This fall’s Cine-East Film Series features five wildly disparate films, reminding us that East Asia may be geographically proximal but culturally divergent. In particular, describing East Asian cinema in broad strokes obscures its astonishing diversity. The films in Cine-East’s lineup are filmed in a variety of languages and countries and cover vastly different subject material.
In “A Touch of Sin,” four Chinese citizens unleash their social dissatisfaction in a gory frenzy of violence. A Tibetan father’s attempt to recover his beloved mastiff in “Old Dog” exposes the gaps between generational values. A girl falls sweetly in love in post-World War II Japan and saves a derelict house in “Up on the Poppy Hill.” “Bandhobi” tells of the unlikely friendship between a Korean high school student and a Bangladeshi migrant worker. The final film in the series, “High Tech, Low Life” follows two amateur Chinese ‘citizen bloggers’ as they battle state censorship to document China’s social ills. The film series, if not simply a survey of East Asian cinema, also serves as a good introduction to a few of the region’s definitive issues.
The Cine-East Film Series is an annual collaboration between Screen/Society, the programming branch of the Arts of the Moving Image department, and the Asian and Pacific Studies Institute (APSI). The series began in 2003 to encourage greater exposure and study of East Asian film. However, Tanya Lee, an APSI staff member, notes that even during the series’s first years, there existed significant appreciation for East Asian cinema, which has only grown in the ten years since.
“I do hope that the Cine-East series has had a positive influence in educating Duke audiences about all facets of East Asian cinema,” said Lee. This is the eleventh year running for the film series, during which more than 200 films have been screened.
Additionally, the film series complements and reinforces other academic study on East Asia, part and parcel of Screen/Society’s larger mission to “relate film, video, and digital art to other disciplines.” APSI faculty are contacted first for film recommendations, with secondary considerations including film appeal and availability. With the exception of “A Touch of Sin,” the films in the series tie into courses taught this semester. Several APSI faculty will be introducing the films, and in years past, the series has been able to bring in the filmmakers whose work was featured.
Despite its academic overtones, the film series is intended to reach a wider audience. “We hope all students will come, not just grad students who are film headies, but anyone who is interested in East Asian issues,” said Ralph Litzinger, a professor of cultural anthropology who will be moderating the screenings for “High Tech, Low Life” and “Old Dog.”
“A Touch of Sin” has attracted particular interest, as the Cine-East screening will be the North Carolina premiere for the film, directed and produced by rogue Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke. The movie has already garnered high accolades for its luxurious visuals and Tarentino-like aesthetic of violence, earning a nomination for the Palme d’Or and winning a “Best Screenplay” award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. For a while, Jia was considered a bit of a fringe filmmaker, and his previous feature films engage with topics often censored in his native China, such as forced migration after the Three Gorges Dam (“Still Life,” 2006), the one-child policy (“Unknown Pleasures,” 2002) and more abstractly, China’s modernization project (“Platform,” 1998). “A Touch of Sin” can in some ways be seen as the culmination of Jia’s work so far. Based on true stories, the film captures the violent economic changes of China’s last three decades and the spectacular physical violence four desperate individuals resort to in the face of institutional corruption and discrimination.
Cine-East’s films are not chosen with a theme in mind, yet collectively the films speak to worlds in flux. Vast societal shifts of the past and present are at work at the edges of these films. Front and center of these global dramas, however, are the films’ human protagonists, whose individual struggles illuminate larger narratives about conservationism, corruption, migration and globalization, to name just a few. Topics of this magnitude are concentrated in these powerful individual storytellers. No matter who we are, we could all stand to learn a little something from them.
Cine-East runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18. All films will be screened at either Richard White Lecture Hall on East Campus or Griffith Film Theater in the Bryan Center. For a full schedule, visit https://web.duke.edu/apsi/events/films.html.