People’s Republic of Cinema

Minnesota harmony seeking citizens demand “We Want Chinese films!”

Lt. Wang of the communist forces is such a showoff
PHOTO COURTESY WALKER ART CENTER

Lt. Wang of the communist forces is such a showoff PHOTO COURTESY WALKER ART CENTER

Thomas Q. Johnson

WHAT: The PeopleâÄôs Republic of Cinema: 60 Years of China on Film WHEN: Nov. 4-23 WHERE: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. / Bell Museum Auditorium, 10 Church St. S.E. TICKETS: at Bell Museum: free, at Walker: $8 / $6 Walker members How we grow has been captured by many a mom on shaky VHS. Labels in permanent marker track the years along with special events from infancy, to kindergarten graduation, to that one weird play everyone had to do in elementary school. The WalkerâÄôs presentation of 14 Chinese films, spanning nearly 60 years of moviemaking in the PeopleâÄôs Republic , is much like a baby-tape marathon, allowing viewers to watch the development of a nation. The festival begins in 1956 with Sang HuâÄôs âÄúNew YearâÄôs SacrificeâÄù and proceeds in nearly chronological order to 2004âÄôs âÄúPirated CopyâÄù directed by He Jianjun. The films selected for the WalkerâÄôs showcase illustrate a spectrum of radically different circumstances in China both politically and socially through the years. Together they show a nation and an art that is constantly in flux. Through those 60 years, films in the PeopleâÄôs Republic of China have been made under the heavy shadow of government censorship. Early films are rife with communist messages and revolutionary plots. A good example is the 1949 film âÄúCrows and Sparrows,âÄù in which the tenets of a Shanghai boarding house are being forced out by their greedy nationalist landlords who hope to flee with Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan. As a result, the rag-tag group of lovable leftists is forced to band together as they devise a hare-brained scheme to keep the house. The characters in this film are as fresh and memorable as any modern film of the same premise, such as âÄúThe GooniesâÄù or âÄúThe Sandlot.âÄù At the confluence of the Cultural RevolutionâÄôs aftermath and an increased accessibility to filmmaking equipment due to the development of technology, a new form of Chinese cinema began to take shape. Dubbed âÄúThe Fifth GenerationâÄù by scholars, these filmmakers began to approach film with a more free and innovative approach, though the subject matter was still for the most part traditional Chinese stories. The films âÄúYellow EarthâÄù and âÄúOne in EightâÄù in the WalkerâÄôs repertoire are both good examples of this transitional time when Chinese film was enjoying its first real international audience. âÄúThe Sixth GenerationâÄù began in the early âÄô90s and is characterized by sobering and edgy themes that tend to focus on the tension of urban Chinese life. YouâÄôll be able to recognize this generation of films by such zingy names as âÄúGood Cats,âÄù âÄúBeijing Bastards,âÄù âÄúPirated CopyâÄù and âÄúCry Me a River.âÄù Also, finding that the film drops away into awkwardly long breaks of either rock or death metal sequences are other surefire clues. When watching these films, itâÄôs not hard to notice that the production or flow of the plot isnâÄôt always up to Hollywood snuff, but top quality detailing is not what makes them so important. There are many debates over the search for a âÄúChinese identityâÄù and the role it plays in modern Chinese art, but what these stories convey is the personal side of that struggle. It captures the daily tensions of living in a quickly changing society on a personal level, often in intimate and moving terms. Part of some strange, modern mating ritual; the sharing of baby tapes with a steady gal or guy is an experience many smitten couples experience. The experience can be a funny, emotional and enjoyable one and in this case letâÄôs hope it leads to a stronger relationship between these two lovebirds.