While the new favorites of the domestic establishment used the spectacle and fantasy genre to escape to a time when “the world was still young” and humans and gods roamed the world together, on the margins of Chinese cinema there emerged a new, more down-to-earth generation of directors, ready to face the contradictions of the contemporary China
According to some sources, with the premiere of Zhang Yimou’s Hero in 2002, there began a new era of commercial film in China. Inspired by the international success of the spectacle Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) by the Taiwanese Ang Lee, China embarked on a race with the most influential film industry on the planet: Hollywood. In this concrete case, the pledge was a combination of the author signature of the famous “fifth generation” of directors and the “auto-exotification” of tradition under the attractive cloak of the wu xia martial arts genre. As a former inner dissident, with this spectacle Yimou secured himself an entrance ticket into the Chinese film mainstream, and was soon followed by his generational colleague Chen Kaige (Yellow Earth, Farewell My Concubine). These new favorites of the domestic establishment used the spectacle and fantasy genres to escape to times when, as the invisible storyteller in Chen’s Zakletve (2005) puts it, “the world was still young” and humans and gods roamed the world together. At the same time, on the margins of Chinese cinema, there emerged a new, more down-to-earth generation of directors, ready to face the contradictions of contemporary, economically open and globalized China. This “sixth” generation rejects the orientation of their predecessors to traditional and pre-modern topics for the sake of plural identities and (social) realism, thus keeping the censorship officials awake. These directors managed to position themselves as independent of the strong trend of “Hollywood-ization” of contemporary Chinese film.
The coexistence of the two generations of directors and three film currents is evident in this program. It just so happens that in this program Mrtva priroda (Sanxia Haoren, 2006) by the acclaimed independent director of the “sixth” generation, Jio Zhangke, is sandwiched alone between the two officially privileged camps. The government’s pet from the first camp, Yimou, is represented with an atypical film from his later directing phase, Usamljeno putovanje od tisuću milja (2005). He made this redemption drama between two wu xia mega-spectacles - House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. It tells the story of an estranged Japanese father and leads us through the hilly “yellow land” of traditional Chinese culture (nuo opera) and folklore. By way of contrast, Chen Kaige’s The Promise is a big-budget spectacle financed by several Asian countries, based on an overly romanticized knight legend, relying too much on virtual reality and digital effects. Search for the lost intimacy in Jio Zhangke’s film happens in a completely different, cataclysmic surrounding, among the depressing physical and moral ruins of a city that was flooded by an accumulation pond. The feeling prevails in the film that something new and modern must emerge from this, but there is obviously no humanity or sentiment left.
Even though between its comical lines it touches on the topic of corruption as the general syndrome of Chinese modernity, from an other angle - that of campy Hollywood - the dark comedy Crazy Stone (Fengkuang de shitou, 2006) seems like pure escapism. Young Ning Hu’s film amused the Chinese by the mix of dialects spoken by the bizarre protagonists of this hilarious quest for the precious jade, MTV esthetics and speed, as well as references to famous Hollywood hits, and it even managed to sell itself to international audiences outside of China. Feng Xiaogang, here famous for his kung fu version of Hamlet (Banquet, 2006), with similar (commercial and genre) ambitions, approaches the romanticized story about a group of soldiers who died in the Chinese civil war from the ideologically “right” position in the pyrotechnical spectacle Assembly (2007). The film was successful in China but as to whether this combination of an autochthonous theme and ideology and an imported formula will succeed outside of China, only time will tell. (Diana Nenadić)