Dr Song Hwee Lim. Photo by Jim Wileman.

Exeter expert examines China on the Big Screen

The role of Chinese cinema in shaping China's image is being explored in a new project.

Dr Song Hwee Lim, a senior lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Exeter, is leading the two-year research project that will focus on aspects of production, consumption, and imagination.

Chinese cinema encompasses a broad geography from the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to countries and regions across the world that are home to Chinese people. The phenomenal success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) is an example of how a quintessential Chinese film genre of wuxia (swordplay) can transcend national boundaries to capture the imagination of a global audience.

The Leverhulme Trust funded project brings together an international network of experts from Asia, the USA, Europe and Australia who specialise in film, media, comparative literature and cultural studies. It is the first time that academics from different disciplines and countries will work together on examining Chinese films from the mainstream to the art-house and independent sector.

Dr Song Hwee Lim of Film Studies at the University of Exeter said: “The research seeks to examine migration and economic inequality as well as issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and language. We will look at censorship and sponsorship and the role of the imagination in making and viewing of films. Previously the study of Chinese cinema has tended to focus on analysis of film texts and on issues of history and politics. This research will examine who produces the films, who consumes them, and why and how films can be a source of imagination for national, cultural and other identifications.”

The network of academic partners include Nanyang Technological University, Singapore who will host a workshop on the issue of production; consumption of films will be developed at a conference at the University of Amsterdam; the University of California, Riverside will explore the influence of the French dimension of international Chinese cinema. Chinese Malaysian filmmakers will be covered by the Australian National University; the University of Northern Colorado will bring expertise on cross-cultural and post-colonial studies in addition to gay cinema and southeast Asia. The Taiwanese University, the National Chiao Tung University will host a final symposium.

Dr Song Hwee Lim recently edited The Chinese Cinema Book with Julian Ward from the University of Edinburgh. It provides a guide from early cinema to the present day which includes The Forgotten Period 1949-1980, Shanghai cinema of the 1930s and fifth-generation film makers and the Hong Kong New Wave. Kung Fu superstars such as Bruce Lee and famous actors like Jet Li feature in the edition as does Zhang Yimou, director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Dr Song Hwee Lim explains: “Since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, many new films are co-productions with the USA, so it becomes a meeting between two cultures. Choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping cleverly uses CGI and choreographed swordfights to great effect and has gone on to work on The Matrix and with Quentin Tarantino on movies such as Kill Bill. The influence of Chinese cinema is much broader and the knock-on effect is that a lot of people go back and search for earlier Chinese films. Also, the influence of skills developed in Chinese film are not longer restricted to the country of origin.”

Date: 23 January 2012