This chapter will analyse three films describing women’s inner confusion and self-discovery. Two similar films came out of China in 1999, namely Lou Ye’s
Suzhou River and Wang Quan’an’s Lunar Eclipse. Both films strike remarkable poses in the film arena domestically and abroad for four reasons: 1. their cinematic-ness – employing unstable cinematography, jump cuts, lighting and shadow designs, and an unconventional interplay of sound and images; 2. their un-Chineseness – abandoning the presentation of national allegory and the use of Chinese traditional visual elements; 3. their explicit or implicit references to such masterpieces as Alfred Hitchcock’s
Vertigo (1958) and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991); 4. their respect of the personal perplexity of life and identity. The most significant similarity between the two films is the manner in which two identical female characters (each pair in the films was actually played by one actress) appear in different filmic narrative spaces, which is analogous to Kieslowski’s Veronique. Besides, these two films also have other resemblances with Veronique. First, the two women with identical appearances do not have any factual links in real spaces, but one of them can feel the other one who is dead (or disappeared) and starts to be trapped within her feelings involuntarily. Second, the films’ narrative focus on portraying and exploring individuals’ life-perceptions and spiritual worlds more than telling stories. Therefore I describe these two films as the stories of “Chinese
Veronique”. Five years before these two films, another representative post-fifth- generation director Guan Hu produced his film debut Dirt which involved a similar contemplation. Though the film is obviously different from Suzhou River or Lunar Eclipse with respect to narrative mode and filmic technique, it also focuses on perplexity of a woman’s life. However, this film has not been given the same attention either overseas or domestic as the other two, in spite of the similar theme. Whether this is caused by the time difference or distribution form, such a phenomenon is a notice-worthy issue with respect to cultural studies. What is more, since this film has a female first-person narrator, unlike the other two which are narrated from a male first-person narrator (Suzhou River) and an omnipotent viewpoint (Lunar Eclipse) respectively, it is probably an isolated case in the research of the veiled pursuit of the male directors using female characters as leading roles. I hence examine this film in this chapter as an analogical case of the other two.
Because these films all address women’s inner perplexity, all these films have been praised for their consideration of women’s destiny and mental world. However, whether their representation of this “Veronique style” confusion comes from solicitude for women or from their inherent confusion and lack remains an unsolved question. Furthermore, if it is the directors’ own perplexity, what traps them into it? First, the explicit and implicit themes of the Chinese Veronique’s stories need to be explained. I will focus on discovering the central issue of the stories of the Chinese Veronique in 6.2: first delving into the significant differences between the story of the French Veronique and their Chinese counterparts, and then discussing their latent different themes. Through comparing the selected films with Kieslowski’s Veronique, I attempt to uncover the directors’ concealed pursuits, in the context of Chinese contemporary culture, in their films which are conversant with western art cinema.
Then, in 6.3, I will discuss the identificatory relations between the male directors and their female protagonists. Since all the films are directed by male filmmakers, I will try to illustrate the spectatorship between two sexes in these filmic narratives of heterosexual stories. I intend to detect whether or not these younger directors, who strike a more artistic personality in their filmmaking, have constructed the same stereotypical mode of male spectatorship as that of mainstream commercial cinema. In terms of spectatorship, the filmic look, which includes the visual presentation of male and female images, the handling of the camera, the structure of filmic space, and the relation between the look and being looked at, is the focus of the first half of 6.3. The second half will further probe the directors’ complex self-identification in these films on the basis of the previous discussion. In a nutshell, the key point in this section is to answer the question: do these male directors gaze at the female protagonists or identify with them? Then I will explore the latent relation between the Chinese Veronique and the directors themselves in 6.4. Through analysing the essential contradictions within the Chinese Veronique’s identity confusion and comparing them with the directors’ filmmaking dilemmas in contemporary China, I propose to discover their choices of identity in their real career lives. Additionally, these three directors’ filmmaking experiences are extraordinarily different from each other, despite making these thematically similar films. Both Wang Quan’an and Lou Ye continue their filmmaking smoothly and sustainably afterwards. By contrast, Guan Hu’s career life does not seem to be so prosperous. After releasing Dirt, he nearly disappeared from the film industry for eight years until he made Eyes of a Beauty (西 施眼, Xishiyan) in 2002. Therefore, what triggers their different career “destinies” becomes an intriguing question. Is it because of the different styles of their cinematic presentations, or, the consequence of the directors’ different choices of identity? I am
going to attempt to answer these questions in 6.4.
6.1 Synopsis of the Selected Films
Suzhou River is a film noir by Lou Ye. Lou Ye studied film directing at Beijing Film Studio and graduated in 1989, and then started to make films in 1993. To date he has directed six feature films in total, namely, Weekend Lover (周末情人, Zhoumo qingren, 1993), Don’t Be Young (危情少女, Weiqing shaonü, 1995), Suzhou River,
Purple Butterfly (紫蝴蝶, Zihudie, 2003), Summer Palace (颐和园, Yiheyuan, 2006),
and Spring Fever (春风沉醉的晚上, Chunfengchenzuide wanshang, 2009). Partly
due to his preference for structuring film narratives led by women, three of his works are selected in this thesis. I will analyse the other two, Purple Butterfly and Summer Palace, in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 respectively. After directing two films in a state- run film studio, Lou started to make films outside the censorship.1 Without any official production funding from China, Suzhou River was co-produced by the German Essential Films and Dream Factory. The film has been well-received in the western art house cinema arena and has won five awards in various international film festivals, that is, Fantasporto Oporto Film Festival (2002, Critics Award), Paris Film Festival (2000, Best Actress & Grand Prix), Viennale Film Festival (2000, Fipresci Prize), and Rotterdam International Film Festival (2000, Tiger Award). However,
Suzhou River was not screened or released in China, as Lou was banned from filmmaking within the national system for two years after screening it at overseas film