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An unconventional mainstream film: The Founding of a Republic

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Released to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, The Founding of a Republic/Jianguodaye (Han and Huang, 2009, hereafter The Founding) was both a huge box-office success and cultural hit in mainland China in 2009. In contrast to previous mainstream films, from both the socialist and post-socialist eras, which were times of immense transformation to Chinese society, The Founding has a more commercial flavour as evidenced by its more nuanced approach to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies and ideology. This article aims to analyse The Founding and illustrate the novel devices employed by the CCP and the changing trajectory of official propaganda as the CCP attempts ideological control of the Chinese people. The examination begins with a brief review of the politically loaded phrases ‘mainstream’ and ‘mainstream film’, and then scrutinizes The Founding by decoding its production motives and processes; its unconventional approach to plot design and character building, and, in particular it focuses on the impact of celebrity participation in the movie. The article will show that the panoramic history depicted in the film incorporates official propaganda that merges with commercial devices very subtly, while the mainstream and orthodox ideology of the CCP, as reflected in the production of this film, becomes more neutral, natural and entertaining. By focusing on the use of celebrities in combination with a more personalized approach to historic events and people, the author argues that the commercial and critical success of The Founding is a prime example for future mainstream films in terms of breaking through the blockade of commercial blockbusters and reforming CCP policy in a number of ways. The article attempts to build links between the film and the society, the movie stars and the historical figures, the production and the reception, the market and the mainstream, and the art and the politics.
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Keywords: The Founding of a Republic; commercialization; mainstream film; official ideology; propaganda; unconventional

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Melbourne

Publication date: October 1, 2014

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  • Asian Cinema is a seminal journal, which has been published since 1995 by the Asian Cinema Studies Society under the stewardship of Professor John Lent. From 2012 Asian Cinema will be published by Intellect as part of our Film Studies journal portfolio. The journal currently publishes a variety of scholarly material - including research articles, interviews, book and film reviews and bibliographies - on all forms and aspects of Asian cinema. The journal's broad aim is to advance understanding and knowledge of the rich traditions of the various Asian cinemas, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the field of Film Studies in general.
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