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Once upon a Time in China: A Guide to Hong Kong, Chinese, and Taiwanese Cinema Paperback – 1 Dec 2003
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This book does a good job of succinctly stating the origins of Chinese Film, the important companies such as Cathay, Shaw Brothers and MP&GI, the importance of Mandarin and Cantonese cinema, TVB, Triads, important actors such as Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow (Chiau), Michael Hui and directors as Chang Cheh, Zhang Yimou, Tsai Ming-liang, Wong Kar-wai and Wong Jing and many more. In fact the book works well as a "cliff notes" version of these cinemas with a particularly strong emphasis on Hong Kong cinema. There is mention of many genres and his writing is strong enough that I wished there was more material to peruse. The essays interspersed throughout the book on specific topics such as Wong Fei Hung, The Shaolin Temple by Linn Haynes, Jin Yong by Peter Nepstad and Category III Erotica by John Charles help tremendously in keeping the book interesting as well as informative.
Unfortunately, the Capsule Reviews are probably the least important part of the book. It does not always enough detail to enlighten or enhance your viewing, misses some important HK genre pictures like Sammo Hung's Prodigal Son and Spooky Encounters and ends a lot of the reviews with "Reviewers called it..." with a particular point of view without naming any reviewers and many times being the antithesis of what many critics actually stated about the film (like the comments on The Story of Qiu Ju).
If you can find this at a good price and you are looking for a good overview of a vast cinema than this will be a good purchase. Otherwise there is a plethora of books that are more focused on Asian cinema.
For further study on Taiwan auteurs I would recommend Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island by Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh and Darrell Davis. For more in depth study on Hong Kong film I still recommend Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions by Stephen Teo. I still have not read a good book dedicated to Mainland China cinema though.
Jeff Yang devotes the first part of his book "Once Upon A Time in China" to a whirlwind tour through a century of Chinese cinema. Reaching from the first silent films to notables of 2003 (the book's year of publication), Yang crams a lot into his brief (less than 150 pages) history. The trade-off is that actors, films, and--especially--politics fly by. Yang has the (correct) sense that the history of Chinese cinema has been dramatically shaped by the history of China itself, as various wars and regime changes shifted the "cinematic center of gravity" back and forth between the Mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. But space constraints make it hard enough to include the convoluted formations and dissolutions of China's major film studios. The greater sweep of history remains mostly implied throughout, and as a result readers with no knowledge of modern Chinese history may feel a bit lost for context.
More than half the book is taken up by a collection of "capsule reviews" introducing dozens and dozens of films from every era surveyed by the book. These reviews, while interesting, could have been more helpful. For example, movie listings could have included Chinese titles, which would have aided in locating more obscure films. (As it is, the reviews include English title, year of release, director and main cast credits.) The reviews are rarely less than glowing, and Yang simply cites "reviewers," without indicating whether these are from the time of the movie's release (useful context for older films) or contemporary reflections. Readers should also be warned that the summaries routinely reveal endings and/or major plot twists.
The book concludes with a few pages of bibliography and web links. The listings are disappointingly sparse, but this is as much a reflection on the current state of Western scholarship on Chinese cinema as it is on Yang's work. This book may come up short for readers seeking academic or scholarly insights into Chinese film, but for newcomers who want to get oriented, this is an excellent resource.
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