A Shanghai Street. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, by Chong Fat.
On Tuesday, March 7th, STEAR hosted an online Cultural Talk in collaboration with KCL's LAU China Institute. Titled ‘An Introspection into Chinese Contemporary Movies', the event was centred on the screening of Yisi Wang’s short movie Mr. Zhao’s Second-hand Bookstore 赵老板的二手书店 and a discussion with speakers Dr. Kerry Brown, Dr. Hiu Man, and Giulia D’Aquila.
After a quick welcome and presentation of STEAR by our co-president Koen (himself a Lau China Institute alumnus), our Cultural Manager Pia introduced the speakers: Dr. Kerry Brown, Director of the LAU China Institute at KCL, Dr. Hiu Man, Founder of the UK-China Film Collab, and Giulia D'Aquila, Scholar on Chinese Contemporary Movies at the LAU China Institute.
An introduction was given by Dr. Hiu Man who selected the movie: The film is a documentary, but also a Western movie. Shanghai is very big, and you can feel very lost, ‘a wanderer’ like Mr. Zhao. Many people are romantics, they have a belief, like Mr. Zhao who truly loves and believes in the value of reading books, but they are lost. The documentary shows how these people seek a sense of belonging. After watching the short movie (we won’t spoil anything, you can find it on YouTube, if you missed our event but are curious!) the speakers discussed some themes in the movie including ‘Beijing drifters’ and migration within China, as well as the influence of the Chinese ‘new documentary movement’. The audience for these kinds of documentaries is very niche, sometimes they are very political, not always, and they often have a theme of melancholia. Dr. Hiu Man ‘We should not have a binary mindset of blockbuster film vs small independent film – if it’s a good film, it’s a good film. Can we learn something from the story? That’s what matters to me.’
The concepts of cultural confidence and cultural insecurity, which are new concepts introduced by Xi Jinping, were also discussed. There is a renewed appreciation for cultural heritage in China, but how can it be spread more widely and instilled in the younger generations? Films like Mr. Zhao’s Second-Hand Bookstore can inspire people, not just relying on the government for preserving heritage. Dr. Hiu Man said she’d like to see a full-length romantic comedy with Mr. Zhao as the hero, a happy story that would speak to more people. Finally, the comedic and pop culture value of giant Mao posters was reflected on, but also their representing tradition and ideology in everyday lives.The speakers recommended two other Chinese documentary-style movies: Mountains May Depart (山河故人), and China’s van Goghs (中国梵高). Giulia D’Aquila commented ‘The fact that these films are seen by so many people, means they have a social impact whether you’d want them to or not.’