The Future of Chinese Film Criticism

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Wang Yang (photo credit: Grace Wang)

By Ariella Tai

In similar form to her fascinating report on Chinese Documentaries in her Chicago Sun Times-based blog, Grace Wang, has written of her search for the new face of Chinese film criticism. Somewhat surprisingly, that face belongs to a young former law student named Wang Yang, who is the founder of Youth Film Journal, the first independently published film journal in China today. This publication is virtually the only professional, non-academic, publication devoted to film criticism in contemporary China, despite the fact that the film industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, producing over 500 films in the past year.

Her extensive interview with Wang Yang reveals that, in China, there is a rapidly growing community of young, self-educated cinephiles who are hungry to write about film and share their ideas with others. As is the case with many young film critics in the modern era, both DVD and Internet culture have played an integral role in this development. Youth Film Journal provides an outlet for these voices, outside of academia or the mainstream hype bankrolled by studios. Yang provides an in-depth context for the Chinese film criticism scene and analyzes the potential of these young film critics to eventually; he hopes, compete with the current canon of criticism largely dominated by Western voices.

Several excerpts from the interview are copied after the break. For the full text, please visit Grace Wang’s blog on the Chicago Sun Times.

GW: Along with the rapid development of Chinese cinema, so are its audiences. What do you think of this process?

WY: In the past ten years, DVD culture exploded in China, in particular due to the wide spread of piracy it allowed the masses of Chinese audiences to access world cinema, both the classics and the contemporary gems. It is on this basis that Chinese cinephilia culture gradually developed. These film fans started with those in the industry, the filmmakers, and then expanded to the cultured middle class, and now the young intellectuals. In a way this is kind of like a cultural revolution, but much more low-key. The Chinese young people can from the comfort of their homes watch thousands and even tens of thousands movies, from all periods, of all genres and languages, all over the world. These young people not only watch the films – they analyze them, critique them, and even want to make them. In this process the level of film appreciation is constantly being elevated – from watching a film, to critiquing it, to learning about its filmmaker, to collecting further materials and knowledge. If there isn’t enough information in Chinese, people translate them from other languages and then share them on the web. Film literature is very popular in China these days, and mostly they are those profiling certain directors, and also some of the classic film criticism books. Many private film groups also formed who host their own private screenings and discussions. As the understanding of world cinema gradually increases, some of these people’s film knowledge and level of critique will rise to a certain standard, which differs greatly from the traditional sense of film critics. When that time comes, I think China will finally have film critics of its own that are akin to those in the west.

What follows is also lots of discussion, and that entirely takes place on the web because it is simply too difficult to do so in other channels in China. Through the World Wide Web, many people can access your perspectives; this wide interaction elevates the discussions and criticisms to a higher level. Now, the new wave of Chinese film criticism is still growing, and its main field is on the web. The creation of Youth Film Journal stems from the hope to increase these new film criticisms and their social impact, and in turn help elevate the general quality of Chinese cinema itself. At the very least we can help to refuse garbage and mainstream cinema. In a way our thinking is that even if our generation cannot create something substantial, through our motivation and efforts, at least we can refuse something. This is a long-term preparation. As society produces more and more young people who delve into film and film criticism, and through exposure and interactions with more and more films and film literatures, and through DVDs and other accessible formats to share with more and more others, this new wave can build up through time to create a group of not just film fans, but intelligent, sharp film critics or even filmmakers.

GW: What do you think of the future of Chinese criticism? Any hopes? Dreams?

WY: The relationship between Chinese cinema and Chinese film criticism is very complicated. Chinese cinema has been increasingly influenced by power and profits, almost becoming in fashion like economic and real estate investments, as a venue of funneling money and to help the government construct a kind of safe and dependable consumerism culture, a sort of harmless film industry. However, this impact on the nature of films, this restraint on the power of films and its artistic freedom, may be disastrous. So the state of Chinese films and film criticisms can be said to be in a state of divergence that is similar to the state of internal politics in China: the mainstream power will continue to rule over the masses, but individualism and freedom will continue to develop independently, quietly, on a separate track. The current film criticisms cannot have big or small impact on the production of Chinese cinema, they can only try their best to keep their voice aloud and heard, and not letting go of their sense of responsibility. The focus is still on the introduction, digestion, organization, and dissemination of world cinema culture. This is a stage of preparation.

In the meanwhile, quality film audiences are quietly congregating. One day a moment will come, when Chinese film critics will develop to a certain level of excellence, and this may be a surprising level, that they will began to have substantial impacts on Chinese cinema. This impact may be far greater than their counterparts in the culturally developed western countries. They may trigger a great new wave, and this I truly want to emphasize.

Youth Film Journal can be ordered online via Amazon China:

Issue 1: http://www.amazon.cn/dp/B00134CN3E

Issue 2: http://www.amazon.cn/dp/B002H9WGMW

Issue 3: http://www.amazon.cn/dp/B003DIV22Q

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