Zhou Xiaowen


Zhou Xiaowen
b. 1954, Beijing
Film director, cinematographer
The transition from military service to film study at the Beijing Film Academy in 1973 marked a turning point in Zhou Xiaowen’s professional life. After two years of training in cinematography, he was assigned to the Xi’an Film Studio, where discussions of film art and experimentation were considered politically dangerous at the time. Nonetheless, Zhou Xiaowen refused to subordinate himself to the mainstream and even tried to become a film director. His chance finally came in 1984 when Wu Tianming, the new head of the Xi’an Film Studio, allowed Zhou to assist director Yan Xueru in the shooting of Wild Mountain.
While Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou were engaged in filming national allegories, Zhou Xiaowen created films that spoke to contemporary themes while achieving commercial success. The success of Desperation (Zuihou de fengkuang, 1987) and The Price of Frenzy (Fengkuang de daijia, 1988) demonstrated a possible alternative to having to choose between art and commercial film. International recognition did not occur until 1994, however, when Ermo attracted critical attention. In this film, Zhou turns his camera from urban scenes to a rural village to follow a peasant woman as she relentlessly pursues ownership of a 29-inch television that she takes as the symbol of modernity.
The clash of socialist value systems with emerging commercial culture is treated ironically, as the film emphasizes how social and economic changes drive ordinary Chinese into the arms of material capitalism. The success of Ermo brought Zhou Xiaowen the capital necessary to finish a historical epic, The Emperor’s Shadow (Qin Song), in 1996.
Ciecko, Anne and Lu, Sheldon (2002). ‘Televisuality, Capital, and the Global Village: Ermo’. In Sheldon Lu (ed.), China, Transnational Visuality, Global Postmodernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 122–38.
Notar, Beth (2001). ‘Blood Money: Women’s Desire and Consumption in Ermo’. Asian Cinema 12.2 (Fall/Winter): 131–53.
Fu, Ping (2003). ‘Ermo: (Tele) Visualizing Urban/ Rural Transformation’. In Chris Berry (ed.), Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes. London: BFI, 73–80.
Tang, Xiaobing (2003). ‘Rural Women and Social Change in New China Cinema: From Li Shuangshuang to Ermo’. positions: east asian cultures critique 11.3 (Winter): 647–74.
CUI SHUQIN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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