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The Authorship of PlaceA Cultural Geography of the New Chinese Cinemas$
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Dennis Lo

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9789888528516

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888528516.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM HONG KONG SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hongkong.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hong Kong University Press, 2022. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HKSO for personal use.date: 28 May 2022

Reel Pilgrims

Reel Pilgrims

Experiencing Life with Chen Kaige

(p.77) 3 Reel Pilgrims
The Authorship of Place

Dennis Lo

Hong Kong University Press

Chapter 3 joins Fifth Generation Chinese director Chen Kaige on his pilgrimages to the Chinese heartland in Shaanxi and Yunnan Provinces while shooting on-location for Yellow Earth (1984) and King of the Children (1987), where he wrestled reflexively with his awareness of the neocolonial politics of “experiencing life.” Through archival research and close textual analysis, this chapter reconstructs two parallel journeys to the rural associated with these productions — one diegetic and the other extra-diegetic. Just as the films’ protagonists were “sent-down” to the countryside, Chen Kaige toured Shaanxi and Yunnan with his production crew during the films' pre-production. When read together, these journeys map rural China as a haunted psycho-geography, where both Chen and the films' characters learned to acknowledge their ultimately tenuous connection with the collective unconscious supposedly enshrined in the PRC’s most sacred historical landmarks. More broadly, by reading the films’ journey narratives as allegories of Chen’s own pilgrimages, I show that Chen’s place making not only interrogates the coherence of official frameworks of nation building under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, but also ushers in a new discursive construct of the auteur as an individualistic and semi-autonomous creative subject.

Keywords:   Chen Kaige, Yellow Earth, King of the Children, Fifth Generation Chinese Cinema, Shaanxi, Yunnan, Experiencing Life, Neocolonialism, Psychogeography, Journey narratives

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