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Chromatic expressionism in contemporary Chinese-language cinema

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This article begins by asking why colour has ignited only limited interest in the field of Chinese film studies, and it uses the critical reception of China’s first colour film – Fei Mu’s Shengsi hen/Remorse at Death (1948) – as a condensed case study. An analysis of scholarly responses to Fei Mu’s film, the article argues, suggests that colour as a critical category in Chinese-language cinemas has vanished at the intersection of two persistent biases in the discipline: a certain reluctance to research Chinese film history in technological terms; and the early dominance of the cinema-as-realist-paradigm across the field, which led to a lengthy neglect of colour as an independent aesthetic property. The article goes on to argue that the vibrant use of colour in much recent Chinese-language auteur cinema – dubbed ‘chromatic expressionism’ here – merits more attention. In particular, the article suggests that colour can pose an intense provocation to the long-standing notion that the cinema-as-spectacle exists in a dichotomous relationship with the cinema-as-storytelling. The article explores this idea through a close reading of Fruit Chan’s Jiaozi/Dumplings (2004), focusing on the film’s vivid use of saturated complementary colours.

Keywords: Chinese film history; Fei Mu; Fruit Chan; complementary colours; narrative; spectacle

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/jcc.6.3.211_1

Affiliations: Oxford University

Publication date: November 26, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Journal of Chinese Cinemas is a major refereed academic publication devoted to the study of Chinese film, drawing on the recent world-wide growth of interest in Chinese cinemas. An incredibly diverse range of films has emerged from all parts of the Chinese-speaking world over the last few years, with an ever increasing number of border-crossing collaborative efforts prominent among them. These exciting developments provide abundant ground for academic research.
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