24 August 2011

An open letter to the Chinese film industry

Dear sirs and madams,

I write to you as an avid fan of your country’s unique and distinguished moviemaking tradition. The films of Chinese luminaries such as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Wong Kar Wai have indelibly seared themselves onto my consciousness. I am overcome with emotion from simply recalling the lush colours and sensuous textures that permeate the finest offerings of Chinese cinema. I also really dig Chinese chicks.

But lately I have become somewhat vexed with the repetitiveness of Chinese films, specifically those of the wuxia and epic historical genres. A casual glance over the stock of my local bootleg Asian DVD shop reveals a glut of swords, spears, armour, banners, period costume and Donnie Yen’s consistently stone-faced mug sporting varying lengths of facial hair.

New broadsword, same as the old broadsword

Of course, you may have your reasons for cranking out such a prodigious amount of historical films. Perhaps they provide gainful employment for the millions of rural migrants who make up the on-screen armies. Perhaps the Communist Party imposes quotas for such films. Perhaps they are the only kind of films Donnie Yen is prepared to act in for just a six-pack of Tsingtao and a pat on the bum.

Clearly your glorious country has no shortage of manpower, talent and cash to throw at insipid, unoriginal, invariably chopsocky sword-and-silk productions. But what about science-fiction movies? There is a noticeable dearth of visionary sci-fi filmmakers amongst your countrymen. Where is your Stanley Kubrick? Your James Cameron? Your Ridley Scott? Your Mamoru Oshii? By the way, if you do find yourselves a Chinese George Lucas, let him make one sci-fi trilogy. Then shoot him.

Science-fiction is a genre that remains largely untapped by the Chinese film industry. Think of what Chinese cinema could accomplish in this field by transplanting the visual bravura and poetic action of martial arts and epic historical films onto a galactic space-opera far, far away, or a dystopian future Earth, or a virtual reality.

There is much promise in Chinese-made sci-fi films. But for the love of Mao, could you please pick someone other than Donnie Yen to star in them? I don’t care how good he looks jackhammering android alien bugs with his fists, or how balletic his flying kicks are in zero G. The guy is like in 11 out of 10 historical movies your studios churn out. His output defies the laws of space-time.

I look forward to a new era in Chinese cinema that embraces the potential of science-fiction to tell intelligent, compelling, exciting stories that make us imagine what could be, not just what has been. Chinese sci-fi could address issues of universal concern, but with a distinctive vernacular of its own that looks to the future, not the past.

Meanwhile we wait for a Chinese Metropolis.

Yours sincerely,

Darrick Lim


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