Chinese movies have helped me to understand China and its people; they reflect their hopes, their fears, their traditions, their views of their own world,… but they are also valuable in themselves and provide a complete different view of the world to foreign eyes.
The first Chinese movies I watched when I was a kid were about Kung Fu. There were the movies of Bruce Lee of course, but also the movies about Kung Fu monk-warriors from Shaolin Temple. I grew up thinking Shaolin Temple did not exist, it was only a fiction. It was really a surprise when I cam to China and learnt Shaolin temple is an ancient institution, not just a creation from Chinese Kung Fu movie makers. They made me thought that Chinese were capable of doing superhuman moves and becoming almost indestructible warriors.
I always have loved movies, I think they are one of the best ways to learn about a culture, and a country. In my country there were not many Chinese movies available. Besides the Bruce Lee and Kung Fu movies from my childhood, I remember a Chinese movie broadcasted in one Cultural TV channel in Mexico City, “Ermo” the funny and sarcastic of a young peasant girl called Ermo, who lives working incredible hard to save enough money to buy a TV set. I watched it several times, laughing once and again by her misadventures. Most of them were a funny way to criticize the materialistic twist the life in China was taking in the late eighties and early nineties. I saw that movie in the original Chinese soundtrack, with subtitles in Spanish. No matter how much I tried, I never could understand any word said by the characters. How difficult must be to speak Chinese I thought.
Even though I did not watch it, I remember “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” because it won the Oscar award to the best non-English movie in 2000, defeating a Mexican one,“Amores Perros” (Dog love stories). It had been years without watching a Chinese movie, and that one was also about flying Kung Fu warriors. I wondered if China could make a different kind of movies.
Three years after, I found myself studying Chinese to go to work in China. Our teacher brought some recent movies from China. One was Hero. It was also flying warriors, but with a very different plot, the quest of a warrior to avoid the assassination of the soon to be First Emperor at the hands of a gang of masters of fighting. I learnt that Chinese love to make movies about things that happened centuries or thousands of years ago, a reflection of the pride they feel for their long history and rich culture. The other one I saw was “A World without Thieves”, a movie filmed about a trip by train, with thieves with skills not far way from those of Kung Fu warriors.
While in China, I wish I have watched more Chinese movies. It is difficult to point out the best in my opinion. Chinese themes, characters and motivations are very different from the movies I use to watch, mainly Mexican, American, European and Latin-American. Their conception of aesthetics and visual effects are fascinating. For instance, when I watched“The Banquet”, I though some characters moved like people from other planet, in sceneries taken from dreams of the most creative artists.
Chinese movies have helped me to understand China and its people; they reflect their hopes, their fears, their traditions, their views of their own world, 天下 (tiān xià)… but they are also valuable in themselves and provide a complete different view of the world to foreign eyes.
(Author: Responsible of Commercial Affairs at Embassy of Mexico in China)