Between Shanghai and Hong Kong: The Politics of Chinese Cinemas, by Poshek Fu. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003. xviii + 202 pp. US$49.50 (hardcover), US$19.95 (paperback).
Framing Piracy: Globalization and Film Distribution in Greater China, by Shujen Wang. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. xviii + 235 pp. US$75.00 (hardcover), US$32.95 (paperback).
Film studies as a legitimate academic enterprise has greatly expanded in recent years. Moving out of the familiar enclave of film schools, courses are now offered in many of the disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (of the two authors under review, Poshek Fu is an historian and Shujen Wang is housed in a department of visual and media arts). However, much of the teaching and research, particularly in the humanities, has concentrated on textual analysis, aesthetic appreciation and the multiple ways to "read" a film.
The two books under consideration, by contrast, are concerned primarily with film markets, including production, distribution and exhibition. Fu's book ends in 1950, while Wang's is about the present. But even though they cover different historical periods and address different research questions, they are linked by their focus on border crossings, viewing Chinese cinema as plural and interactive. Thus, to some degree, both books examine the relationship between a mainland Chinese "center" and a Chinese cultural "periphery" (namely, Hong Kong and Taiwan). Indeed, for Fu, even wartime Shanghai, with its "westernized lifestyle, semicolonial status, and bohemian, radical intellectual culture" (p. 69), was seen as the "other China", in contradistinction to the more "authentic" Chinese-ruled interior (p. 50). On the other hand, when Shanghai intellectuals went to Hong Kong they transformed themselves into "the 'Chinese'", viewing Hong Kong natives as the "'slavish' other" (p. 69). This transcultural, even transnational, approach has become a common theme in recent works on Chinese cinema, such as those by Sheldon Lu and Zhang Yingjin, among others.
Both authors have been imaginatively painstaking, impressively tracking down relevant sources and using diverse methodologies. While Wang combines library and archival research with extensive interviews with practitioners and observations from the field throughout Greater China, Fu has unearthed rare films and documentary sources long thought lost. His book reads like a compelling detective story as he ferrets out information from a wide range of Chinese- and Japanese-language materials (for example, plot summaries, synopses and advertisements). In what is clearly a labor of love, he seeks to rewrite the colonial past and "'restory' the people and culture of Hong Kong" (p. 91). This is all the more valuable since, as he notes, the prevailing attitude among most Chinese film scholars has been to treat these lost films as no great loss at all.
Fu's book sets out a series of challenges to some of the central themes and approaches taken by film scholars, cultural theorists, literary critics and historians over the past decade. In addition to his rejection of a monolithic "Chinese cinema"-embracing instead the different Chinese cinemas that have historically been made in different languages (or dialects) at different geopolitical locations-he also challenges what he considers the stereotypes and sweeping generalizations that have simplified the complex history of twentieth-century China. This includes the blanket condemnation of all films made in China under Japanese occupation as either escapist or pro-Japanese propaganda, perpetuated by traitors, as well as the blanket dismissal-both from mainland and Western film scholars-of pre-1997 Hong Kong as a cultural desert in which cultural production, especially dialect films, had no meaning other than the generation of quick profits, and are therefore unworthy of serious study or analysis. Finally, Fu is concerned with the politics of representation. …