The Cinema of Hong Kong, the Cinema of Taiwan, and the Cinema of China are three most historically prominent periods of the Chinese-language film-making. The great impact was made by the Cultural Revolution that was a turning point in the cinematography of the country. It influenced heavily on the appearance and development of the trends such as the Fifth Generation and the Sixth Generation. Those periods have both common and distinct features. Therefore, they cannot be viewed separately from each other.
The graduates of the Beijing Film Academy are those persons that are praised for the increased popularity of the Chinese cinema far beyond the borders of China. At the beginning of the 1980s, the so-called Fifth Generation, including Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Tian Zhuang Zhuang, and Zhang Junzhao, has produced the masterpieces such as King of the Children (1987), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Farewell, My Concubine (1993). Those films have brought the Chinese film-making to the world fame and a lot of awards.
The main features of the movies of the Fifth Generation are caused by the fact they all had lived through the Cultural Revolution. They had been able to experience those days of conflicts and social instability on their own. The directors were literally made to suppress their authentic artistic nature. After the end of that era, today, they are willing to demonstrate the precious elements of the human nature to survive through the period of the Cultural Revolution. All the directors of the Fifth Generation are being in rather tense relations with the past and try to exhibit it in a harsh and severe manner. The times of the Cultural Revolution are featured from a viewpoint of those participants who had to content in living through those days. The example of such films is The Blue Kite by Tiang Zhuang Zhuang who tells a tragic story of a family that cannot survive the burdens of the uneasy life. The movie triggered a ten-year ban since it was too real for the Central Film Bureau. Therefore, the film could not be demonstrated for the audience despite the fact that it had received the awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Hawaii International Film Festival. At the same time, not all directors were ready to consciously create the movies that would be prohibited for the public use. Therefore, many of the words of this period are change by censorship. This fact, to my mind, is controversial since, on the one hand, the directors could not express themselves in the way they would like to, but, on the other hand, censorship gave rise to art pieces that would not have appeared without it.
On the contrary, the directors of the Sixth Generation show the Cultural Revolution from an absolutely different perspective. In the Heat of the Sun made by Jiang Wen, the times of the revolution are dislocated and chaotic. The main focus is put not on the politics or poverty but rather a shift from childhood to adult life. Thus, the event and hardships of the Cultural Revolution are only a background for the development of the main character’s individuality. Basing the assumption on my personal experience of watching the movie, a person does not perceive the picture as a historical one, it is a simple story without any political ideas or implications. The film does not feature sadness or tears being undoubtedly present at those days. However, it is a set of adventures allowed by freedom and the absence of control from parents. In fact, the picture by Jiang Wen is not a representation of a sequence of historical events since it concentrates more on the feelings of people during that period, especially of one tiny boy, in particular. There is no clear evidence that the occurrences in the film really happened. However, the audience may feel the nostalgia of a narrator who also cannot sometimes distinguish the real memories from the creation of imagination. The reason for it may be the absence of the personal experience of the director during those times. Consequently, it is a fact that the story of the person displayed is more important for Jiang Wen that the history of the country. This approach appeals to the audience that consists of the people who have much in common with the characters of the work.
In Eat Drink Man Woman Ang Lee manages to depict the lifestyle of the representatives from different social levels. All of them are craving love in their personal lives. Within one story, the director unites a senior chef, a teacher, a businesswoman, and a college student. In my opinion, it is an absolutely unexpected and rather dare choice to make. All of them have absolutely different approaches to life but state that good relations are a necessity for happiness. At the same time, the movie is really optimistic claiming that even if a situation seems epic, there always will be a turning point. Thus, the sun will go out finally. Chu, for instance, at one moment, lost everything starting with his daughters leaving their home and ending with his feeling of taste that is vitally important in his profession. However, at the end of the film, Chu feels great. The reason is that he possesses a clean bill of health, the taste has returned to him, and he has gained an even stronger and bigger family with a young wife and a child. His daughter appears to be in a similar situation. She loses all her money and breaks the relations with her boyfriend. However, in the end, she is undoubtedly happy at home cooking meals and spending time for satisfying her own desires. All of the actions take place in real-life China with its problems and burdens. Jia-Chen, for example, becomes a casualty of a building company that starts constructing works. Somehow it appears that the soil on the premises has been contaminated; and the activities there stop. There is neither help nor support from the country. However, those matters are actually shown on the background and do not display much interest of either the director or the audience. There are many more valuable things worth watching and discussing. I believe that this attitude of the director should be granted since few people today are able to do the same.
The previously mentioned movie called In the Heat of the Sun can also be an example of another distinctive feature that the Sixth Generation Chinese Cinema possesses. It is a shift from the illustration of the traditional Chinese countryside. They had not spent much time in the rural country; and it does not evoke in them any deep feelings. Aesthetically, the films of the Sixth Generation are more independent in depicting the situation that China is going through while the movies from the Fifth Generation are fabulously crafted. At the same time, the bleak and raw city is the locale of the majority of the Sixth Generation works. Almost an empty and ruined city becomes a good home for teenagers being left without the parents’ attention in the film In the Heat of the Sun. It does not seem that the main character feels any sorrow for the situation, in which he appeared. Empty houses are a good entertainment for him and a way for discovering the world. The city is demonstrated as a natural habitat that gives shelter and defends from the danger of the outside. Another vision of the city is peculiar to Hu Guan in Mr. Six since he depicts the location as ruining of human souls and relations force. On the one hand, severe routines of the present days cannot allow people to be kind and help each other. The reason is that they will be doomed to fail. Violence and strictness seem to be the life ensuring elements in such an environment. On the other hand, there is Liu Ye who has his own methods and beliefs. He is not going to change them under any circumstances. Being a man of principle helps him to overcome the problems created by his son. I find this type of works deeply needed by the modern society as it lacks real emotions and real people.
The main characters of the films made by the Sixth Generation creators are usually the representatives of marginal layers in society including rock stars, sexual minorities, and drifters. Mr. Six demonstrates the community of gangsters who are ready to kill people because of a scratch on their car. Their anger is understandable. However, Liu Ye cannot understand why flashy and street-racing culture does not respect the old ways of resolving conflicts. The main hero is also an ex-hoodlum. On the contrary to punks ruling the streets of Beijing today, he always followed the Wanzhu code. Therefore, he has the power though, at the same time, respects the residents. Despite having influential acquaintances, Liu Ye rejects to use immoral ways of dealing with the situation. He is ready to sacrifice his life in order to save his son and shows that not all the values of the world have shifted as in the past days.
The tendency to show the marginalized layers of society can be described by the following fact. The directors of the Sixth Generation have also occupied the margins of the Chinese community. Their childhood had passed in the years of great changes on the economic and social levels resulting in the expression of their own sense of loss, frustration, and anxiety. The films of the Sixth Generation deeply penetrate into the identity of people and their inner psychology.
Apart from stylistic differences, there was also a real life environment that heavily influenced on making the movies of the Sixth Generation. The first films of that period are often rather similar to amateur pictures. They were created in the underground due to censorship. Because of the lack of funding, directors were made to search the budget for the work on their own. It often resulted in a quick and cheap shooting, digital video, non-professional actors, hand cameras, and a poor sound. The example of such creation is the movie The Days by Wang Xiaoshai. Its production cost only $10.000. Those technical features made the films of the Sixth Generation absolutely different from the works of the Fifth Generation period.
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In conclusion, it is rather difficult to clearly distinguish certain directors and movies of that period as there is no commonly followed manifesto or philosophy. All of the film-makers being usually associated with this era have their individual styles and tastes; and their movies look rather different. At the same time, there is a number of features that may be defined as common in the works by Li Yang, Zhang Yang, Jiang Wen, Jia Zhangke, and Lou Ye that are considered as the brightest representatives of the Sixth Generation.
First, the directors of this period are independent in their way of expression, often representing the underground filmmaking. The scenery of their works is distinctly different from the Fifth Generation movies due to the fact that they had not lived through the harsh period of the Cultural Revolution. They are not personally prejudiced by the events that occurred at that time. Aesthetics of the films tends to feature few rural premises since they are odd for those people grown up in an urban environment.
Moreover, the movies of the Sixth Generation draw the attention of the audience to the inner world of an individual. It is important for them to describe the influence of the modern style of life on moral values and principles of persons. It is not surprising that many characters of the Sixth Generation period are the representatives of the marginalized layers of society. These communities groups had a little attention from the directors of the Fifth Generation. The characters of movies serve a function of featuring the war happening in the souls of people. They do not play the roles of puppets that have the main purpose to feature the historical events of the country.