June 27, 2005
Film: Review or Curfew
Marxy notes an apparent lack of film criticism in Japan and asks:
While we're on the topic, does anyone know of any other country besides Japan that does not have institutionalized cultural reviews? Is this a East Asian social-network concept, a developing nation concept, or just another sign of a weak media dependent upon its advertisers?
I know of at least one.
Though I doubt it's an East Asian concept, as there's been a history of film criticism in China, take for example, Cinema and Desire: Feminist Marxism and Cultural Politics in the Work of Dai Jinhua edited by my former professor, Jing Wang, and Tani E. Barlow. There also seems to be a healthy film criticism in Korea. I find it hard to believe that it does not exist in Japan, and for the record, Japan is NOT a developing nation. Marxy may be correct if the apparent lack of criticism could somehow be related to the economics of film marketing. I recall years ago the scandal of so-called reviews often found on film promotionals by ghost critics (people that didn't exist or fictional covers in-house studio marketing). What were the odds that some poor schuck is going to take the time to validate if the reviewer who raved, "Four stars, an erotic thriller, a twisted love story, one of this year's best" actually exists? Ever heard of the X Tribune for which this guys writes? Nope. Me neither.
I don't have to go into the mysterious ways films find their audiences. In Vietnam, at least for now, its quite straightforward. Odds seem to be in your favor simply as a result of so few films being produced in Vietnamese.
On a positive note, at least people are trying to produce better films. Currently, they are amateurish, the lighting is poorly done (for example, the other night we saw a new film, Chiến dịch cho trái tim bên phải, where you could see shadows on the wall from a poorly placed spot). The sound doesn't quite sync up (and we're not talking about dubbing here). The editing in many films is not continuous. For example, in another film a man and his date are in a car about to depart but he realizes he has forgotten something inside the house. As his girlfriend waits in the car he quickly returns to his apartment to retrieve the missing item. An extreme close-up shows him unlocking his apartment front door. Meanwhile the CAR IS STILL RUNNING! Does he always carry two sets of identical keysets? So, stuff like this happens all the time in both cinema and broadcast productions here. But, like I said before, these might be considered growing pains of an emerging industry.
Before I bite my tongue by saying film criticism does not exist in Vietnam, for there is an emerging film criticism, it LARGELY does not exist, mirroring the absence of critical cultural discourse in other areas such as the visual arts. One online gem I was recently alerted to is yxine. If you read Vietnamese, please have a look at their review of Almodovar's Habla con Ella. I suspect as Vietnam continues to improve its film, there will be better, more informed audiences, to in turn critique the film s they watch. The Third-Cinema, as some have called emerging film industries in developing nations, is often a matter of national pride. As such, it is easy to understand why the government is promoting films made in Vietnam: from sending directors abroad for training, asking for honest critiques of their own industry and most remarkably, publishing the findings.
My intuition tells me that the film industry will grow more rapidly and enjoy more flexibility than we in the visual arts will experience. However, each paves way for the other. So, in the meantime, until I exhibit my next work, I'll be watching some good flicks.
Posted by rst at June 27, 2005 05:22 PM
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I was talking more about music criticism or negative pop culture crit. There are serious film reviewers in Japan, but there's no "star/letter" system to grade films for possible viewers. Criticism does exist at a certain level, but it's not a totally widespread concept like in the States. People Magazine even has critical reviews!
Posted by: marxy at June 29, 2005 11:03 PM
Noted. In this respect, perhaps it is an asian phenomena, where much of the reviews for asian films are done by westerners in western languages.
With an emerging film industry, such as you might find in Vietnam, the absence of a sophisticated review system might not come as a suprise. That is coupled with the access and communication of information, whereas Japan largely has an independent press and media as opposed to being state controlled. And Japanese cinema has a cinematic tradition among the best in the world.
Skip the People Magazine and head on over to neomarxisme: the pop sociology of pop.
Posted by: r. streitmatter-tran at June 30, 2005 02:02 PM