in justice, and they shift their businesses from jianghu to the secular world where they are more conservative, pragmatic and law-abiding. Instead of repudiating both the notion of national cinema and transnational cinema, my paper explores what the national means in martial arts cinema in a situation where the nation-state faces particular transnational destabilization; how and why martial arts cinema, once a national genre in colonized Hong Kong, in recent decades became popular in China; and in what way the change of narration in martial arts cinema is related to the rise of Chinese economy and culture. In this paper, I will discuss these issues in the contexts of martial arts co-productions like Ip Man (2008), Bodyguard and Assassins (2009), Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010), Dragon (2011) and other related films.
Melissa M. Chan
Fragmentation of Chineseness in The Martial Arts Films of Wong Kar-wai
Wong Kar-wai’s most recent venture has deepened the filmmaker’s relationship with martial arts films. Yet, when looking at his first martial arts film, Ashes of Time (1994), and the widely released biopic, The Grandmaster (2013), the two films seem to have many more differences than similarities. Stylistically and aesthetically the former focuses on the chaos fraught with vengeance and confusion in a swirling desert whereas the latter emphasizes the opera and tea houses and the life and love of Bruce Lee’s Wing-Chun teacher, Ip Man. Although these representations of the martial arts world seem almost disparate, I argue that rather than being martial arts films that solely aestheticizes movement, fighting scenes, violence, or even the idea of chivalry or xia, Wong’s films create martial arts worlds that comment on Chineseness and the assumption of a monolithic historical Chinese culture. This is not to say that the films do not centralize fighting and violence. Wong’s films do, indeed, include multiple highly stylized fighting scenes, but fighting and violence along with the surroundings and props become a mode in which useful critique and commentary is made. More specifically, the idea of a singular Chinese culture is rejected through martial arts and the material culture, such as costuming within the film, which also implies a critique on the assumption of discrete martial arts systems exemplified by the various masters present throughout the film. Through this rejection of a singular Chinese cultural identity, Wong’s representation of martial arts is able to comment on the construction of Sinophone communities. While previous scholarship on the conception of the Sinophone has mainly focused on language, ethnicity, and marginality of certain groups, such as ethnic minorities, the use of martial arts, movement, and the body, however, can be used to further reveal fragmentation in terms of a cultural imaginary.
Hiu M. Chan
Mo Lei Tau Style: Stephen Chow and His Martial Arts Embodiment in Hong Kong Cinema
This paper aims to introduce a style of martial arts that is not known nor written by many – the mo lei tau style; it is arguably invented, embodied, and popularized by Hong Kong comedian actor Stephen Chow through his films. Being a fan of Bruce Lee, Chow has always been interested in martial arts. However, instead of participating in serious fighting and training, he has developed his own style and ethos, by integrating Qi and the basic moves of martial arts into film narrative, in order to create a unique sense of humor. I call such aesthetic as the mo lei tau (it means “being silly and pointless” in Cantonese) style. Since the early stage in his acting career, Chow has always been very active in adding his creativity in scripts. Importing the mo lei tau style of martial arts is one of the main contributions from him into popular Hong Kong filmmaking. Gradually, such style has become one of Chow’s auteur signatures, which appear in almost every film that features him as a lead character. By introducing what mo lei tau style is through looking at different examples of Chow’s creativity, this paper aims to argue that Chow’s invention of a such new style demonstrates the mobility and circulation of a hybrid and global fantasy of martial arts. It will argue further that Chow has created and popularized a new connotation of martial arts, which it is very different from its original meaning and tradition. It questions, whether the phenomenon of martial arts has long lost its original meaning that it now only lives in a virtual state of cultural fantasy.