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Conference to focus on path-breaking Chinese filmmakers

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A conference focusing on the Shaw Brothers Studio, a path-breaking filmmaking enterprise that was founded in Shanghai, and later based in Singapore and Hong Kong, runs Oct. 2-4 (Thursday through Saturday) on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

According to Poshek Fu, the conference organizer and a professor of history and cinema studies at Illinois, the Shaw brothers “dominated the film industries and entertainment businesses of the Pan-Chinese, or Asia Pacific, world from the 1950s to the 1980s, and still control the largest television network there.”

The biggest “star” of the conference, Fu said, is actress Cheng Pei Pei, who will “help bring the campus and community together with her public discussion.”

Internationally known for her role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Cheng will lead a public discussion about her role in that film from 2-4 p.m. in 407 Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana. All of the conference events will be held at the Levis Center, except for David Bordwell’s keynote address on “Trends and Traditions in Martial Arts Film Style: From the Shaw Contributions to Ang Lee,” which begins at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 (Friday) in 101 Armory, 505 E. Armory, Champaign.

Fu, whose research expertise includes the politics of Hong Kong and Chinese popular film cultures, said that the conferees will examine the “early globalizing efforts of Chinese film cultures” with a lens on the Shaw brothers (Shao in Chinese), who began their pioneering Shanghai film studio in the 1920s.

The Shaw brothers, Fu said, would shape the “cinematic vision” of generations of filmmakers, including Ang Lee, the UI graduate who directed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Scholars and critics, many of them from Hong Kong and Singapore, will present papers on a wide variety of topics, including the “global imaginations” of the Shaw brothers. Six University of Illinois film scholars and historians also will weigh in, some of them focusing on the “Kung Fu connections” the Shaw brothers inspired.

Fu explained that the Shaw brothers “pioneered the globalizing efforts by projecting a pan-Chinese vision in their films, mapped its marketing strategy onto the established global Chinese diasporic networks and formed co-production connections with Euroamerican studios.”

“It is extremely important for us to understand the Shaw brothers cinema in order to have a fuller understanding of the complex development of global Chinese cinema, which is now an important part of global popular culture – for example, the important impact of Chinese martial arts film on Hip Hop – and its extensive influence on the development of Chinese filmmaking – for example, Ang Lee acknowledged that his cinematic vision was shaped in large part by many Shaw brothers films he had watched in Taiwan.”

The conference is sponsored by Illinois’ Unit for Cinema Studies and history department, with additional support from nine other units at Illinois and the Mellon Humanities in a Globalizing World Initiative.