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History of Chinese Cinema
|Instructor:||Dr. Renren Yang|
|Chinese Film Reviews|
|Help & Resources|
ASIA 355 History of Chinese Cinema
Welcome to the wiki project space for ASIA 355. This project asks each group to write a scholarly film review of a Chinese film of 4,000-4,500 words in length (exclusive of the title, group members’ information, image captions, and the references).
The purpose of this project is to provide you with an opportunity to:
- learn how to write a scholarly film review by contextualizing the film’s production, calibrating the film’s reception, comparing it with other films, analyzing its film elements, and interpreting its themes;
- examine an important Chinese film director and their representative works, an iconic genre of Chinese cinema and its historical evolvement, or an important Chinese historical era and its cinematic representations;
- gain experience of identifying a research topic, framing a research question, synthesizing and challenging existing studies of a particular film;
- apply important concepts and knowledge you have acquired in the course to read and interpret additional films;
- work through differences of opinion, perspectives, and assumptions that may occur within the same research group.
Please segment your research report in accordance with the sequence of the following sections. Please do not add or remove sections without consulting the instructor. You may, however, reinvent the subtitles for each section.
1. A research project title
Create an attractive research project title. The title should include keywords from your thesis claim, and it should NOT be a long and complicated question (an eye-catching and provocative rhetorical question is fine). For instance, a possible format could be: “Keyword A, Keyword B, (or Keyword C): Xxxxx” . If your group has gathered a lot of secondary materials on the film, It is important for you to come up with a thematic idea in the first place because this will help you organize and focalize your writing and analysis in the remaining sections. If your group has gathered limited amount of secondary materials, you do not have to narrow down or stick to one single thematic idea first, but be open to different or multiple thematic ideas, and perhaps in the end you can have several thematic ideas included in the title and a few thesis claims in the introduction. What themes you want to identify and how many themes you want to include and which themes you want to highlight to a great extent depends on the amount and quality of the secondary materials (research papers, book chapters, and other reviews) you are able to gather. Be open to different themes in the first place, and have a conversation with your groupmates to settle down your major thematic ideas after the group finishes the scholarly literature review. Ideally, your title should comprise two parts, such as "By Way of Mass Commodities: Love in Comrades, Almost a Love Story." (notice here Comrades, Almost a Love Story is the title of the film under review/discussion). Please follow "Title Case" or "Headline Style" to format your title, which capitalizes the first letter of certain key words. In Title Case (or “Headline Style”), you will need to capitalize the first letter of the following (NOT including prepositions):
- The first words of titles and subtitles
- Nouns, noun phrases, and pronouns
- Verbs and verb phrases
- Adverbs and adjectives
2. Group member's contribution
Display a list of group members (and specify your group's internal division of labor). Please only include the acronyms of your first name and last name. For instance, if your name is Stephen Chow, you only write S C, followed by the parts or sections that you write out. If there are several members contributing to the same section, specify the different contributions each member has made, or how different members worked together on this section.
3. An introduction
Write a short introduction that includes all the basic information so that the film can be easily identified and there is no confusion. Note the name, the director, main cast, and the characters in the story, along with the year (and possible date) of the premiere, as well as a roadmap and agenda of your following research-informed review. You should include 1-3 lines synopsis of the film's main story written by yourself. Please do not copy and paste the existing synopsis of the film's main story from Wikipedia or any other English-language resources. In the roadmap/agenda paragraph, you should specify the driving themes (could be one or multiple) of your film review, or a few keywords that your groups are struggling with or focusing on. This introductory part should be written last -- after you finished all the following sections.
4. Stories behind the film production
Dig out the stories behind the film. Include any interesting and peculiar facts about the film’s production process, the historical basis of the film's story, the cast and the crew, the budget and the shooting location. You may want to watch some behind-the-scenes footage or interviews with actors and crew to get a better picture of the production process. Be detailed and avoid making big claims or generalizations. It works best if the anecdote or peculiar facts you mentioned speak to the themes indicated in your title or introduction. No need to copy and paste the existing Wikipedia synopsis of the film's main story.
5. Histories of reception
Describe the histories of the film’s reception: how did the general public receive and review the film? Did the general audience entertain different or similar attitudes toward the film? Why? Summarize the general public’s divergent or convergent reception of the film and deliberate on why they entertain different or similar attitudes. One way to find out the reason is to investigate the socio-politico-historical background of the story in the film, as well as the historical time when the film was released. Be sensitive to two temporalities and their relationship: the historical setting within each film, and the time of the film’s debut in real life. The tension between these two temporalities will help you explain the film’s reception. Pay attention to the discussions going on in journalistic media and social media, the public’s ratings, and other reviews published in journals or newspapers when the film was released and put on. You also may want to pay particular attention to how the audience in general entertain and perceive the themes of the film -- the themes you already indicated in the title/introduction. Also note that for earlier films, the reception may change or evolve as time goes on. Compare and contrast, for instance, the reception of the film in the 1960s, the 1990s, and today if possible. You also want to pay attention to how the same film might be received differently among different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups. For instance, for the same film, English-speaking audience may have different reactions towards it than Cantonese-speaking audience. Note the difference whenever possible and discuss why.
6. Scholarly literature review
Summarize scholarly literature review: include at least 3 English-language peer-reviewed academic articles/book chapters; Chinese scholarship is optional only when you cannot find enough English scholarship via library search engine and Google Scholar search): how scholars have studied this film in the English-speaking world (and this director and his/her works in general, if you cannot find enough scholarly articles/book chapters specifically or only about the film); correctly and succinctly summarize the major ideas in those scholarly studies. Scholarly literature review should preclude journalistic and impressionist writings, or writings published on public knowledge-sharing platforms such as Zhihu or Douban. If there are not enough English-language secondary literature, you can extend the scope to Chinese-language research articles/book chapters. Or you can pay more attention to the research articles or chapters that mentioned the film tangentially or compared the film briefly with other films. If there are too many secondary resources for your group, make sure you only review existing ideas and studies that speak to the themes your group decides to explore in the title/introduction. You can review up to 6 pieces of research articles or chapters.
7. Comparative analysis
Conduct a comparative analysis: compare the film with another film (be it in Mandarin, Cantonese, or from any other language) that explores a similar theme but by a different director. You should find the second film you want to compare by yourself and confirm with the instructor. Before launching into your comparison, you want to say a few words to justify why you picked these two films for comparative analysis and why does this comparison matter (the famous "so-what" question). Compare the two films and elaborate on their similarities (at least three points) and differences (at least three points) with concrete audiovisual examples (you are encouraged to insert film stills or clips into your comparative analysis). You may pay attention to their different or similar historical contexts of production, different or similar film elements (mise-en-scene, acting, editing, soundtrack, cinematography), settings, characterizations, plots, scenic spectacles, tones, cinematography, and expressed themes, etc. But you do not have to be comprehensive–only compare the formal aspects or film techniques that speak to the theme you chose to focus on. Let thematic analysis drive your comparison of the formal elements. You want to arrive at an thematically meaningful argument or conclusion in this section through the comparison.
8. An alternative interpretation
Seek an alternative interpretation--first identify an existing interpretation that you want to challenge, revise, or amend (be precise on this; and you can glean this interpretation from "Scholarly Literature Review" above); and then pick two distinctive scenes from the film that made a particularly strong impression on your group and analyze them in detail that will speak to the interpretation you want to challenge or amend. The two scenes could be of a relationship of reinforcement or contrast or parallel or continuity. The purpose is to give a refreshing, non-conventional, and thought-provocative interpretation of the film via close reading of the two scenes you selected. Pay attention to the actors’ performance, setting, music, light, characters’ behavior, and dialogue, but be selective in your analysis. This is to say, you do not need to give a shot-by-shot analysis in this section, but only focus on the formal aspects or film elements in detail that speak to your (counter-)arguments. No need to list any “interesting” aspects of the mise-en-scene or cinematography that are irrelevant to your major arguments (as stated in the introduction) or central themes (as indicated in the title). You only want to mention a few aspects of those shots and interpret their meanings when such thematic analysis will either echo or challenge one point made in the scholarly literature review (in the 6th section above). Once again, thematic analysis should drive your formal analysis, and formal analysis could be the compelling evidence that can support your interpretation of the film's themes. You are encouraged to insert a few still images or clips to accompany your analysis. The best alternative interpretation is to articulate your disagreement with existing scholarship that you have already reviewed in section 6. By "alterative interpretation," it means an interpretation different from any of the given interpretations in existing scholarship. No need to worry about spoilers.
Write a conclusion: briefly summarize and state what the general perception of the film was by the audience and the critics alike. Then focus on expressing your group’s personal opinion and either recommend the film (in this case, specify what audience will most likely enjoy it) or not recommend it (in this case, specify the reasons for not recommending it). Include the rationale for your evaluation.
- Try to make your Wikipage as different as possible from the existing Wikipages on the film (both the Chinese or the English language versions)
- Sections 6, 7, and 8 demand more paragraphs, analysis, and examples than the other sections.
- Start working on the project by gathering and reading secondary English-language research-based materials. Divide the reading labor evenly, and select relevant paragraphs for different sections. When pasting or quoting paragraphs from secondary materials, remember to tag the citation information along the way.
- Stay objective and scholarly all the way through (like a Wiki-page) but feel free to include your personal, subjective, and creative comments on the film in sections 7, 8, and 9. Make sure they are reasonable and not too general.
- You do not have to avoid spoilers when you discuss the plot. Remember, your aim is to summarize the film for a scholarly audience who are interested in learning more interesting things and innovative perspectives about the film and the director.
- You want to do some close reading of a few selected scenes when it comes to comparative and alternative analyses (sections 7 and 8). It will be helpful if you could include a few important film stills. Remember to add captions for the images included on the page.
- Always avoid making big claims or sweeping generalizations. Be specific in your comments and examples and expound on them adequately. Be precise and give examples to make sure you convey the ideas and arguments and observations with your own words accurately.
- Do not forget the references: always remember to add Wiki references along your writing process above. From the very beginning, during the stage when the group is collectively reading different pieces of secondary literature and selecting relevant materials, when you copy and paste source materials onto a shared google doc, do not forget to add citation information --- this will save you a lot of time in doing references later. How to add citation and reference on a Wiki page? Check out the tutorial video titled "Add a Citation" posted on this page: Course:ASIA325/Help and Resources.
- Don’t neglect watching the films. You may watch them a few times. Focus on the story and the characters the first time, and for a second time viewing, pause the film whenever you want and start taking notes on the scenes you find provocative or important. If one attempts to form an opinion on the film from just reading about the plot and the cast on the Internet, then there is little chance such a film review will be any good.
- Don’t be afraid to disagree with existing reviews. Your scholarly review is more valuable when it is more critical. When it comes to film reviews, uniqueness and originality of thought is appreciated, that is why in the 8th section you are encouraged to come up with alternative reading or interpretation.
- Don’t think you have to necessarily criticize the film or the director in your review. Being critical does not mean you cannot admit if you liked the film and think that it is a great piece of art. Just make sure to base your opinion on something formally and technically concrete other than mere impression and arbitrary judgment. Evidence, evidence, evidence!
|Criterion||Points (25 total)||Description|
|Title, introduction, and conclusion||3 pts||A good title, and an effective introduction that includes all the basic information so that the film can be easily identified and there is no confusion. Note the name, the director, main cast, and the characters in the story, along with the year (and possible date) of the premiere, as well as the roadmap and agenda of your following report. In conclusion, state what the general perception of the film was by the audience and the critics. Then focus on expressing your personal opinion and either recommend the film (in this case, specify what audience will most likely enjoy it) or not recommend it. Include the rationale for your opinion.|
|Stories behind the film||2 pts||It includes any interesting and peculiar facts about the production process, the basis for the story, the cast and the crew, the budget and the shooting location. You may want to watch some behind-the-scenes footage or interviews with actors and crew to get a better picture of the production process.|
|Film reception||3 pts||Summarize the general public's divergent or convergent reception of the film and speculate why they entertain different or similar attitudes (One way to find out the reason is to investigate the socio-politico-historical background of the story in the film, as well as the historical time when the film was released. Be sensitive to two temporalities and their relationship: the historical setting within each film, and the time of the film's debut. This will help you explain the film's reception). Pay attention to the discussions going on in journalistic media and social media, the public's ratings, and other reviews published in journals or newspapers.|
|Scholarly literature reviews||4 pts||Effective summary of at least 3 English-language peer-reviewed academic articles/book chapters. Chinese scholarship is optional only when you cannot find enough English scholarship via library search engine and Google Scholar search. Scholarly literature review should preclude journalistic and impressionist writings, or writings published on public knowledge-sharing platforms such as Zhihu or Douban. If there are not enough English-language secondary literature, you can extend the scope to Chinese-language research articles/book chapters. Or you can pay more attention to the research articles or chapters that mentioned the film tangentially or compared the film briefly with other films. If there are too many secondary resources for your group, make sure you only review existing ideas and studies that speak to the themes your group decides to explore in the title/introduction. You can review up to 6 pieces of research articles or chapters.|
|Comparative analysis||4 pts||Compare the film with another film of a similar theme. Elaborate on their similarities (at least three points) and differences (at least three points) with concrete examples (you are encouraged to insert film stills or clips if possible). You may pay attention to their contexts of production, film elements (mise-en-scene, acting, editing, soundtrack, cinematography), characterization, plots, spectacles, tones, and expressed themes, etc.|
|Alternative Interpretation||4 pts||Pick another one or two distinctive scene(s) from the film that made a particularly strong impression on you, and analyze it in detail. Focus on the actors’ performance, setting, music, light, characters’ behavior, and dialogue. No need to worry spoiler. The purpose of this stretch of close reading is either to echo or challenge one point made in the scholarly literature review.|
|Style and Voice||3 pts||Clear, effective, and grammatically correct use of scholarly language. Accurately cites all sources of information to support the credibility and authority of the information presented; consistently use standard bibliographic format to cite sources. Select high-quality graphics and multimedia when appropriate to enhance and clarify the content. No unnecessary or irrelevant illustrations.|
|Collaboration||2 pts||Contributes equally with other group members in researching, writing, and editing; submit an individual memo of group project experience; submit anonymous I-Peer evaluation (based on the I-Peer evals, for individual contributors, a lack of group engagement and collaboration will lead to an additional subtraction of up to an extra 5 points of the final grade of the project)|