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Rough Cut: China: The New Wave
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Chinese cinema and follow links to reviews of classic and contemporary work.

A Look At Chinese Cinema

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, film production in China basically halted. But soon after that period of instability, a new class of filmmakers entered the Beijing Film Academy, graduating in 1982 and beginning a new era in Chinese cinema. Several of these new filmmakers rose to prominence, and the group collectively became known as the "Fifth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers.

Movie Marquee

Movie Marquee in China.

Two of the most famous were Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. In 1984, they worked together to make Yellow Earth, the story of a Communist soldier who is sent to the countryside to collect inspirational folk songs for the Communist Revolution but who instead only finds songs about hardship and suffering in the villages of rural China.

Later, Chen and Zhang brought worldwide acclaim to Chinese cinema with lush historical epics such as Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern, which subtly commented on contemporary issues in Chinese society. In recent years, Zhang Yimou in particular has achieved great box-office success in China and America with the visually stunning martial arts films, Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

The 1990s saw the emergence of the "Sixth Generation" of Chinese filmmakers who were shaped more by the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 than by the Cultural Revolution of the '60s and '70s.

Works such as Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai and East Palace West Palace by Zhang Yuan tell stories of young people lost amidst grimy urban landscapes. Both films are banned in China.

With no official outlet for their work, the Sixth Generation directors took their films underground, showing them to small gatherings of cinephiles in big-city bars or at occasional academic screenings. Pirated DVD copies were sold on the streets, and the films have also found a wider audience at international film festivals.

Du Haibin

Du Haibin.

In 2003, China's Film Bureau relaxed its rules for green-lighting new film projects, which has brought some independent filmmakers into the mainstream. Jia Zhangke's two most recent works, The World and Still Life, have both passed the censors, though his first three films (Xiao Wu, Platform, and Unknown Pleasures) remain banned in China.

Meanwhile, a legion of young documentary filmmakers like Du Haibin continue to work under the radar in China. For now, their films are small enough, both in terms of their audience and the stories they tell, that they can operate with relative freedom and piece together a modest living. However, in 2006 the government did arrest and detain for five months a documentary filmmaker named Hao Wu, who at the time was working on a film about underground Christian groups. -- Joshua Fisher

Related Links

Cinema China 2007: A Brief History of Chinese Cinema
The film festival, Cinema China 2007 in the U.K., explores eight decades of Chinese filmmaking. In addition to information about the films presented at the festival, the Web site also provides historical context for the films, beginning with Bu Wanchang's 1927 film, Romance of the West Chamber.

Review: Memoirs From the Beijing Film Academy
Michael Berry, a U.C. Santa Barbara professor of Chinese culture, reviews Ni Zhen's book Memoirs from the Beijing Film Academy. The book traces the formation of the revered Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers during their time at the Beijing Film Academy, China's most influential training ground.

Chinese Cinema Digest
The Beijing-based film critic Shelly Kraicer maintains the Chinese Cinema Digest -- a compilation of his writings on Chinese film. The site includes links to Kraicer's review of Jia Zhangke's Still Life, published by Cinema Scope, and his two-part retrospective of 100 years of Chinese filmmaking, published in The Village Voice (Part 1 and Part 2). Kraicer also calls Still Life the best Chinese film of 2006.

An Interview with Jia Zhangke

Valerie Jaffee, a visiting scholar at the Beijing Film Academy, interviews the director Jia Zhangke just prior to the release of his 2004 film The World.

UCSD Chinese Cinema Web-Based Learning Center
UC San Diego Chinese and comparative literature professor Zhang Yinglin, directs the Chinese Cinema Web-Based Learning Center there, and includes Jia Zhangke's Platform as one of the "must-see" Chinese films. The site also features a wealth of video and images from throughout the history of Chinese film.

Asia Society: The Cinema Scene Podcast
For the latest on Asian films, the Cinema Scene podcast provides reviews, news, industry trends, and interviews with filmmakers and actors.