Upon studying cinematic allegory Chinese cinema helps create a national identity through reconstruction of the past. Using Deleuze`s theory of time and space in cinema the deconstruction of space and time with in Chinese cinema and the role of the imagined past create an allegorical film about national identity. Through the film `Hero` directed by Zhang Yimou I will be discussing the role of time and space through and the allegorical meaning of the films through the dissections of particular scenes mentioning cinematic techniques and what eaach scene represents.
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Firstly we must understand how a Chinese cinema reconstructs a sense of identity. A part from the obvious such as martial arts and traditional costumes the political, historical significance of China is very important in reconstructing the national identity. During the time of ancient China various Dynasties have taken control of China. Each ruling having different ideologies and concepts towards the nation. There were many historical moments that was perceived as inhumane or tyrant like such as the eradication of clans with different ideologies who oppose the dynasties, however in order to successfully tell a historical event and is common in Chinese cinema is to use nostalgia as the primary source to reconstruct history. Most traditional Chinese cinema retell historical events in a artistic and aesthetically pleasing manner and therefore films such as Hero can be analysed allegorically and historically in an essence of the reconstructed identity.
The film ‘Hero’ a Chinese film directed by Zhang Yimou produced in 2002 was an international success. The film stars Jet Li and in terms of authenticity unlike ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ which was produced by Hollywood, the directors were more careful of the language and sequences used in the film. The films main ideology or belief is peace between all factions of mainland China due to the ruling of King Qi. This cliché use of the theme peace and resonance attributes to the whole notion of allegorical film. In doing research on King Qi and the Zhou dynasty it appears that King Qi outlawed Confucianism to maintain stability in China and killed and buried alive the scholars. This dark moment in history was not really depicted in the film and was definitely not shown in the film as a positive impact. E.g the killing of the clan that specialise in calligraphy; therefore we can get a sense that nostalgia is a strong form of the ‘reconstructed’ nation. One of the reasons why Mainland China has distributed historical martial arts movie is because of its political discourses that has alienated Chinese culture. Political discourse experienced by China with the Westernization of China and also influence from the Japanese may have lead to the idea of an ‘imagined nation’. These Radical political phenomena witnessed around the world may have caused the catalyst for spreading the territories to those engaged in the post colonial struggles of the era (Crofts 1988 pp 385). With the rapidly changing cultural significance and China becoming more open to the world through globalization there was not a wide variety of tradition and culture to work with due to Western and Japanese influences so ultimately China needed to observe the past embracing what Mainland China was ‘once’ like. For the audience that viewed this movie the political struggles and a lack of exaggerated and artistic historical reflection does not really affect in the way of national identity due to the fact that although idealized audience are able to experience the ‘basic’ cultural tradition. This idea of playing with politics with in the film works as an allegory for communism and the rebellion against it. King Qi represents the ideology of communism and is very well resembled in the film. For example in the scene where he states that he will unify the character of the sword into one rather than have nineteen different characters. The film does deliver in terms of traditional practices and culture and the cinematography of the film is also a key element in representing the idea of the reconstructed nation. The traditional and rhetorical practices that have been seen throughout history books gave theories a chance to connect memories with a sense of identity (Dickinson 1997: 2). The film definitely captures the notion of memory (the historical events and retelling of the events occured) and connects it with identity (Mainland Chinese culture such as martial arts and calligraphy). With the extension of images and sequences of the ‘hyper-real’ a sense of not being able to forget the past is heavily emphasized. Ever since the film was used as a medium to promote globalization and culture nostalgic values were needed in an attempt to break the stereotyped view of certain ethnicity and also introduce some of the traditions and lives of ancient imperial China.
The director Zhang Yimou was obsessed with symmetry with in his films. The scene when Nameless goes into battle with Sky at the temple for playing chess is symmetrical in terms of the architecture. The colours were unified between the background, foreground and costumes. The calligraphy room is also symmetrical and so was the library. This obsession with symmetry and unified colours reflect the reconstructed identity of national Chinese cinema. The sense of the imagined gives the film a very artistic and beautiful personality. Deleuze’s theory of the exploration of a network of time and space is evident throughout the film. When Nameless retells the epic battles with the 3 legendary warriors the first battle that Nameless retells contains the complex weaving of time and space. Throughout this scene there are many quick sword battles between Sky and the officers and also Nameless as well. The scene runs for quite some time and throughout the scene sound effects of water droplets constantly dropping can be heard. This water droplet sound effect is the key feature in this scene. Firstly when Sky is fighting King Qi`s officials the fast paced sword clinging sounds gives the scene a sense of speed. However by inserting the water droplet sounds constantly the films rhythm is intentionally forced back to the peaceful flowing motion. This juxtaposition of the use of sounds creates the effect of the reconstructed nation as the sense illusion and reality are connected through the droplets of water. The retelling of the story V.S the truth behind the story told. Also the water droplet sound effect acts as the deterrent to keep the real sense of time with in the film. In this scene Nameless and sky imagines their battle with their minds however the water droplet sounds connects the real time with the imagined time acting as the alarm to snap into reality again. The notion of time is explored in this film with the use of slow motion between the fights and the representation of the stories in the past. This complex layering of time with in time creates a sense of duel and parallel sequences of multiple pasts and present to move the story forward. Thus replacing the action image into optical and sound images (Deleuze, 1985 pp 7). The water droplet is there for you to notice but as subtle as the action image is being analysed by the optical. In a Deleuzian sense the theory of neo realism where the use of wires create a natural feeling movement yet defies gravity throughout the battles creates and conquers the optical space within the film and the blending of real time, slow motion and real time for the actual audience is bent into a `u` shape where the illusion seems as reality and the reality seems as the illusion. Both ending in the same conclusion where Nameless becomes the Victor. Also the singing voice in the film represents Sky”s defeat as the climax of the battle comes near the singing voice acts parallel with Sky as he is struck by Nameless’s sword. The voice that is not built within the sound of the shot but an external sound added aafter the filming creates the unifies the film and time. This outer and inner film work is also a manipulative tool to fortell, start and end sequences.
The director`s use of colours can be also noticed. During the calligraphy scene the whole scene had a theme of red. Allegorically the scene can be depicted as the last resistance from the movement of communism. The red representing the blood lost from the clan of Zhao and their calligraphy. The Chinese character representing sword is the symbol for the connection between the spirit of the eradicated clan and the swordsmanship or the fighting spirit from the warriors who attempted to protect the clan. At the end of the scene where flying snow and Moon have their battle for revenge against the murder of Broken sword the scene is shot in an area where autumn leaves were falling. This scene is a representation of the final fall and death of the clan and allegorically the resistance against communism and unification which had failed. The red emotionally representing lust and rage also tie in with the scene as betrayal and revenge is a key emotional theme explored in the scene. Flying snow murdering Broken sword for the lust that had been created between him and moon and the rage created from the death of a master. Multiple stories depicting the fall of Broken Sword and Flying snow are each represented by a different colour. The scene that is shot in white where Nameless attempts to convince the warriors to assassinate the King the colour white symbolizes the ideaology of Broken Sword. Near the end of the film Broken Sword reveals that he does not intend to kill the King but to unify the kingdoms for the greatest prosperity. Peace. Broken Sword mentions his answer to the world. `By uniting all under heaven`. The colour white is the representation of Broken Swords philosophy and ironically Broken Sword arch enemy of King Qi was the only one who understood the true intentions of King Qi. The rebellion against the communist regime has now completely disintegrated.
However there is a contradiction beteween the use of symmetry and obsession with unification of the colours as it contradicts to the idea of freedom and resistance against communism. The communist ideal is to unify. Like King Qi he states that by eradicating the different characters for one word it will be much easier to comprehend. However the unification and symmetry does not connect to the idea of rebelling against communism. Perhaps this is done purposely to state that the unification process of communism has already spread and the characters involved were fighting an unwinnable battle.
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While in the topic of national cinema and reconstructing identity it is also interesting to note that hybrid forms of national cinema are beginning to appear in film. Although most of the films are Hollywood directed films and not classified as world cinema such as ‘The last Samurai’, ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Babel’ bring hybrid forms of national identity to the audience. These films introduce traditional and contemporary forms of culture to the audience. For example in ‘Lost in Translation’ a contemporary, modern day structure where pop culture is heavily introduced such as Karaoke bars, bright neon lights at night etc. This reference to pop culture and how life in Japan is illustrated would be a more accurate form of national identity. This is because it illustrates contemporary culture and practices and the audience will gain a deeper engagement through the viewing and the practices and the display of a different culture is much more accurate unlike nostalgic films of the past. The reconstruction of national identity is therefore a more artistic representation which means a realistic form of national identity are rather woven in through the use of cinematic allegory and cinematic techniques. These new hybrid forms of cultural diversity in film is the new era in sustaining the essence of national identity. Thus it should be stressed that since national cinema attempts to promote the culture of one nation by reconstructing it making it appealing to the audience and in doing so it deliberately hides or bends parts of historical evidence. The national discourses and history has shaped the national state into what it is and perhaps that is the main reason why national cinema has become the subject of narcissism as history hides the ‘true’ self of a nation only portraying the viewers with knowledge and fragments of history as evidence. As nations tend to be ideological constructions, it leads to nations bending and erasing the history that may have a negative impact. (Hayward 2000: 89).
In conclusion the film Hero works as an allegorical film because of the political statements and issues are brought forward with the use of cinematic techniques such as colour, unification and symmetry. In a Deleusian sense the sequences of flashbacks (with different perspectives of the story) the complex layering of time to drive the sequence in a forward motion can be directly tied to the cinematic allegory as the representation of the rise of communism using different time spectrum to reveal the symbolism for communism. The two theories creates a network of complex yet unique insight into the film and therefore the film becomes a reconstructed identity.
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