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The sky is the limit: Feng Xiaoning’s leitmotif cinema, Chinese soft power and ideological fantasy

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This article explores the intersection of politics and popular entertainment in contemporary Chinese leitmotif cinema (zhuxuanl├╝ dianying), a genre that conflates political didacticism with Hollywood-style entertainment. Through my reading of three movies by Feng Xiaoning () – the hero-epos Qingzang xian/A Railway in the Clouds (2006) about the building of a rail link to Tibet; the disaster movie Chaoqiang taifeng/Super Typhoon (2008), about a Chinese metropolis hit by a storm; and the war-action drama Jiawu dahaizhan/Naval Battle (2012), about the Sino-Japanese naval conflict of 1895 – I will illustrate how leitmotif cinema negotiates demands for doctrinal orthodoxy with expectations for box office success. Feng’s cinematic aesthetics are thus symptomatic of the discursive complexity of post-socialist Chinese cinema where multiple temporalities and modes of production coexist in a climate of state-enforced ideological hegemony and revenue-driven market economics.
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Keywords: Chinese soft power; Feng Xiaoning; blockbusters; ideology; leitmotif cinema; post-socialist cinema

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: San Francisco State University

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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