Chinese Culture in Chinese Global Cinema
China is a contemporary society in the East, one that has over the years sought to remain untarnished by Western civilization. In the era of global citizenry, this quest has been made impossible, and the culture continues to erode as the Chinese people adopt Western ways of life through clothes, food, speech and even values. Film has thus been considered as one of the ways in which this rich culture can be preserved and passed on to the future generations who may appreciate it more than the present generation. Chinese Global Cinema refers to the Chinese films that are specifically made for the international audience, and it thus includes the films made in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. The Chinese film industry generally became globalized in the 1990’s with the rise of the Fifth Generation directors after the numerous wars and their aftermaths. These Fifth generation directors, unlike their predecessors, were more schooled and exposed to the international movie making industry and, thus they were more capable of presenting movies that could appeal to international audiences. Having exhausted the issue of wars, these directors needed the world to know the Chinese story from an insider’s point of view as opposed to what was already circulating in the international media and giving the Chinese people a very poor reputation and image. Considering that the aim of the international Chinese films was to bring China out to the world on their own terms. It is important to note that the script writers and directors also tried to relate with their local audiences in the content of the movies. They thus tried as much as possible to be true to the Chinese culture in the way they represented the country and its natives in the films.
Social Dissatisfaction, Rebellion and Vengeance
Hero, the movie shot in 2002 belongs to the wuxia genre of Chinese films and is directed by Zhang Yimou. This movie has a hero who is identified as Nameless, one who earns his status by dissuading the three assassins from taking the king’s life and rather striving to unify China prompted by Sword’s advice. Nameless is thus the hero here because he abandons his desire for revenge in favor of an opportunity to unite the states and have a unified and peaceful nation. He is, however, executed as per the law for his earlier intentions of assassinating the king, but receives a befitting funeral and the states are united (Kaldis 2009).
Looking at the hero’s character here, it is clear that there is a strong sense of rebellion and dissatisfaction that inspire his actions. Nameless confesses to the king that his family was wiped out by the king’s soldiers and this was the root of his anger. He did not like the king and thus he set out to end his life just like the three other assassins before him. As a man, he was dissatisfied by the king’s leadership especially given that he came from a state that had greatly suffered in the king’s hands.
This character is defined as a reflection of Chinese culture in that the people are largely unhappy because of the way the leaders treat them (Ni 2002). Over the years, Chinese leadership has been seen as dictatorial in which the people had no power. They are considered as subjects and not citizens, and this brews a toxic atmosphere where the relationship between the leadership and the citizens becomes quite damaged. The obvious result is a rebellion and a dissatisfaction leading to rebel groups and solitary assassins who are compelled by their own need for justice or vengeance. Based on history, the Chinese people have not been well treated by their leaders over the years (Klein 2007). The leader is defined as one who has autonomity over affairs of the state and is not questionable by law in that they make the law and it does not apply to them. As a result, people were forced to find alternative ways of getting justice often by assassinating the tyrants. Those incapable of such bold partaking were forced to suffer in silence.
This aspect of Chinese culture is also seen in House of Flying Daggers, a film of 2004 in the wuxia genre, as well. Here, there is a high number of rebel groups against the Tang Dynasty, and the authorities seek to eliminate them by attacking and killing their leaders. House of Flying Daggers is one of the largest rebel groups that continue to challenge the authorities by stealing from the rich and giving the stolen possessions to the poor. This symbolizes dissatisfaction with the injustices of the society where the rich make up the government and do not care about the poor (Larson 2009).
In the film Hero, Nameless has had to live through the pain of losing his family and is now fully prepared to avenge their deaths and rid the nation of a reputably bad leader. The other assassins also have their own individual justifications for wanting to slay the king, but it is Nameless that makes it to the king’s court after convincing and colluding with the others on their quest.
Also, in Chinese tradition and possibly culture the authorities always manage to outwit the rebellion even if the vengeful ones may come out on top. This is also seen when Nameless ends up being killed to present as example to anyone who may have similar intentions against the king. This tradition has been in existence for years on end, and it was useful in maintaining order and ensuring that the leadership was obeyed, respected and even feared (Ebrey 1996).
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also brings out some aspect of vengeance like in most of the other Chinese films. This can be attributed to karma with China being largely a Buddhist nation. Mu Bai, who kills Jade Fox, is actually fulfilling a personal vendetta given that Jade murdered his beloved master many years before.
In this regard, the main aspects of Chinese culture that find their way into the Chinese global cinema characters include the rebellious spirit borne of dissatisfaction and a need for justice. Also, the fact that these characters often die in the end means that the Chinese society does not encourage or tolerate rebels and especially those that challenge the authorities and seek revenge against them (Yeh & Davis 2013).
Another aspect of Chinese culture that is often present in the Chinese global cinema is the attitude towards women and against male domination (Chan 2004). A good example of this is in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon directed by Ang Lee in 2000. In this movie, the villain is basically a woman by the name Jade Fox who is considered as a warrior with very intense ambitions that included mastering the skills of a Wudang swordsman and stealing the Green Destiny, a very remarkable sword. This character is created in defiance of the typical Chinese societal norm in which the women are confined to homemaking tasks and not fighting (Lan 2013). She is portrayed as a formidable enemy, but is in the end killed by Mu Bai, a male Wudang swordsman. In a different cultural dispensation, Jade may have been killed by Jen or even Shu Lien, but here it just had to be Mu Bai, a male Wudang swordsman. This shows just how deep China is into male domination and the ideology of men being superior to women.
Another example of female rejection of their subjugated role in the Chinese society is when Jen, Jade Fox’s prot?g? loathes her lifestyle and the arranged marriage expected for her in favor of Shu Lien’s, which is that of a warrior and thus filled with dangerous adventures (Chen, Liu & Shi 1997). This character borrows heavily from Chinese culture in terms of the arranged marriages where the daughters are handed over in marriage to suitors whose positions would benefit the family socially, politically or even financially (Davis 2005). The arranged marriages are a part of Chinese culture, and the fact that Jen is portrayed as having fallen in love with Lo and eventually jumping off the mountains implies a defiance on her part as a Chinese governor’s daughter who cannot go against her father’s expectations. Here, Jen risks losing her life rather than facing her father and refusing to consent to the arranged marriage. This shows how the Chinese culture is strict with regards to how parents and their children relate, and how few control the women have over their own lives.
Generally, it can be said that Chinese culture weighs heavily on forming the characters in Chinese films, and thus greatly affects the structure and direction of the narratives. Considering three Chinese global films, it is clear that the characters are shaped in such a way that they not only represent the people of China in a way, but can also be understood by them. The villains and heroes here are driven by emotions and needs that are familiar to the Chinese people causing empathy from the local audiences. The international audiences, on the other hand, can only seek to understand them and use them as insights into the cultural and historical heritage of China as a country. In Hero, the character of Nameless is informed by Chinese socio cultural attributes known over the years. The leadership causes a lot of suffering, and the victims are left to fend for themselves and ways to heal their pains. Some, like Nameless, resort to vengeance and end up killed by the king. Others embark on a path of vengeance only to be enlightened by a higher need of uniting the states thus abandoning their quest for revenge. The rest, however, remain silent, suffering and grumbling in solitude to avoid incurring the wrath of the king. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the character of Jade is informed by the defiance of women against a male dominated society, by indulging in martial arts and seeking to learn advanced swordsman skills that are otherwise left for the men.. House of Flying Daggers, on the other hand, simply defines its setting on the need to fight social injustices, maneuvering through dangerous plots and plans to protect one’s definition of what is morally right and even protecting the people close to one’s heart even in extreme circumstances.