Chinese Film Classics, 1922–1949, Christopher Rea (Columbia University Press, June 2021)
Chinese Film Classics, 1922–1949, Christopher Rea (Columbia University Press, June 2021)

Chinese Film Classics, 1922–1949 is an essential guide to the first golden age of Chinese cinema. Offering detailed introductions to fourteen films, this study highlights the creative achievements of Chinese filmmakers in the decades leading up to 1949, when the Communists won the civil war and began nationalizing cultural industries.

In 1929, a young woman sailed from Manila to New York to reunite with an older man who begged her to join him in the United States. Twenty years old at the most—her actual birth year was never clear—she was born from a Filipina mother and a former American soldier previously stationed in the Philippines. The man for whom she was about to stay cooped up in a Washington, DC hotel room for several years was none other than General Douglas MacArthur, three decades her senior and soon to be the Chief of Staff of the US Army. 

In 1935, the writer Baburao Patel wrote the following about Bombay’s film industry:

 

In India, with financing conditions still precarious, the professional film distributor thrives… He comes with a fortune made in share and cotton gambling, advances money to the producer at a killing rate of interest plus a big slice of royalty and recovers his investment by blackmailing the exhibitors into giving heavy and uneconomic minimum guarantees. His only aim in life is to multiply his rupee and in prosecuting this aim he does not worry about the future of the industry or about the existence of the producer or exhibitor.

 

The Hindi film industry also known as Bollywood, or B-grade Hollywood, has an interesting history intertwined with economy, much of which remains unknown. The early years of the talkies as they unfolded in Bombay inform Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City, a recent book by Debashree Mukherjee. The author’s first-hand experience in Mumbai as a freelance assistant director makes her well-placed to write about the past of the film and the city.

Mention Japanese film and responses will likely range from the 1950s Golden Age to today’s panoply of genre movies. The variance has less to do with conflicts between artistry and populism—even Kurosawa famously trafficked in samurai—than with context and perspective. International acclaim, whether past or present, offers only a limited vista on a country’s internal cinematic life; to make full sense of Japan’s giant dinosaurs, yakuza gangsters and animated princesses, you need someone well-placed on the ground. Someone like Mark Schilling.