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December 06, 2006

Contemporary Asian Cinema

I not Stupid.jpg

Poster for the Singaporean film Xiaohai bu ben/I not Stupid by Jack Neo (2002).

Contemporary Asian Cinema: Popular Culture in a Global Frame
edited by Anne Tereska Ciecko
Berg Publishers 2006

There are two glaring problems with Contemporary Asian Cinema. First, there are no film stills. Second, there is no listing of films that may be available on DVD or, the format of choice here in Thailand, VCD. As far as the lack of illustrations go, my attitude is that film stills at the very least give me some glimpse of the film, or a filmmaker's style. This is especially useful if the film may not be easily available in any format. A list of films that are available on tape or disc format would provide a great service to those both casually and seriously interested in seeing any of the films listed, rather than forcing film scholars to engage in time-consuming detective work, especially for those films only available though Asian sources.

The book overall does provide information on the intertwining histories of filmmaking and politics, and discusses films in countries usually overlooked in any talk of "world cinema". The other main theme mentioned by several of the writers is that the concept of so-called art cinema is as artificial as the assumption that films made primarily as popular entertainment are solely influenced by Hollywood. Films using the neo-realist template are no more or less authentic expressions of Asian culture than the recent films influcnced by Spielberg or Scorsese. Most amazing of all is to read about filmmaking in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, two countries off the map of most film scholars.

The other great value to Asian Contemporary Cinema is the examination of the diversity of Asian culture. In addition to the different ethnic groups in the various countries that have influenced filmmaking in terms of subject matter and language used, there is discussion about the concept of a national cinema, how it is created, maintained and preserved. Add to that the idea of global or transnational filmmaking that may or may not include the participation of Hollywood.

Ideally, someone will send a copy of this book to Dan Glickman of the MPAA as a holiday gift. Even if one does not subscribe to the politics of a given nation, the book helps clarify the reasoning behind quotas that limit the number of Hollywood films in some Asian countries. If it true that only three percent of the films seen on U.S. screens are from other countries, perhaps a greater sense of fair play should be considered. One of Glickman's lobbying efforts on behalf of Hollywood resulted in Korea lowering the number of days Korean theaters showed Korean films. How this will affect an industry that has become quite significant in the past few years has yet to be seen. Considering that Hollywood has been remaking films from Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, and that some films are made as vehicles to sell remake rights, Glickman may want to shift gears to encourage Asian filmmaking. Without The Ring, Infernal Affairs or My Sassy Girl to remake, Hollywood may be forced to do the unthinkable, create relatively original films.

By the way, while The Departed and Borat have yet to get theatrical release here, I did spot DVDs for sale from one enterprising street vendor here in Chiang Mai.

Posted by peter at December 6, 2006 08:30 AM


Ah, yes, the bootleggers and their wares. Not quite as ubiquitous in Chiang Mai when I was there, but all over Bangkok (and Georgetown, and Phnom Penh, and Mae Sai...)

The book sounds like something I'd love to read.

I was thinking the other day: does the Alliance Francaise Chiang Mai still do weekly film screening like they used to back in 1999-2000? Sometimes the films were subtitled, sometimes not, but it was the only access I had to the likes of Godard and Guitry when I was living there.

Posted by: Brian at December 6, 2006 11:36 PM

The Alliance is still active but I haven't checked them out yet. As you can tell from my newest article, seeing Thai films in Thailand has taken some strange turns.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at December 7, 2006 02:07 AM

I agree about the film stills. I'm a big fan of including them in books on cinema. Like you've said, they give a glimpse of style (especially if there's several from one sequence or scene; and, in addition to what you've said, seeing a still helps me remember a film I've read about. The DVD/VCD listing I'm more forgiving of, because I seldom use those anyway. If I'm interested enough, I'll usually jot down titles as I read.

Posted by: Pacze Moj at December 7, 2006 02:11 AM