AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 681

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Session 681: The Politics of Space in Contemporary East Asian Films

Organizer: Whitney Ruijuan Hao, University of California, Riverside, USA

Discussants: Minqin Wang, Hunan University, China; Shuli Chen, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Increasingly situated amidst the ongoing global flows of cultures, commodities and images, contemporary East Asian films are the site of continuous re-imagination and re-configuration of the multiplicity of space. Exotic, exhilarating spaces – whether real, virtual, lived or imagined – are constantly being produced, extended, celebrated, commodified, regulated, censored, or in some cases, eliminated, as results of entangled forces of globalization, technology, consumerism and the State. Meanwhile, the contestations between the dominant and the marginal, the global and the local, the East and the West, the commercial and the alternative often create (sometimes call into question) contradictory and mutually incompatible spaces that are unique to contemporary East Asian Films. This panel examines the production and representation of space at this particular historical conjuncture. Concerned with both cultural politics at the macro-level and everyday negotiations at the micro-level, the panel will address specific issues revolving around: • What are the differences and similarities between actual and virtual spaces? Between lived and imagined spaces? • What are the forces behind the emergence or disappearance of a particular space? • What does it mean for a space to be oppressive, marginal, alternative, and subversive? • How do East Asian films negotiate through different spaces on the social, political and cultural level? • How does the co-existence of the foreign and the local, the global and the national, East and West, shape existing identities and identifications? • How are different spaces perceived, represented and reproduced in the process of cultural production and circulation?

Franco-Japanese Hybrid Cinema: Hiroshima as a Silent and Paradoxical Cinematic Space
Flannery Wilson, University of California, Riverside, USA

Nobuhiro Suwa’s 2001 film H Story, a film about shooting a remake of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour, functions as a self-reflexive exercise in filmmaking that “comments without commenting” on the Hiroshima tragedy. As Suwa himself comments: “Le sujet du film était: ne pas pouvoir parler de Hiroshima” (the subject of the film was not to speak about Hiroshima). By granting us access into the inner thoughts of Beatrice Dalle’s character, and by showing us how she becomes trapped by Emmanuel Riva’s role, we gain even further insight about Hiroshima as a conflicted space. Resnais’ film is interested, predominantly, in telling the French woman’s story, and in this sense does not move beyond the borders of the national (France). Suwa’s film, meanwhile, attempts to move beyond French discourse surrounding the Hiroshima tragedy by showing a Japanese perspective. For this reason, I argue that H-Story is a clear example of contemporary Franco-Japanese “hybrid” cinema. Suwa does not simply adapt or copy Resnais’ original film; he adds layers of complexity by shifting between subjectivities and perspectives. This new layer of complexity allows the film spectator even further access into the void that represents the impossibility of speaking about Hiroshima. H Story works as an example of “multidimensional” or hybrid national cinema rather than as transnational cinema. I prefer the term “Franco-Japanese cinema” because it suggests multiple overlapping perspectives, subjectivities, and positionalities.

Genre's Spatial Imaginary in A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan Insaeng) and Rough Cut (Yonghwanun Yonghwada)
Michelle Cho, McGill University, Canada

My paper links South Korean cinema and genre theory by analyzing the ways in which popular genre cinema constructs spaces of encounter and cultural translation in two recent films: Kim Ji-Woon's 2005 neo-noir gangster-tragedy, A Bittersweet Life and Jang Hoon's metafictional gangster film, Rough Cut, from 2008. Unlike genre pastiche, which often aims to point out the lie of genre purity, I argue that these two films' translation of genre form and citation of generic intertexts is importantly different. Kim and Jang use genre form as a holding environment in which to portray the disjunctions of contemporary transnational spaces and the effects of these spaces on the subjects who must live within and navigate them. Both film dramatically illustrate the spatial dimensions of genre and the ways in which this spatial imaginary envelopes viewers' own internal and collective processes of identification. A Bittersweet Life transposes film noir to contemporary Seoul, pictured as a hybridized cosmopolitan realm split visually and stylistically between the literal "underworld" of illicit dealings and the surface sheen of sanctioned spaces of consumption. Jang's film presents two types: Soo-ta, an actor, and Gang-pae, a gangster. The film presents their status as abstractions, and aligns the two characters with contrasting spaces to develop between them a series of structurally chiasmic relations. Both films examine the translation of collectivity and historical memory into generic form, thus, proposing that rather than opposing reality to genre, one must understand the ways that genre makes one's experience of reality possible.

Re-membering the Self, Remembering Hong Kong: Memory, Emotions and History in Evans Chan’s The Map of Sex and Love
Fang-yu Li, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Set in post-97 Hong Kong, The Map of Sex and Love (2001) depicts each character’s route in and out of Hong Kong as well as each individual’s private memories are evoked and performed through various artistic devices. By re-articulating their traumatic past, these marginalized individuals seek not only to reclaim their subjectivity but also to reassure their existence as “normal” human beings who are worthy of love. Juxtaposed with the characters’ journey of self-assertion is the search for the subjectivity of Hong Kong, which is usually referred in relation to its masters: either as a British colony or a territory of China. Shifting the focus from the urban center to the peripheral islands (Lamma Island and Tai O Village), the film suggests an alternative way of viewing Hong Kong—neither as a “space of transit” nor a “space of disappearance,” but a place where personal memories and unofficial histories reside. In this paper, I employ Guiliana Bruno’s concept of “art of memory,” which regards the work of memory as an “architectural experience of site” charged by emotional drives, and borrow her analysis of Madame Scudery’s “La Carte de Tendre” (17th c.) to illustrate how the characters’ motions in space and in time are charged by emotions—mainly the feeling of loss and the desire for love/recognition—and how these emotions (loss of culture/history and desire for a HK identity) drive the filmmaker to re-search Hong Kong’s root and to re-map the present Hong Kong through personal and collective memories.

Nostalgia Artifice: Spatial Pastiche and Schizophrenic Temporality in the Taiwanese Film "Cape No. 7"
William Sun, University of California, Riverside, USA

The blockbuster Taiwanese film Cape No. 7 is about the making of a local ragtag pop-rock band that is going to perform with a Japanese international star to showcase the vitality of the small rustic town; this narrative is intercut by fragments of love letters from sixty years ago from a Japanese schoolteacher to his Taiwanese lover; the letters could not be delivered because the address, Cape No.7, was from the Japanese colonial period. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that this film would address the issue of Taiwan’s history during that period in any significant way based on this premise. The film affords only a glimpse of the tragic love of a single man in the past; while it creates a nostalgia mode for this “pastness,” it maintains a neutral and almost neutered indifference to history. The incompatibility of postmodernist nostalgia and historicity is well noted in Fredric Jameson’s discussion of nostalgia films in Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Jameson suggests that the postmodern condition is characterized by a schizophrenic temporality and spatial pastiche. Schizophrenia, for Jameson, is a breakdown of signifying chains. Pastiche is the imitation of dead styles, a random cannibalization of all the styles in the past. This study examines Cape No. 7 in terms of its spatial pastiche of the small town space to create the nostalgia feel and the schizophrenic temporality in the breakdown between its nostalgia mode and jovial mode.

The Play of Space and Sexuality in Jia Zhangke’s The World: In the Light of Reading Dante and Fellini’s La Dloce Vita
Whitney Ruijuan Hao, University of California, Riverside, USA

Set in a suburban Beijing theme park (called Word Park), Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004) is concerned with those low-paid Chinese migrant workers who staff the theme park as dancers, security guards or toil on the construction site bordering the park. This massive migrant work force is marginalized economically, politically and culturally onto the fringe of the society in China’s modernization project. It strikes a resounding commensurability with the existence of the Limbo in Dante’s Inferno, an edge for unbaptized children and the faithful waiting for Christ. The poet guide Virgil classifies them as “the other” in a binary opposition, based merely on the so-called defects of their not receiving baptism or not adoring God as was needful if they happened to live before Christianity. Perceiving the oppression and the subversive power of the Limbo, Dante the pilgrim laments that “Great sorrow seized my heart when I understood him, because I knew that people of great worth were suspended in that limbo.” In The World, Jia Zhangke and his camera capture this same marginalized space as a confronting power against the illusion of a transparent, ‘pure’ and neutral space created by the park developers. Behind the characters’ contingent interaction and personal struggles, distances of time, space, and scale loom constantly as challenges and reference points to deconstruct the totality of the narrative.