Cinema of Asia
Asian cinema refers to the film industries and films produced in the continent of Asia, and is also sometimes known as Eastern cinema. More commonly, however, it is most often used to refer to the cinema of Eastern, Southeastern and Southern Asia. West Asian cinema is sometimes classified as part of Middle Eastern cinema, along with the cinema of Egypt. The cinema of Central Asia is often grouped with the Middle East or, in the past, the cinema of the Soviet Union during the Soviet Central Asia era. North Asia is dominated by Siberian Russian cinema, and is thus considered part of European cinema.
East Asian cinema is typified by the Cinema of Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, including the Japanese anime industry and action films of Hong Kong. Southeast Asian cinema is typified by the cinema of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. The cinema of Central Asia and the southern Caucasus is typified by Iranian cinema and Tajikistan. West Asian cinema is typified by Arab cinema, Turkish cinema, Iranian cinema, and Jewish cinema. Finally, South Asian cinema is typified by the cinema of India, which includes the Bollywood, South Indian, Bengali and Punjabi film industries, the latter also grouped together with the cinema of Pakistan (along with Urdu cinema) whereas Bengali cinema is also typified by the cinema of Bangladesh.
Precursors of film
Mo-Ti, a Chinese philosopher circa 500 BC, pondered the phenomenon of inverted light from the outside world beaming through a small hole in the opposite wall in a darkened room. Shadow plays first appeared during the Han Dynasty and later gain popularity across Asia. Around 180 AD, Ting Huan (丁緩) created an elementary zoetrope in China.
In 1021, Alhazen, an Iraqi scientist, experimented with the same optical principle described by Mo-Ti, and wrote of the results in his Book of Optics, which provided the first clear description and correct analysis of the camera obscura. His lamp experiment, where several different light sources are arranged across a large area, was the first to successfully project an entire image from outdoors onto a screen indoors with the camera obscura.
Silent film era
The first short films from Asia were produced during the 1890s. The first short films produced in Japan were Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook) and Shinin no Sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse), both from 1898. The first Indian short film was also produced in 1898, The Flower of Persia, directed by Hiralal Sen.
The first Asian feature film was Japan's The Life Story of Tasuke Shiobara (1912). It was followed by India's first feature-length silent film, the period piece drama Raja Harishchandra (1913), by Dadasaheb Phalke, considered the father of Indian cinema. By the next decade, the output of Indian cinema was an average of 27 films per year. On the other hand, in the Philippines, José Nepomuceno, bought his first film equipment from Albert Yearsley and Edward Meyer Gross on May 15, 1917 and for the next two years, Nepomuceno practiced using the equipment in preparation for making the first locally produced feature film of the Philippines. The first locally produced film in the Philippines is Dalagang Bukid. The film was released with English, Spanish, and Tagalog subtitles. During its theatrical run, leading actress Atang de la Rama had to sing Nabasag ang Banga (a song which is a part of the film) for every screening of the film in Manila, along with three others playing a violin, a cornet, and a piano
In the 1920s, the newborn Soviet cinema was the most radically innovative. There, the craft of editing, especially, surged forward, going beyond its previous role in advancing a story. Sergei Eisenstein perfected the technique of so-called dialectical or intellectual montage, which strove to make non-linear, often violently clashing, images express ideas and provoke emotional and intellectual reactions in the viewer.
Early sound era
Sound films began being produced in Asia from the 1930s. Notable early talkies from the cinema of Japan included Kenji Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai, 1936), Osaka Elegy (1936) and The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), along with Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937) and Mikio Naruse's Wife, Be Like A Rose! (Tsuma Yo Bara No Yoni, 1935), which was one of the first Japanese films to gain a theatrical release in the U.S. However, with increasing censorship, the left-leaning tendency films of directors such as Daisuke Ito also began to come under attack. A few Japanese sound shorts were made in the 1920s and 1930s, but Japan's first feature-length talkie was Fujiwara Yoshie no furusato (1930), which used the 'Mina Talkie System'. In 1935, Yasujirō Ozu also directed An Inn in Tokyo, considered a precursor to the neorealism genre.
Ardeshir Irani released Alam Ara, the first Indian talking film, on March 14, 1931. Following the inception of 'talkies' in India some film stars were highly sought after and earned comfortable incomes through acting. As sound technology advanced the 1930s saw the rise of music in Indian cinema with musicals such as Indra Sabha and Devi Devyani marking the beginning of song-and-dance in India's films. Studios emerged across major cities such as Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai as filmmaking became an established craft by 1935, exemplified by the success of Devdas, which had managed to enthrall audiences nationwide.
Following the end of World War II by the mid-1940s, the period from the late 1940s to the 1960s is considered the 'Golden Age' of Asian cinema. Many of the most critically acclaimed Asian films of all time were produced during this period, including Yasujirō Ozu's Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953); Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957); Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu (1952), Sansho the Bailiff (1954) and Ugetsu (1954); Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), The Music Room (1958) and Charulata (1964); Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959); and Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town (1948), Raj Kapoor's Awaara (1951), Mikio Naruse's Floating Clouds (1955) and Ritwik Ghatak's Subarnarekha (1962).
During Japanese cinema's 'Golden Age' of the 1950s and 1960s, successful films included Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954) and The Hidden Fortress (1958) by Akira Kurosawa, as well as Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) and Ishirō Honda's Godzilla (1954). These films have had a profound influence on world cinema. In particular, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai has been remade several times as Western films, such as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and has also inspired several Bollywood films, such as Sholay (1975) and China Gate (1998). Rashomon was also remade as The Outrage (1964), and inspired films with "Rashomon effect" storytelling methods, such as Andha Naal (1954), The Usual Suspects (1995) and Hero (2002). The Hidden Fortress was also the inspiration behind George Lucas' Star Wars (1977). The Japanese New Wave began in the late 1950s and continued into the 1960s. Other famous Japanese filmmakers from this period include Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Inagaki and Nagisa Oshima. Japanese cinema later became one of the main inspirations behind the New Hollywood movement of the 1960s to 1980s.
During Indian cinema's 'Golden Age' of the 1950s and 1960s, it was producing 200 films annually, while Indian independent films gained greater recognition through international film festivals. One of the most famous was The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959) from critically acclaimed Bengali film director Satyajit Ray, whose films had a profound influence on world cinema, with directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, Carlos Saura, Jean-Luc Godard, Isao Takahata, Gregory Nava, Ira Sachs, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style. According to Michael Sragow of The Atlantic Monthly, the "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". Subrata Mitra's cinematographic technique of bounce lighting also originates from The Apu Trilogy. Satyajit Ray's success led to the establishment of the 'Parallel Cinema' movement, which was at its peak during the 1950s and 1960s. Other famous Indian filmmakers from this period include Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Bimal Roy, K. Asif and Mehboob Khan.
The cinema of China experienced a 'Golden Age' in the late 1940s. In 1946, Cai Chusheng returned to Shanghai to revive the Lianhua name as the "Lianhua Film Society." This in turn became Kunlun Studios which would go on to become one of the most important Chinese studios of the era, putting out the classics, Myriads of Lights (1948), The Spring River Flows East (1947), and Crows and Sparrows (1949). Wenhua's romantic drama Spring in a Small Town (1948), a film by director Fei Mu shortly prior to the revolution, is often regarded by Chinese film critics as one of the most important films in the history of Chinese cinema, with it being named by the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2004 as the greatest Chinese-language film ever made.
The cinema of Malaysia also had its 'Golden Age' in the post-war period of the 1950s and 1960s. The period saw the introduction of the studio system of filmmaking in Malaysia and influx of influences from Hollywood, the emerging cinema of Hong Kong, and particularly the Indian and Japanese film industries which were themselves experiencing a Golden Age.
The cinema of South Korea also experienced a 'Golden Age' in the late 1950s and 1960s, beginning with director Lee Kyu-hwan's tremendously successful remake of Chunhyang-jon (1955). That year also saw the release of Yangsan Province by the renowned director, Kim Ki-young, marking the beginning of his productive career. Both the quality and quantity of filmmaking had increased rapidly by the end of the 1950s. South Korean films, such as Lee Byeong-il's 1956 comedy Sijibganeun nal (The Wedding Day), had begun winning international awards. In contrast to the beginning of the 1950s, when only 5 movies were made per year, 111 films were produced in South Korea in 1959. The year 1960 saw the production of Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid and Yu Hyun-mok's Aimless Bullet, both of which have been listed among the best Korean films ever made.
The late 1950s and 1960s was also a 'Golden Age' for Philippine cinema, with the emergence of more artistic and mature films, and significant improvement in cinematic techniques among filmmakers. The studio system produced frenetic activity in the local film industry as many films were made annually and several local talents started to earn recognition abroad. One such honor was bestowed to Manuel Conde's immortal movie Gengis Khan (1950) when it was accepted for screening at the 13th Venice Film Festival. Other awards include Gerardo de Leon's "Ifugao" (1954) and Lamberto Avellana's "Anak Dalita". By the end of the decade Philippine cinema had developed in to a major force in the Asian region. The premiere Philippine directors of the era included Gerardo de Leon, Gregorio Fernandez, Eddie Romero, Lamberto Avellana, and Cirio Santiago.
The 1960s is often cited as being the 'golden age' of Pakistani cinema. Many A-stars were introduced in this period in time and became legends on the silver screen. As black-and-white became obsolete, Pakistan saw the introduction of its first colour films, the first being Munshi Dil's Azra in early 1960s, Zahir Rehan's Sangam (first full-length coloured film) in 1964, and Mala (first coloured cinemascope film). In 1961, the political film Bombay Wallah was released, based on the city of Bombay in neighbouring India, in the wake of the growing tension between the nations. In 1962, Shaheed (Martyr) pronounced the Palestine issue on the silver screen and became an instant hit, leading to a changing tide in the attitude of filmmakers.
The 1960s was the "golden age" of Cambodian cinema. Several production companies were started and more movie theaters were built throughout the country. More than 300 movies were made in Cambodia during the era. A number of Khmer language films were well received in its neougbouring countries at the time. Among the classic films from Cambodia during this period were Lea Haey Duong Dara (Goodbye Duong Dara) and Pos Keng Kang (The Snake King's Wife) by Tea Lim Kun and Sabbseth, and An Euil Srey An (Khmer After Angkor) by Ly Bun Yim.
By the late '60s and early '70s, Japanese cinema had begun to become seriously affected by the collapse of the studio system. As Japanese cinema slipped into a period of relative low visibility, the cinema of Hong Kong entered a dramatic renaissance of its own, largely a side effect of the development of the wuxia blending of action, history, and spiritual concerns. Several major figures emerged in Hong Kong at this time - perhaps most famously, King Hu, whose 1966 Come Drink With Me was a key influence upon many subsequent Hong Kong cinematic developments. Shortly thereafter, the American-born Bruce Lee became a global icon in the 1970s.
From 1969 onwards, the Iranian New Wave led to the growth of Iranian cinema, which would later go on to achieve international acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s. The most notable figures of the Iranian New Wave are Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi, Bahram Beizai, Darius Mehrjui, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Masoud Kimiay, Sohrab Shahid-Saless, Parviz Kimiavi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Amir Naderi, and Abolfazl Jalili. Features of New Wave Iranian film, in particular the works of Kiarostami, have been classified by some as postmodern.
The 1970s also saw the establishment of Bangladeshi cinema following the country's independence in 1971. One of the first films produced in Bangladesh after independence was Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titas) in 1973 by acclaimed director Ritwik Ghatak, whose stature in Bengali cinema is comparable to that of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.Another great film of Bangladesh is Mita's 'Lathial' (The striker), were the best movies of the year of 1975. 'Lathial' got first National Award as the best film, and mita got first National Award as best director.
In the cinema of India, the 1970s saw a decline in 'Parallel Cinema' and the rise of commercial Hindi cinema in the form of enduring masala films, such as the Mumbai underworld film Deewaar (1975) and "Curry Western" movie Sholay (1975), which solidified Amitabh Bachchan's position as a lead actor. Commercial cinema further grew throughout the 1980s and the 1990s with the release of films such as Mr. India (1987), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Tezaab (1988), Chandni (1989), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Baazigar (1993), Darr (1993) and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995).
During the 1980s, Japanese cinema - aided by the rise of independent filmmaking and the spectacular success of anime - began to make something of an international comeback. Simultaneously, a new post-Mao Zedong generation of Chinese filmmakers began to gain global attention. Another group of filmmakers, centered around Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, launched what has become known as the "Taiwanese New Wave".
The 1980s is also considered the Golden Age of Hong Kong action cinema. Jackie Chan reinvented the martial arts film genre with a new emphasis on elaborate and dangerous stunts and slapstick humour, beginning with Project A (1983). John Woo began the "heroic bloodshed" genre based on triads, beginning with A Better Tomorrow (1986). The Hong Kong New Wave also occurred during this period, led by filmmakers such as Tsui Hark.
With the post-1980 rise in popularity of East Asian cinema in the West, Western audiences are again becoming familiar with many of the industry's filmmakers and stars. A number of these key players, such as Chow Yun-fat and Zhang Ziyi, have "crossed over", working in Western films. Others have gained exposure through the international success of their films, though many more retain more of a "cult" appeal, finding a degree of Western success through DVD sales rather than cinema releases.
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- AboutAllMovies.com - About All Movies - All about Asian movies, films, cinema.
- VCinemashow.com - VCinema is a podcast and blog dedicated to Asian cinema from all regions.