By Kevin B. Lee
Let it be known that 2010 was an exceptional year for Chinese independent cinema.
Most media attention on Chinese cinema in 2010 was directed at its record-breaking domestic box-office receipts, led by blockbusters such as Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock and If You Are the One 2. What hasn’t been reported enough is the abundance of excellent Chinese films to be found outside the mainstream cineplexes. Accessing these films is a challenge, to be sure; most have only been screened one or two times at small-scale independent film festivals in China. A lucky few have made it to international festivals; some have even won awards. Scattered over last year’s festival calendar, their appearances made resounding but isolated impressions – but taking them in all at once, the diversity and quality of these independent visions is staggering.
I originally wanted to write an article spotlighting my favorite Chinese independent films of 2010, but looking at the year’s bounty, it seems that the real story is in how richly differentiated Chinese independent cinema is becoming. Even a lesser film by objective standards of quality may offer an exciting new approach in subject or form. Such efforts to innovate may prove to be more vital to the development of cinema than the so-called masterpieces. In his provocative articles for dGenerate and elsewhere, Shelly Kraicer has repeatedly asked, “What Is Chinese Cinema?” He’s raised this question to challenge both international audiences and Chinese filmmakers on their assumptions and expectations on what Chinese films should be. No more succinctly does he make the point than in an essay from three years ago: