AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 429

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Session 429: Contemporary East Asian Film Co-Production & Collaboration: Historical and Industrial Perspectives

Organizer: Aynne E. Kokas, Rice University, USA

Film co-production, the creation of a film between two or more industrial media cultures, has particular importance in the field of Asian cinema studies because of the unique insight the process offers into transnational cultural collaboration throughout the Pacific. With the rise of film co-productions in East Asia, following China’s accession to WTO in 2001 and the increasing popularity of the “Korean Wave” of filmmaking at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is necessary to examine transnational Asian film co-production in conjunction with their supporting transnational industrial processes, including international casting, trans-local filmmaking collaborations and global film festivals. This panel will analyze the rise of Asian film co-production and parallel industrial practices in East Asia both by situating the phenomenon within East Asian film history, and also by exploring of the intersection of filmmaking cultures that emerge through transnational industrial practices of filmmaking. By interlacing historical and industrial modes of analysis, the panel will complicate our understanding of the growing numbers of Asian film co-productions, as well as the transnational industrial processes related to film co-production. Case studies will form a major part of the panel’s exploration into contemporary East Asian co-productions and collaborations, including research into Mamoru Oshii’s film, Avalon (2001), John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008), Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007), Ultimately, the panel will offer invaluable insight into the contemporary forms of transnational industrial practice within Asian film industries.

Discourse, Identity and Circulation: International Film Festivals and Contemporary East Asian Cinema
Konrad Gar-Yeu Ng, University of Hawaii, USA

An understudied yet critical circuit for East Asian culture and politics has been the discursive exchanges enabled by international film festivals. International film festivals such as the top five of Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Sundance and major second tier festivals like Hawaii and Pusan, have been indexical of national pride, critique, representation and global consumption. Indeed, few phenomena have as much influence on Asian film industries than international film festivals and their gateways to the global and the local. International film festivals are the site where co-productions are brokered, talent finds international audiences and Asian-ness makes its transformations. This paper examines the multitudinous roles that international film festivals play in the curation, circulation and consumption of East Asian cinema and its implications.

“ABCs,” mixed-race stars, and other monsters of globalization: casting Hong Kong film co-production
Brian Hu, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

This paper looks at the role of intermediary star figures in trans-local co-production in Asia. The wave of overseas expansion (via co-production, location shooting, and aggressive overseas presales) undertaken by Hong Kong-based production companies like MediaAsia around the turn of the millennium assumed the face of the “ABC” (American-born Chinese) and the mixed-race star. In this paper, I argue that these stars embodied an ethnic cosmopolitanism necessary for production companies to possess a culturally flexible, savvy, and mobile aura, while maintaining an identity as Hong Kong or Chinese. The films (and the promotional discourse surrounding the films) naturalize the stars’ overseas backgrounds as bodily difference, which can easily be exploitable in sexualized ways. Through the display of flesh, muscles, face, and voice, stars like Daniel Wu, Edison Chen, and Maggie Q are represented textually and contextually as “mutants” of Chineseness, the 21st century offspring of overseas Chinese capital. Films like Gen-X Cops (Chinese title: “New Species Super Cops”) and Naked Weapon narrate this mutation as object of simultaneous attraction and repulsion – a sexuality that can be exploited, but also contained to brand Hong Kong and Hong Kong cinema to local and overseas audiences. The paper situates this casting practice within a longer history of overseas and mixed-race stars in Hong Kong, and explains many of the recent phenomena in terms of pressures from American co-production partners, especially after Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and the new opportunities afforded to Hong Kong producers after the signing of CEPA with mainland China.

Constructing Asian Cinema through Cultural Geopolitics: The Genealogy of ‘Pan-Asian Big Pictures (PAP)’ and the Conundrum of the Korean Film Industry
Sangjoon Lee, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In the wake of the new millennium, the Korean film industry began to get involved with ‘mega-budget’ transnational coproduction projects in Asia that I call ‘Pan-Asian Big Pictures (PAP hereafter)’ such as The Promise (2005), A Battle of Wits (2006), Seven Swords (2006), Red Cliff (2008), and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008). Boram Entertainment, CJ, Show East, and other major media conglomerates in Korea invested partially and fully in Hong Kong-initiated productions based on Chinese history and culture and aimed primarily at the PRC market. Korean filmmaker Cho Dong-oh who directed The Restless (2006), an epic fantasy, with Beijing Film Studio in 2006, expressed that the film would appeal to “Korean audiences who prefer stories grounded in reality, Japanese audiences who wanted surrealism, Chinese audiences who were accustomed to martial arts blockbusters. The film was targeting not only Koreans but the entire Asia.” Indeed, making PAP, i.e. ‘Korea’s global project’ has been the Korean film industry’s catchphrase for years which will ultimately help to export Korean cultural products to the Asian and Global media marketplace.

Avalon: Transnational Filmmaking and Mapping Virtual Worlds
Hye Jean Chung, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Discourses on virtual geography and global networks often idealize seamlessness, thus conflating differences and erasing fractures that exist in culturally and geographically specific contexts. While seamlessness can be an effective trope to describe the superficial effects of digital media and global media circulation, it is detrimental to a more nuanced understanding of the conditions of transnational filmmaking that often combine site-specific labor (such as location shooting) and digital technology. My paper examines how the collaborative process of transnational filmmaking leaves material traces of physical labor and geographical locations in onscreen spaces that are digital composites of multiple audiovisual layers, thereby anchoring these virtual environments onto territorial bodies of labor and sites of production. I discuss Mamoru Oshii’s film, Avalon (2001), which was co-produced and co-funded by Japan and Poland. While the filmmaker and most crew members were Japanese, the film featured Polish actors and actresses, used Polish dialogue, and was entirely filmed in Poland. I argue that the digitally rendered, virtual spaces in this film are neither “deterritorialized” nor “dehistoricized,” but grounded upon a complex relationship among visual imagery, historical events, and memories that reflect cultural and geopolitical realities. By examining how the spaces in the film are created and collated by a collaborative effort, this paper aims to move beyond the constrictions of the national paradigm and into a transnational register by acknowledging the overlapping layers of the national and the transnational that co-exist in the film.

The Image, the City: Media Industries, Industrial Infrastructure and the Rise of Film Co-Production in Shanghai
Aynne E. Kokas, Rice University, USA

Drawing on the experiences of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo as well as the development of Disney's Shanghai theme park, this paper will argue that the growth of film co-production in East Asia is closely intertwined with the city's growth as an international industrial space. Industrial cultures of Asian film co-production emerge through the production process. However, equally important to understanding the growth of Asian film co-production is analysis of the "brand" of a particular filmmaking space. This paper analyzes the rise of film co-production in Shanghai following China's accession to the World Trade Organization in parallel with the Shanghai’s growth as a major destination for foreign investment. Specifically, the paper will focus on the role of international industrial infrastructure designed to craft an urban "brand" and its role on Euro-American film co-production activity in the city. Employing case studies and firsthand interview material from four major Shanghai-based film co-productions, including films as diverse as Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007), and J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible: 3 (2006) underscore the interconnectedness of the rise of the urban "brand" and the growth of non-domestic film production investment.