15:29 - 26th September 2014, by David West

Electric Shadows

Coinciding with the BFI’s summer-long retrospective on Chinese cinema comes Electric Shadows, taking in the filmmakers of the Chinese Mainland alongside sections on Hong Kong and Taiwan, with work by 16 different contributors. The history of cinema is largely contained in the 20th century, which coincided with a hundred years of upheaval in China, including the civil war, the Communist Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, and the Open Door Policy that transformed the economy.

The chapters on Republican filmmaking and the first 17 years of Communism offer a fascinating glimpse into a rarely seen screen past, although the writers reference the May Fourth Movement without explaining the term. ‘The Cultural Revolution In Chinese Cinema’ incisively analyses how filmmakers responded to the crisis unleashed by Chairman Mao in 1966, while ‘Chinese Popcorn’ looks at Chinese cinema at the outset of the 21st century. Critical attitudes have certainly changed since the BFI published Perspectives On Chinese Cinema in 1991, which focussed almost entirely on the Fifth Generation directors and dismissed Hong Kong genre filmmaking virtually out-of-hand. There are strong sections here on Hong Kong martial arts films, crime / Triad movies, horror, and Wong Kar-Wai and arthouse cinema. The Taiwanese section is noticeably smaller, perhaps a reflection of the much lower profile of the island’s filmmakers next to their neighbours. The depth of analysis is curtailed by the sheer range of material, but the writers provide an excellent historical and cultural overview.

Generously illustrated and written with insight and expertise, Electric Shadows will surely delight any Chinese cinephile.
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