Beijing, 10 Oct (ZXS) -- How is it possible to "renationalize" Chinese films?

——Interview with Wang Haizhou, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Beijing Film Academy

Written by Wen Longjie Han Yu

In the 2023 movie summer file, from "Disappearing Her", "Desperate", "In the Octagon Cage", to "Chang'an 2019,<> Li" and "Fengshen Part I: Song of the Dynasty", the box office data exceeds <>, refreshing the box office record of Chinese film summer files. Some analysts believe that in addition to responding to reality and subject matter innovation, the ingenious use of traditional culture is a prominent feature of this summer.

As an imported product, how did film art take root in China across the sea? After more than 20 years, what kind of development has Chinese film experienced? How to solve the proposition of the era of "renationalization"? Wang Haizhou, professor and dean of the Graduate School of the Beijing Film Academy, said in a recent interview with the "East-West Question" of China News Agency that Chinese has used and developed the emerging art of film since the beginning of the <>th century, and "renationalization" is a new task for Chinese films in the new historical period.

The following is a summary of the interview:

China News Agency: In what historical context was film art born? How to put down roots in China?

Wang Haizhou: Film as a specific art form was born in Europe and the United States. There are also some video imaging methods in ancient China, such as shadow puppets, horse lanterns, etc., but it is generally believed that movies are still invented and created by European and American scientists and artists represented by Lumière and Edison.

A screening in a café in Paris, France, on December 1895, 12, marked the birth of cinema. Subsequently, the film soon entered China. The early form of dissemination was the transport of Western films to China for screening, via Hong Kong to Shanghai. According to research, the earliest film screening in Chinese mainland was in August 28 at the "Another Village" in Xuyuan, Shanghai.

And Chinese his first film shooting should be in Beijing. It is generally believed that the shooting of Mr. Tan Xinpei's "Dingjun Mountain" in Beijing Fengtai Photo Studio in 1905 marked the birth of Chinese films, but the specific date of shooting cannot be determined.

Movie "Dingjun Mountain"

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the new art form of film entered China, and Chinese began to use and develop this emerging art - Chinese film. However, how to use foreign art forms to express Chinese culture, history and customs requires a long process of exploration.

China News Agency: After more than 100 years, what kind of development has Chinese films experienced? What has been achieved?

Wang Haizhou: Film is an exotic art form, and the first question is, how to find a home in China's art system? Early Chinese film explorers found a "close relative" for it, drama opera, so the film was originally called "shadow opera" in China.

At the starting point, Chinese films have sober and lofty expectations for the future. In the 20s of the 20th century, magazines such as "Silver Star" published articles saying that "the reason why Chinese films can gain a foothold in the world film and theater industry is only for Chinese production", believing that Chinese films should express China's national nature and should not specialize in imitating Western products. In 1927, Yu Dafu said in the article "How to Save China's Films": "What we are asking for is a Chinese film, not an American-style film... We have to try our best to get rid of imitating foreign places before real Chinese films appear. These ideas are still relevant today.

After the exploration of the 20s of the 20th century, under the trend of the left-wing film movement in the 30s, Chinese films entered the first golden age, shooting classic films such as "Goddess", "Road Angel" and "Cross Street". In the mid-to-late 20s of the 40th century after the victory of the Anti-Japanese War, Chinese films entered a peak period, shooting heirloom works such as "A River Flows East" and "Spring in a Small City".

Stills from the movie "Road Angel"

After the founding of New China in 1949, under the new pursuit of "people's film", Chinese films began a new exploration process. The "seventeen-year period" from 1949 to 1966 produced a number of excellent new works that perfectly combined revolutionary ideology and national art forms, such as "Song of Youth", "Early Spring and February", "Red Flag Spectrum", "Lin Family Shop", "Little Soldier Zhang Ga" and so on.

Stills from the movie "Song of Youth"

After the reform and opening up, Chinese films have been reborn, based on film innovation on the basis of drawing on international excellent film art experience. The documentary aesthetic exploration pursued by the "fourth generation of directors" and the subsequent birth of the "fifth generation of directors" are important chapters worth writing in the history of Chinese film.

After 2012, Chinese films have been based on the construction of a cultural power, paid attention to real life, looked back at history, told Chinese stories, and shot many excellent works, such as "Operation Red Sea", "Changjin Lake" and "I am not the God of Medicine", highlighting the vitality and strength of current Chinese films.

Poster for the movie "Operation Red Sea"

China News Agency: How is it possible to construct the national character of Chinese films? Can you give an example of how film, as an "imported product", can take root in the soil and form cultural consciousness?

Wang Haizhou: Movies are imported, but Chinese films have still embarked on a path of nationalization in the course of a hundred years of development. For example, landscape painting plays an important role in traditional Chinese art, and Chinese films embody a typical national creative path in the construction of landscapes, forming spatial interest and image thinking different from those of the West.

"Analects" cloud: "The knower is happy with water, and the benevolent is happy with mountain." "Landscape is not only closely related to the aesthetic appeal of nature precipitated by history, but also intertwined with the ideological context of Chinese philosophy of revering nature and the unity of heaven and man, representing the unique spatial concept of Chinese art." In the painting theory "Lin Quan Gaozhi", Guo Xi of the Song Dynasty took landscape as the object to explain the image construction theory of "taking distance as the method", and proposed that painting has three spatial visual dimensions: "high distance", "high distance" looking down, "far-reaching" and flat looking down, which has great practical significance for the creation of landscape painting.

The image construction method formed over thousands of years with Chinese painting as the main body has subtly penetrated into the spiritual marrow of Chinese literati. After the emergence of this emerging art form, the spatial awareness of Chinese art tradition has naturally become an important fulcrum for film artists to explore how to deal with image space. Therefore, early Chinese films formed a lens language system with medium and long-range vision as the main body, and Mr. Lin Niantong, a film theorist in Hong Kong, China, believes that the focus of early Chinese films is in the "middle layer of the third dimension".

In addition, Chinese painting art uses the method of scattered perspective, showing hand-scrolled images from right to left, and the classic representative is "Qingming Shanghe Tu". Subsequently, how to use a camera with a fixed focus function to realize the artistic experience of scattered perspective of Chinese hand-scrolled painting has become a new exploration direction for Chinese films. "Dead Wood Meets Spring" directed by Zheng Junli and "Little Soldier Zhang Ga" directed by Cui Wei, including some films in recent years such as "Spring River Plumbing", have all made useful explorations of this. These explorations, which rely on local artistic traditions, are the contributions of Chinese films to world cinema.

A still from the movie "Dead Wood Meets Spring"

China News Agency: You have proposed the "renationalization" of Chinese films, what kind of historical process is this?

Wang Haizhou: Before 1949, Chinese films were mainly aimed at the public audience, and Chinese film creators at that time used the new art form of film, combined with the appreciation and interest of Chinese audiences and Chinese history, culture and artistic traditions, to make useful explorations, forming the two peak periods of the 20s and late 30s of the 40th century, Cai Chusheng, Fei Mu, Shi Dongshan, Zhu Shilin and other excellent directors, and also achieved a number of excellent works. These directors and works, after time precipitation and historical tests, have been written into the history of Chinese film, which is the process of nationalization of Chinese films in a specific historical period.

After the founding of New China, according to the new literary and artistic guidelines and policies, art should take the creative route of "serving the people", so the form of Chinese films changed from "citizen films" to "people's films". How to combine the revolutionary ideology with the aesthetic characteristics of the Chinese audience, create excellent works that integrate ideology, artistry and ornamentation, and achieve a double harvest of social and economic benefits is a major challenge. Some of the creative laws of citizen films explored before 1949 cannot comprehensively solve the tasks of the new era, which requires in-depth study of Chinese art laws with the help of excellent traditional Chinese culture, so that the works can better meet the aesthetic needs of the people. Therefore, I believe that combining revolutionary ideology and value expression with the excellent traditional Chinese culture, carrying out creative transformation and innovative development, and creating excellent works representing the new era is a process of "re-nationalization" and a new task for Chinese films in the new historical period.

China News Agency: What is the current development trend of the frontier of world film culture? How should China recognize this trend? How to extract the essence and use it for me?

Wang Haizhou: World culture is diverse, and after thousands of years of development, it has formed a variety of civilization forms. The film art developed on this basis should also be diverse. However, the modern film industry has formed the status quo of Hollywood and Western film "dominating the screen". The current state of development of world cinema is not optimistic. Hollywood, which has swept the world, is also currently facing a huge development bottleneck. There is nothing new in "American Story", and it is boring to watch too many grand spectacle scenes produced by the film industry. In recent years, the situation of American films in the Chinese market is not ideal, which is also related to its quality problems. As the main body of the "Korean Wave", Korean films have been popular for a while, winning many awards at Western film festivals, but since last year, they have also encountered difficulties, most of the films have not satisfactory box office, and there have been serious losses, which have affected the entry of production funds and faced development difficulties.

"Chang'an 30,000 Li" movie poster

World cinema has entered a period of confusion, but Chinese cinema has ushered in some gratifying progress. China's big-budget mainstream films can present some phenomenal works every year. Especially this summer, there has been some positive momentum in Chinese films, and phenomenal works that pay attention to reality and attach importance to traditional culture continue to appear, such as "Chang'an 30,000 Li", "Octagonal Cage", "The First Part of Fengsheng: Song of the Dynasty", "Desperate", etc., which is a good sign and makes everyone look forward to the prospects of Chinese films. (End)

Respondent Profile:

Wang Haizhou, Ph.D. in Film Studies, is a professor, dean of the Graduate School, director of the library of the Beijing Film Academy, doctoral supervisor, and chief expert of the major art project of the National Social Science Foundation. He is currently the vice president of the Chinese College Film and Television Society and the chairman of the Film and Television History Professional Committee of the National National Society; Convener of the Drama and Film Subcommittee of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council, the National Art Professional Degree Graduate Education and Guidance Committee. He has won the honorary titles of Beijing Education Innovation Pacesetter, Beijing Changcheng Scholar, and Beijing Outstanding Graduate Supervisor. Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Chinese Film Studies and Editor-in-Chief of Contemporary Animation.