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In the new book “China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema” (University of Illinois Press), Poshek Fu, professor of history, of cinema studies and of East Asian languages and cultures at the UI, draws together scholars from diverse disciplines such as history, cultural geography and film studies to address the history and cultural politics of the Shaw Brothers’ movie empire.
The book discusses how the Shaw Brothers raised the production standards of Hong Kong cinema, created a pan-Chinese cinema culture and distribution network, helped globalize Chinese-language cinema, and appealed to the cultural nationalism of the Chinese who found themselves displaced and unsettled in many parts of the world during the 20th century.
“This is the first English-language study of a major Chinese movie studio,” said Fu, who edited the book and wrote the introduction. “The studio’s influence in shaping Chinese moviemaking, popular culture and social values was enormous.”
Started in Shanghai in the 1920s, the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio began to dominate the worldwide Chinese film market after moving its production facilities to Hong Kong in 1957, leading the efforts to create a pan-Asian movie industry.
“It brought Chinese-language cinemas to an age of color in the 1950s and made many popular opera movies that projected a cultural China to be widely identified by the millions of Chinese displaced by war, revolution and migration in the mid-20th century,” Fu said. “The Shaw Brothers also started a new-styled martial arts movie in the 1960s that soon transformed into a global cultural form.”
The Shaw Brothers was the first Chinese movie studio to break into the U.S. movie market. Its martial arts movies became particularly popular among Asian and African Americans. In giving voices to the weak and powerless, the Shaw Brothers martial arts movies had a significant impact on African-American culture.
“China Forever” also includes a memoir by the actress Cheng Pei-pei of her experiences living and working in the Shaw Brothers’ Hollywood-styled studio, “Movietown.” She began her career playing a warrior in many of the popular Shaw Brothers movies, but became famous among the young generation of worldwide audiences by her role as Jade Fox in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Ramona Curry, UI professor of English, and former UI history professor Fanon Che Wilkins are among the contributing authors.
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