chinese movie culture

Hollywood has been invaded by Chinese movie making talents including directors, actors and actresses, scripwriters, martial arts directors and even special effects artists. Find out the history of Chinese movies and how it evolved to have such an influence on Hollywood.


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Chinese movies and Hollywood

In the beginning, it wasn't obvious. Just the occasional appearance of Jacky Chan in minor roles in Hollywood productions beginning in the 1980s.

Then, in the late 90s to the early 21st century, the avalanche of Chinese film and movie talents started moving to Hollywood in droves. These included acclaimed directors such as John Woo (Face Off; Broken Arrow), Lee Ang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Incredible Hulk; Brokeback Mountain), actor Chow Yuen Fatt (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Killer), actress Zhang Zhi Yi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Geisha) martial arts director, Woo Yeun Ping (Matrix; Kill Bill), actor/director Jacky Chan (Shanghai Knights; Rush Hour) and many others.

Today, Chinese film talents is a staple in Hollywood as even the greatly talented Hollywood needed to turn to the Chinese speaking movie making world to refresh it's repertoire of filming ideas and creativity. As of this writing, these Chinese talents are still in high demand. Not only are their talents in high demand but also highly recognized as they are also winning many filming prizes including major Oscar and Academy awards.

In addition, Chinese talents were not only involved in typical Kung-Fu or martial arts movies but also in science-fiction such as The Hulk and The Matrix, sentimental movies such as Brokeback Mountain and The Geisha.

History of Chinese Movies

Just like early black and white movies in the Western world, Chinese film making began in the early 20th century starting with black and white silent movies. China had always had very active opera and stage performance even before movies were introduced and for such opera and stage performances to be moved into the celluloid world was not really that difficult.

In those early days, film making concentrated around Shanghai and the first Chinese movie stars were also from Shanghai. Shanghai was in those days what Hong Kong is to Chinese movies, Hollywood to America and Bombay to India movie making for today.

Movies made in that era were mostly Chinese opera brought to film, romance stories and the occasional martial arts movie. Many of these movies did very well commercially and Chinese movie starts became household names. These include Zhou Xuan and Ling Dai.

World war II came along and like everything else, Chinese movie making industry basically ginded to a halt other than making basically propaganda war movies for the Kuomingtang Chinese government at that time.

With the end of World War II, moving making made a come-back. Surprisingly, the centre of movie making wasn't in Shanghai, China anymore.

Different Path of Chinese Movie History

After the war, Chinese movie making hit a doldrum in the 50s as China was extremely poor in those days as well as being in the throes of a civil war. However, as life reaches relative peace, movie making started making a comeback.

Chinese movies in the 1960s-1970s

By now, China was in the hands of the communists. Chinese movies started taking on a strong cultural and socialist identity and the story-line invariably revolved around the war struggles against Japan or social struggles against a capitalistic China.

At the same time, many people in the movie making industry had escaped to Hong Kong during and after the war. This led to the birth of another movie making cluster that started out in Hong Kong. At that time, these movie making talents were also strongly influenced by the class struggles going on in China and many movie themes were also around the areas of social and cultural struggles of the Chinese society.

Studios in Hong Kong also began cranking out martial arts and other films one after the other. Many of these films were loosely based on popular novels and storybooks. Production quality was low, acting was mediocre and the actors and actresses were not really trained in martial arts even if acting in martial arts movies!

However, for the poor Chinese societies of those difficult period, devoid of other low cost entertainment, these movies were doing very well at the box-office providing cheap and mindless entertainment.

Chinese movies in the 1970s-1980s

The 1970 to 1980 were the heydays of Chinese movie making. Large film studios and movie-making companies began to form in Hong Kong. At the same time, the first Chinese movie legend, Bruce Lee, went on to make movies for Hong Kong studios and Hollywood that literally swept Asia and the rest of the world into a Kung Fu mania.

With the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, Chinese movie making reaches it's peak of that decade and then went into a decline. During this period of time, movie making went into the doldrums in mainland China as nothing but propaganda movies were made during those cultural revolution upheaval period.

In Taiwan, a small but fledging movie making industry was slowly taking off. Movies made from Taiwan during this period were mostly romance movies. A few Taiwanese actors and actresses such as Lin Chin Hsia and Lin Feng Chiao, achieved great fame across Chinese speaking societies and countries during this period of time.

Chinese movies in the 1980s-1990s

This was the golden era but also the most commercially exploited era of Chinese movie making. There was a flood of Chinese movies ranging from martial arts, to love stories, to slapstick comedies, to Hollywood copycats as investors and movie makers seek the golden target from a finicky Chinese audience.

There were some commercial success but most movie ventures lost money. Breaking the trend of Chinese movie flops was Jacky Chan, a up and coming martial art actor who laced his kung-fu movies with a hugh dose of humor and sometimes slapstick. His movies became best sellers across Asia.

Around the same period, Tsui Hark, another great Hong Kong director, directed and produced a few blockblusters around the legends of an early Kung Fu master, Wong Fei Hong. He also brought to fame Jet Li, a top martial arts champion from China, who was the key actor for many of his movies.

These led to a revival of martial arts movies, which had went into a downtrend ever since the death of Bruce Lee in 1973. Not only were Chinese martial arts movies a great showcase for Chinese kung Fu, many of them had gripping storyline, great acting, strong production and strong social themes.

And the same time, up and coming talented directors and actors were coming out from mainland China as commercial film takes on a viability in China. Taiwan film makers were also introducing good directors and actors/directors.

Not only did many of these Chinese movies took Chinese speaking society by storm, they also took Asia and eventually the rest of the world by storm. Chinese movie making talent had arrived on the world stage.


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