Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The SF Cinema of Mainland China: Politics, Production and Market Potential

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The SF Cinema of Mainland China: Politics, Production and Market Potential

Article excerpt

The sf cinema of mainland China is largely notable by its absence. Consequently, there are few, if any, studies of this popular genre in relation to a territory that is fast emerging as the second biggest market for feature films after the US ("The monkey and the mouse'). For example, Song Hwee Lim and Julian Ward's The Chinese Cinema Book (2011) examines genre in one of its five sections, but sf is not covered due to the limited number of titles available for discussion. The only film with sf trappings mentioned in the collection is Cuo wei (Dislocation; Huang China 1986), which deals with an engineer who constructs a robot in his own image, and is considered in the social-political context of the Fifth Generation rather than as a genre piece (Larson 118).

This article will provide an overview of Chinese sf cinema that will seek to explain the disparity between its considerable popularity with the mainland audience and the low level of local sf production. First, the appeal of sf in China will be established through reference to the general theatrical marketplace and the box-office success of Hollywood sf films that have been imported within local quota restrictions. Second, the manner in which politics impact upon local production will be considered by examining state censorship in relation to sf, in addition to the logistical challenges of making such films to interna- tional standards. Third, a history of the sf cinema of mainland China will be provided, with reference to its literary roots and two films released in the 1980s: Shanhu Dao Shang de Siguang (Death Ray on a Coral Island; Zhang China 1980) and Dislocation. Fourth, more recent examples of mainland China's sf cinema will be discussed: the independent production Mingri tianya (All Tomorrow's Parties; Yu China/France/HK 2003), the underground production Xingxing xiangxi xi (Star Appeal; Cui Zi'en China 2008) and the studio production JiqiXia (Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg; Lau China/HK 2009). These distinct approaches to sf will be analysed to address the question of whether the genre has a legitimate future in a national cinema that is as synonymous with creative restriction as it is with commercial potential.

This article will specifically examine the sf cinema of mainland China, rather than including Hong Kong and Taiwan. This is not to deny the effect of the Chinese diaspora on film production, since 'the history of the Inter-China area, or "Greater China" (Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), is one of migration, diaspora, colonialism, nationalism, political rivalry, military confrontation, and cultural interflow all at the same time' (Lu 1997: 12). Indeed, the observation that sf cinema is rarely produced in mainland China is equally applicable to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong lacks a defined sf tradition, although the genre does permeate mainstream production at irregular intervals, being fused with madcap comedy or martial arts action in such films as Tit gaap mou dik maa lei aa (I Love Maria; Ching HK1988), Gong yuan 2000 AD (2000 AD; Chan HK 2000), Fei ying (Silver Hawk; Ma HK 2004), Cheung gong chat hou (C/7; Chow HK 2008), Chun sing gai bei (City Under Siege; Chan HK 2010) and Mei loi ging chaat (Future X-Cops; Wong HK/Taiwan 2010). Sf is almost entirely absent from Taiwanese cinema, with the virtual world predicted by the independent production Xiao shi da kan (Honey PuPu; Chen 2011) being a rare example of genre presence, alongside the aforemen- tioned co-production Future X-Cops. This article will focus on examples from mainland China as a means of addressing the relative absence of sf in relation to such local factors as audiences, censorship, national or personal identity, politics and the gradual opening up' of its film industry due, in part, to the internationalised expectations of cinemagoers resulting from the increased availability of Hollywood product. However, it is also important to note the development of genre production through the transnational flow of creative talent and commercial media from other territories as the film industry of Hong Kong has increasingly cooperated with that of mainland China following the 1997 Handover and the 1998 Asian financial crisis (Chu 136). …

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