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Trauma, Memory & Politics in Martial Arts Cinema

In Uncategorized by Nathan ToLeave a Comment

Transnational Chinese ‘period’ cinema (e.g. wuxia pian, costume epics) is situated in a haunting space intersecting modernity, tradition, mythic ‘Chineseness’, and official memory production within the cultural identities/identifications of diasporic ethnic Chinese.


The soft power of Chinese nation-state/market forces produces selective remembrances of historical traumas (e.g. British colonialists, imperial Japanese invasion) through mediated productions of memory. This power occurs at the cost of silenced traumas and forgotten injustices (e.g. Chinese Cultural Revolution).

For instance, the gimmicky, martial arts blockbuster, Tai Chi Zero/Tai Chi Hero 3D (2012) villainize ‘white foreigners’ in simplistic perpetrator roles, and blames the destruction of ‘tradition’ on their relentless pursuit of technological ‘modernity’. The strong marketing of the film (as a big-budget 3D film), wide transnational distribution, and access to diasporic audiences (e.g. via Netflix) raises concerns about what memories are being actively/collectively produced.


In contrast, Lu Chuan’s more solemn, The Last Supper (2012) is set during the Chu-Han contention and embodies a reflexive meta-commentary of the very censorship system that threatens his right to free speech through filmmaking. Chuan thinly veils the connection between rulers of dynastic China, 20th century Maoist China, and contemporary day by critiquing the abuse of power that produces official re-writings, censorship and silencing of histories. Thus, Chuan’s work fearlessly engages the haunted history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) through the subtle realist-spectacle of period costumes to subvert the injustice of silenced traumas, ignored atrocities, and the forgotten dead. Further film analysis and additional implications for diasporic audiences are discussed.


-This is a research summary or abstract for an academic conference presentation. Original Title: “Seeing Hauntings Through Chinese Cinema: Critically Engaging Tai Chi Zero, The Last Supper, Period Costume Epics, and Transnational Memory Production in the Ethnic Chinese Diaspora”.

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