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Modernizing primordialism: Deterritorializing Chineseness and reterritorializing the sinophone in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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The wuxia tradition in cinema constructs primordial ‘Chineseness’ and ‘cultural China’ as identities to be transmitted and deployed around the world. The article critiques frameworks that take cultural identities such as ‘Chineseness’ or ‘Americanness’ for granted. Such frameworks engender reductive views of culture as an essential substance, with the cinema of said culture expressing or conveying that cultural essence, or imitations thereof, around the world. Such arguments falsely assume that cinemas either ‘authentically’ represent the national or ethnic origin of their producers or signify the coming together of two vaguely defined cultures in hybrid form, typically east meeting west. This article demonstrates how cinema generates cultural identities, using Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to illustrate how the wuxia tradition creates imagined worlds that connect disparate peoples, including populations traditionally regarded as diaspora. Wuxia uses imagined histories of mythical places to enable imagined community, while transmitting and concretizing that cultural identity through cinema. As the film’s main plot device, the sword demonstrates how passing for traditional is a modern practice for local cinemas to gain access to global film markets. The article concludes by discussing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a minoritarian artwork that engenders becoming sinophone by deterritorializing cultural Chineseness from the nation state, thereby highlighting the processes by which sinophone cinemas mediate cultural identity by engaging and modernizing established norms.
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Keywords: Ang Lee; The Love Eterne; globalization; self-orientalism; sinophone; wuxia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Hong Kong

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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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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