Chen Kaige


Chen Kaige
b. 1956, Beijing
Film director
One of China’s internationally best-known film directors, Chen Kaige was the son of a prominent director (Chen Huaikai) and scriptwriter (Liu Yanchi). Well-educated into his teenage years, Chen’s work was deeply influenced by his experiences while sent down to the countryside in Yunnan province during the Cultural Revolution. Subsequently, Chen entered the Beijing Film Academy and graduated in 1982 with first class honours to emerge since the early 1960s, the so-called Fifth Generation (see Fifth Generation (film directors)).
In his first independent directing role, for Yellow Earth (1984), Chen and cinematographer Zhang Yimou electrified the Asian film world with their subtle artistry and daring political stance. Replacing the melodrama of PRC film style with slow-paced intellectual contemplation, Yellow Earth describes a historical stalemate between People’s Liberation Army rhetoric and the intransigence of a traditional-minded peasantry. After appearing in the 1985 Hong Kong Film Festival, Yellow Earth sold a million tickets in six days and heralded the arrival of a new era in PRC filmmaking.
Chen’s next films, The Big Parade (1985) and King of the Children (1987), fared poorly with the public despite their formal beauty and intellectual gravity, and his career foundered. Not until 1993, with the lavishly produced Farewell My Concubine, did Chen revise his style to meet popular demand and revive his fortunes. Farewell shared the Palm d’Or at Cannes and won an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film. Following a pair of actors from childhood to death, through Nationalist Chinese, Japanese and Communist eras of control, the film pitted art against the harshness of twentieth-century politics. None of Chen’s subsequent films, including Temptress Moon (1995) and The Emperor and the Assassin (1999), have rivalled his earlier achievements.
Braester, Yomi (2003). ‘Farewell My Concubine: National Myth and City Memories’. In Chris Berry (ed.), Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes. London: BFI, 89–96.
Chow, Rey (1993). ‘Male Narcissism and National Culture: Subjectivity in Chen Kaige’s King of Children’. In Ellen Widmer and David Der-Wei Wang (eds), From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth Century China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 327–59.
——(2000). The Seduction of Homecoming: Place, Authenticity, and Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon’. In Yeh Wen-hsin (ed.), Cross Cultural Readings of Chineseness: Narratives, Images, and Interpretations of the 1990s. Berkeley: Centre for Chinese Studies, 8–26.
Xu, Ben (1997). ‘Farewell My Concubine and Its Nativist Critics’. Quarterly Review of Film and Television 16.2:155–70.
JEROME SILBERGELD

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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