Für neue Kunden:
Für bereits registrierte Kunden:
Doktorarbeit / Dissertation, 2016
List of Tables
List of Figures
The English version of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (Zhang Yimou, 2009)
Politeness in Subtitling: To Retain or Not to
Dialect in Subtitling: The Flowers of War (Zhang Yimou, 2011)
Historical Subtitling: Archaisms and the Unstable Decades of Contemporary China
The Subtitling of Songs and the Peking Opera in Zhang Yimou’s Films
In recent years, more and more Chinese films have been exported abroad. This thesis intends to explore the subtitling of Chinese cinema into English, with Zhang Yimou’s films as a case study. Zhang Yimou is arguably the most critically and internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker, who has experimented with a variety of genres of films. I argue that in the subtitling of his films, there is an obvious adoption of the domestication translation strategy that reduces or even omits Chinese cultural references. I try to discover what cultural categories or perspectives of China are prone to the domestication of translation and have formulated five categories: humour, politeness, dialect, history and songs and the Peking Opera. My methodology is that I compare the source Chinese dialogue lines with the existing English subtitles by providing literal translations of the source lines, and I will also give my alternative translations that tend to retain the source cultural references better. I also speculate that the domestication strategy is frequently employed by subtitlers possibly because the subtitlers assume the source cultural references are difficult for target language subtitle readers to comprehend, even if they are translated into a target language. However, subtitle readers are very likely to understand more than what the dialogue lines and the target language subtitles express, because films are multimodal entities and verbal information is not the only source of information for subtitle readers. The image and the sound are also significant sources of information for subtitle readers who are constantly involved in a dynamic film-watching experience. They are also expected to grasp visual and acoustic information. The complete omission or domestication of source cultural references might also affect their interpretation of the non-verbal cues. I also contemplate that the translation, which frequently domesticates the source culture carried out by a translator who is also a native speaker of the source language, is ‘submissive translation’.
Table 1.1: Sources of the English subtitles in this thesis. 25
Fig.1.1 and Fig.1.2: The landlord and the landlady tell of their nicknames and confirm their identities to the Beast at the casino opened by the Axe Gang. (Kung Fu Hustle) 9
Fig.1.3: Jiu’er returns to her father’s home for a visit and has an unhappy conversation with him. (Red Sorghum) 14
Fig.1.4: The butcher (on the left) takes the knife and walks slowly towards Tu San Pao (hanging on the right). (Red Sorghum) 15
Fig.1.5: When Songlian and Meishan are playing majong with the two guests, they hear the foot massage. Songlian is surprised and disappointed at losing an opportunity to enjoy the privilege. (Raise the Red Lantern) 17
Fig.3.1: The boss’s wife and the three helpers apparently look amused. (A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop) 72
Fig.3.2: The helpers Zhao and Chen almost completely disappear from the frame, while the boss’s wife and Li look sad and disappointed.(A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop) 73
Fig.4.1: Nameless kneels down in front of the King. (Hero) 100
Fig.4.2: Nameless advances for 20 steps and kneels down again. (Hero) 101
Fig.4.3: Jai bows to the Crown Prince Wan. (Curse of the Golden Flower) 101
Fig.4.4: Wan and Yu make polite gestures to Jai. (Curse of the Golden Flower) 101
Fig.7.1: The Chrysanthemum Festival celebration begins with fireworks and a choir.(Curse of the Golden Flower) 167
Fig.7.2: Shu imagines the women singing ‘The View of Qinhuai’ in The Flowers of War.171
Fig.7.3: Mr Liu and other neighbours are singing at Fengxia and Fugui’s wedding. (To Live) 174
Fig.7.4: Jing and her school mates are rehearsing their song-and-dance performance. (Under the Hawthorn Tree) 176
Fig.7.5: Meishan sings at her courtyard in Raise the Red Lantern. 181
Fig.7.6: A close-up on Meishan. (Raise the Red Lantern) 181
Fig.7.7: The red lanterns in Meishan’s room are lit again. (Raise the Red Lantern) 185
This thesis was made possible by the joint scholarship between the University of Glasgow and China Scholarship Council (CSC). I am also grateful for the School Research Awards of the School of Culture and Creative Arts and the Research Support Awards of the College of Arts that funded me to attend the conferences during the period of my PhD research.
I am deeply grateful to my supervisors Prof. Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Dr Amy Holdsworth who have supported, encouraged and guided me throughout the whole period. I am very thankful for their supervision and patience. It has been a great time to work with them both.
I would also like to thank other members of the Film and Television Department, especially Prof. David Martin Jones and DrDavid Archibald for their reviews of my writing. I also really appreciate the help and support of Mr Dougal Campbell, Dr Georgina Collins and Ms Hannah Silvester from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.
In the meantime, I am thankful for my previous teachers in my home university in Beijing, particularly my previous supervisor Dr Qian for supporting and encouraging me to pursue the PhD and for Prof. Wu and Dr Su for their teaching and advice.
Moreover, I want to extend my gratitude to all my friends in Glasgow. These include my friends who have become my family in Glasgow and give me so much care and love, especially Norma, Yvonne, Pauline, Marina, Miles, Lena, Carys, Helen, Gail, Alice,Cheery, Robin, Stephen, Tanya, Betty, Jennie, Boand Cammy.My thanks go to my PhD colleague/friends too, among whom are former PhD students and now ‘doctors’, especially Lena, Wenliang, Mikela, Jing, Lucy, my office pals Anna and Steve, Leila, Shere andElizabeth. I am also indebted to all my friends and colleagues that patiently proofread my chapters for me, including Norma, Lucy, Lena, Jennie, Hannah and Miles. They have been very kind and helpful to me.
Last but not least, this thesis is dedicated to my loving parents, who have been my generous, honest and hard-working role models all my life, who have always believed in me more than myself, who hate to be far from me but allowed me to travel thousands of miles away to pursue my dream. They have been my motivation to work hard for so many years.
This thesis represents the original work of Yilei Yuan, unless otherwise stated in the text. The research upon which it is based was carried out in Theatre, Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow under the supervision of Prof. Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Dr Amy Holdsworth during the period of October 2012 to February 2016.
In Stephen Chow’s 2004 film Kung Fu Hustle, Sing, the bully and member of the Axe Gang played by Chow himself, discovers the ‘Fire Cloud Demon God’, aka ‘the Beast’, who has been hiding away for the lack of a potent opponent. The Gang is keen to pay the Beast to eliminate the landlady and the landlord of the Pig Sty Alley who oppose the evil and ruthless rule of the Axe Gang. The proud Beast is very interested in meeting the two phenomenal opponents and would annihilate them for free. When the Beast enters the casino run by the Gang, he meets the landlady and the landlord, and enquires if they are the legendary couple. The landlord replies ‘Yang Guo’, while the landlady says ‘Xiaolongnü’, which are their nicknames (see Fig.1.1 and Fig.1.2).
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Fig.1.1 and Fig.1.2: The landlord and the landlady tell of their nicknames and confirm their identities to the Beast at the casino opened by the Axe Gang.
This scene renders many Chinese audiences burst into laughter, as the reason is culturally specific. Over approximately 2/3 of Kung Fu Hustle, the landlady strikes audiences as a violent, mean and extremely loud woman, whereas her husband the landlord seems to be exactly the opposite, who is fearful and uxorious. Nevertheless, their nicknames, ‘Yang Guo’ and ‘Xiaolongnü’, are two characters from the renowned martial art novel The Return of the Condor Heroes (《神雕侠侣》) written by Jin Yong which has been adapted into multiple TV drama series and films. Xiaolongnü or ‘Dragon’s daughter’ might sound frightening and disturbing to foreigners, but dragon is a divine and revered creature for the Chinese nation and is also their totem1, i.e. symbol. Also, this ‘divine daughter’ is a beautiful figure and kung fu master in the novel. Actresses who have been cast as Xiaolongnü are mostly young, beautiful and charismatic but have a distant look, such as Idy Chan Yuk Lin, Carmen Lee Yeuk Tung and Pan Yin-tze. However, the character of the landlady in Kung Fu Hustle has quite different behaviour and appearance; she is loud, violent and a little older. On the other hand, Yang Guo in The Return of the Condor Heroes is a young, handsome and valiant kung fu master and hero, while the landlord is uxorious and older too. Hence, the nicknames are quite a contrast to the representation of the couple and are comedic. The two fictional characters’ names Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü which are unfamiliar to foreign viewers are translated into ‘Paris’ and ‘Helen of Troy’.
There are two main reasons why the landlady and the landlord’s nicknames are unexpected, amusing and essential. The first reason is that the landlady is chubby, looks fierce and has a cigarette in her mouth all the time, which contrasts to Xiaolongnü’s incomparable beauty and glamour, and the landlord does not look like a valiant and charismatic hero like Yang Guo either. The landlady’s and the landlord’s appearances indeed contrast with those of Paris and Helen too. The second reason why their nicknames are significant is that although they show none of their martial arts prowess until after the Beast appears, they are absolute kung fu masters like Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü. At the first sight, this rendition into Paris and Helen seems to be familiar to English speakers, as they are a well-known couple from Greek mythology. They, too, produce a comic effect thanks to the contrast between the appearances and features of the mythological figures and those of the landlady and the landlord in Kung Fu Hustle. However, with a further observation, I realise that Paris and Helen might not be the optimal translations of the two nicknames. Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü are kung fu masters, as the couple in Kung Fu Hustle is also engaged in intense physical fight with various figures, including the Beast. In comparison, Paris of Troy might be a fighter, but Helen is certainly not. When general Chinese audiences hear the source nicknames, they will comprehend the comparison from two perspectives, the appearance and the martial art. By contrast, English-speaking subtitle readers might only be able to understand the comparison from one perspective – the appearance. In this light, ‘Paris’ and ‘Helen’ might not be adequate to convey the significance and purpose of the nicknames. Another misleading impression such translations may leave on foreign viewers is that Chinese audiences seem to be familiar with the mythological figures Paris and Helen. Since the names might have to be translated into legendary or mythological figures that have incredible fighting skills, ‘Ares’ and ‘Enyo’ occur to me, who are the God and the Goddess of War and are lovers, or Mars and Bellona, their Roman counterparts. Nonetheless, compared to Mars, Ares, Enyo and Bellona might be less known even to Europeans, especially Enyo and Bellona, so ‘Ares’ and ‘Enyo’ are not ideal translations either. This example conveys a dilemma of translation. On the one hand, the existing translation might not fulfil the function of the source thoroughly. On the other hand, a more functionally equivalent translation might not strike a chord with target language subtitle readers.
The translation of the pair in Kung Fu Hustle did not initially draw my attention to film subtitling, but very well revealed to me an intricacy that the optimal translation seems to be non-existent. As a translator myself, I am apt to try to understand film subtitle translation from a translator’s point of view and from a translation studies perspective. Also, because of my particular research background in the English language and translation studies, this thesis will frequently involve theories from translation studies, but I will attempt to contemplate subtitle translation within film studies as much as I can.Another fact that contributes to the preliminary idea of the current thesis is the fairly scanty research on the subtitling of Chinese films into English. The release of a Hollywood blockbuster in Chinese cinemas is invariably followed by multiple journal articles analysing the subtitling of that film, which reflects Chinese scholars’ enthusiasm. They are apt to criticise the over-reduction of English-speaking culture-bound expressions, sayings and renditions that seem to be orientated to Chinese popular culture (Meng, 2012; Wang and Wang, 2013). And yet, there appears to be less concern about how Chinese films are translated for international distribution. More recently, some Chinese scholars have started to pay more attention to the subtitling of Chinese films into English. Even if some scholars lay their eyes on Chinese-into-English subtitling, their attitude is somewhat dubious to me. They more often than not support or affirm the names, culture-related expressions, phrases and other terms in Chinese being rendered into English cultural-bound expressions, or simply being omitted (Tian, 2006; Ji and Song, 2007; Ji, 2007). They rarely question the strategies the subtitlers have opted.
At this point, I need to clarify two strategies and tendencies of translation. According to Venuti (2008, p.15), ‘domestication’traces to Schleiermacher as a kind of translation that ‘leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him’ and allegedly, ‘an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to receiving values, bringing the author back home’. On the other hand, foreignising translation is to ‘register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad’ (Venuti, 2008, p.15). It might be safe to say that domestication is target-language-reader-biased, while foreignisation is source-language or author-biased. It would be quite natural for a reader from the source language culture to prefer a foreignising translation strategy and for a reader from the target language culture to favour a domesticating strategy. However, domestication can often be adopted when Chinese films get translated into English, and many Chinese academics are in favour of this strategy. Long (2006) enthusiastically praises the employment of domestication and the reduction of culture-specific expressions in the English translation of In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Long (ibid., p.36) also refers to her communication with two American professors and an American writer who confirm that ‘…the language was very native like [colloquial] and without grammatical errors [syntax]’ (original brackets), ‘The story told in English flows well’, ‘The subtitles communicate well the ideas of the director. And the dialogue suits the personae of the characters of the situations where the communication takes place’.Whether an audience understands the source language or not, it is natural to presume English subtitles are good because there are no non-native expressions or grammatical errors. The professors’ and the writer’s comments seem to mean that the subtitles read like native English, which makes the subtitling successful. But if there is another version of English subtitles that has adopted domestication and reduction less frequently but is still fluent, how would English-speaking subtitle readers read the English subtitles?
Many Chinese academics’ essays about subtitling Chinese films only relate to discovering what strategies subtitlers have adopted, or what translation studies theories could be applied to explain the choices of the translation strategies (Long, 2006; Zhang, 2011; Lü and Wu, 2012; Shao, 2012). Nonetheless, few have questioned whether the strategies that have been employed are truly irreplaceable. Also, few have explored the translation of Chinese films beyond the scope of certain translation studies theories, such as skopos theories. The truth is that there is no perfect strategy to translate a subtitle and there is always a certain element to sacrifice in a translation. Hu (2003, pp.283-284) contends that when translators translate, they adapt and select, and their adaptation is selective and selection adaptive. However, translators’ adaptation and selection has to be limited, although it is difficult to set the maximum limit for adaptation or selection. Hu (2008, p.4) also emphasises translators’ central and dominant position in the adaptation and selection. This emphasis on the significance of translators corresponds to Nornes’s (2007, p.243) ‘global cinema as the translator’s cinema’. Both Hu and Nornes appear to romanticise the source subtitles and the fidelity to them as if the source texts were the only location of the ultimate meaning (Eleftheriotis, 2010, p.183). They also indicate that the literal act of reading is the only way viewers read subtitles.Contrary to some translators’assumption that subtitle readers need ‘special care’ since they do not understand the source language, subtitle readers tend to notice errors in subtitles, because subtitles are not the sole source of meaningfor subtitle readers. There is also visual and acoustic information, or the non-verbal, which interacts with textual informaiton. Subtitle readers’ activity of reading texts is not only literal, but semiotic too, as a variety of filmic elements are all sources of meaning for them (ibid., p.184). They read while studying the images and the audio as well as other filmic factors.
In Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1987), Jiu’er is forced by her father to marry a rich but leprous older man. She is resentful and scared. On the third day of her marriage, her father comes to take her home for a visit according to the local tradition. She protests to her father against the marriage and refuses to go back to her husband (see Fig.1.3). However, because her father has accepted and been pleased with the gift from Jiu’er’s new husband – a big black mule, he insists she should return to her new home. She furiously proclaims that she will never come back to her father’s home and storms out of the room. The image shows Jiu’er’s father’s attempt to reason with her and tell her the benefit of marrying her husband.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Fig.1.3: Jiu’er returns to her father’s home for a visit and has an unhappy conversation with him.
What Jiu’er’s father says is ‘掉到福涡涡里 (还整天五迷三道地转不过来)’, which means ‘(You) dropped into the sea of happiness, (but cannot see it).’He indicates that Jiu’er is unaware of her luck and is ungrateful about the good marriage. However, the English subtitle says ‘ he has dropped into the sea of happiness’. The English subtitle will be contextually correct if ‘he’ is altered into ‘you’. As the daughter and bride is sitting at the far end of the frame, looking distraught with her eyes downcast, and the audio shows the father is speaking, it is fairly obvious that she is the one being criticised, disappointed and upset. His argument is directed to her. But the focus of the criticism in the English subtitle deviates from her because of ‘he’, which is an evident error.
Approaching the end of the film, the local bandit Tu San Pao fights against the Japanese soldiers during the Japanese Aggression War (1937-1945). Tu is arrested by the Japanese who orders a local butcher to flay him alive. Yet, the butcher used to run a bistro for Tu, and they have been friendly with each other. When the butcher realises that he cannot disobey the order, he takes the knife and Tu begins to yell at him. The image Fig.1.4 reveals Tu’s condemnation.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Fig.1.4: The butcher (on the left) takes the knife and walks slowly towards Tu San Pao (hanging on the right).
Tu shouts ‘翻脸不认人’ which roughly means ‘(You) turn your back and pretend you don’t know me.’In fact, the English subtitle is not natural-sounding enough, which subtitle readers would be highly aware of. Also, in this scene, Tu on the right is shouting and condemning the butcher on the left for being heartless and ruthless. However, the subtitle evidently refers to ‘he’ who seems to be a third person out of the frame. Thanks to earlier film contexts, subtitle readers would remember the loyal relationship between the butcher and Tu and would understand Tu’s disappointment and fury. Tu also stares at the butcher when he yells at him. Again, the criticism is directed towards a non-existent third person just like the previous example, but the film’s context and visuality tells of the truthful meaning of the text.
The experience of film-watching is not passive but active where the viewer is constantly connecting the image with the sound, the plot and the depth of meaning. In the experience of a foreign film-watching, the viewer is required to be even more proactive in correlating the subtitle with the visual and the acoustic of various contexts. The foreign viewer, meanwhile, gradually trains themselves to internalise the subtitle and find out the imperfection in it, which is explained by the previous two examples.Normally in the subtitling industry, films for hearing audiences do not have subtitles in brackets that contain sound cues or coloured subtitles that explicate speakers’ identities, which are usually for the deaf or hard-of-hearing audiences. The reason is that hearing audiences are expected to grasp that information without the help of subtitles. That also implies a demand on hearing viewers to not just rely on reading target language subtitles when they watch a subtitled film, but they have to observe visual representation and listen to the sound, or to actively interact with the particular film via different channels. Simply reading subtitles is not enough to appreciate a foreign film. As watching a film means much more than only understanding the dialogue, subtitle readers have to make more effort. However, on the one hand, because native audiences naturally have ample linguistic, historical, cultural and social knowledge that foreign audiences tend to lack, it is likely to be easier for native audiences to receive more verbal as well as non-verbal information than foreign audiences, which might be self-explanatory. On the other hand, when a subtitle reader makes the decision to watch a foreign film, they must be ready for alien languages, images and music. Even if subtitle readers are not ready for the demand of an active and interactive film-watching, the film might quickly prepare them for the process. It might be fair to say every time we watch a film, it is a challenge which can be both verbal and non-verbal.
Subtitle readers might not realise they are engaged in a challenging and proactive undertaking when they begin to watch a subtitled film, but they have to constantly pay attention to various sources of information. In Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991), Songlian is a young college student who has to give up her studies and marry a rich but much olderhusband. Her husband already has three other wives, among whom the third one, Meishan, seems to be aggressive and irritating. According to the long-existing familial tradition, the husband’s favourite wife can enjoy a foot massage by an experienced servant with a delicate pair of hammers and is entitled to order her favourite food for the next day. One day Meishan invites Songlian to play majong and she agrees. While they are playing majong, they hear the sound of a foot massage made by the small hammers, because their husband returns home earlier and chooses to stay with the second wife, as Songlian, the new bride, is not in her own room. The image Fig.1.5 demonstrates that Songlian (on the right) has heard the noise and becomes upset and absent-minded, whereas Meishan (beside Songlian) sneaks a glance at her to see her response. The information absent from the image is the distant noise of the foot massage that is available to hearing viewers.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Fig.1.5: When Songlian and Meishan are playing majong with the two guests, they hear the foot massage. Songlian is surprised and disappointed at losing an opportunity to enjoy the privilege.
This moment has no subtitle, as no words are said. However, with a closer look at the two women, the viewer can discover Songlian on the right has her eyes looking forward and her expression blank, while Meishan sneaks a glance at her and is apparently concerned about her response. Truly no character says anything, and yet the behaviour of both women is caused by a noise from outside which is a significant sound cue. Subtitle readers can hear the particular noise and would be able to understand the looks on the women’s faces. This can be attributed to an active engagement in the film-watching that subtitle readers are expected to be involved in.
A semiotic and dynamic reading of subtitles and a study of the visual and the acoustic enable readers to notice errors in the subtitles, like the two examples from Red Sorghum. They are also involved in an interactive process as soon as they embark on watching a subtitled film. Therefore, it should be rational to assume that they are also ready for terms and expressions that allude to the original culture. If the source film is Chinese, the existence of references that reflect Chinese cultural elements would not be irrational or unimaginable. On the contrary, it would be odd if target language subtitles do not reflect any specificityof culture from China. I would argue that cultural references should be retained to the largest extent possible, as long asretaining the cultural references:
a. Would not cause unusual sentence structure, grammatical mistakes or blatantly contradict the target language norms.
b. Would not make a subtitle too long which takes too much space and needs more time to read.
It might seem to be ambitious or demanding to translate as many culture-related terms into the target language as possible. Yet, as a matter of fact, it might not take too many words to translate those terms. It is extremely difficult to render a source reference, and an absolute equivalent or viewers’ perfect understanding is too much to hope for or non-existent (Eleftheriotis, 2010, p.186). But sometimes, an extra word can express the essence of the source reference, and it is unnecessary to domesticate or reduce the reference, because the reference deserves that respect and deserves to be retained. Complete omission is even less recommendable than domestication also due to the lack of respect to the source culture. Since subtitle readers decide to receive the challenge that comes along with the undertaking of watching a subtitled film, they ought to be encouraged and their ability trusted to grasp verbal information from subtitles as well as non-verbal information from the image and the sound. It is not the optimal choice for translators to doubt or underestimate subtitle readers’ ability to receive the subtitled cultural aspects, because subtitle readers ‘read’, watch and listen at the same time. On the other hand, if some readers are shocked by a subtitled culture, that would be peculiar too, because a subtitled film is destined to be alien and different. In fact, every film can be alien, even if it is made in our own countries or in our native languages, because a film is always set in a particular geographical and historical background. We can hardly find any film that is set in a place that we are entirely familiar with, in a language or dialect that we know all about, in an age that we have lived in, and about characters that we are absolutely sure about. Therefore, every film has elements that we do not know and every film-watching is a learning process. This ultimately contradicts Baudy’s (1974-1975, p.42) cinematic apparatus theory of the cinema’s denial of difference. In this light, everyone has the experience of watching an ‘alien’ film, whereas subtitles symboliseand strengthen the difference (Eleftheriotis, 2010, p.182). That is why being astonished by an alien culture in a subtitled film is astonishing per se, and the same if a viewer expects the subtitles to be deeply rooted in the target language. Moreover, many viewers who choose to see a subtitled film might have an interest in the source culture in a variety of ways, so they might mind source cultural elements in the subtitles even less, if not looking forward to more.
On the basis of the above argument, I formulate my research questions:
a. What are the main categories of the lost source cultural specifics?
b. How canthe essence of the cultural specifics be retained?
c. How do the specifics correlate with the visual and acoustic information? If the cultural specifics are apparently altered or omitted, would it affect subtitle readers’ response?
This thesis will adopt a methodology that combines theories from film studies, translation studies and studies of particular Chinese cultural aspects. The five case studies are respectively on the subtitling of humour, politeness, dialect, history, songs and the Peking Opera. There are two main contradictory tendencies or strategies of translation within the scope of translation studies. Domesticating translation attempts to make the language of the translation sound like the natural target language, or to make the translation text read as if it is deeply rooted in the target culture. Therefore, the reader is able to read the translation in the easiest possible manner and have an experience almost the same as reading a text originally from their native language without disturbance. The consequence of a domesticating translation is to leave the reader at peace. This assumes that the reader prefers reading a native language text or one that is approximately a native language text. In other words, it might assume the reader’s ‘laziness’, which may be a wrong ‘charge’ against them, as some of them may not prefer evident domestication.
Domesticating translation exists in many cultures. I will first give an example from a literary translation perspective. Lin Shu (1852-1924) was a significant Chinese translator born during the Qing Dynasty who translated Don Quixote, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, La Dame aux Camellias and many other classic novels. Lin Shu did not understand foreign languages but translated by listening to colleagues interpreting the original novel and recording his own understanding in Old Chinese (Liu and Han, 2012). It is unavoidable that Lin’s translations were domesticated into the register of Old Chinese.Lin’s strategy of translation was excessive domesticating, as the translated texts were very different from the original texts in various ways. The advantage of this strategy was that many Chinese readers probably found the texts convenient to read. This type of translation seems to be overly considerate to readers of the target culture, but inconsiderate to the author of the original language. However, some particularities make subtitling more prone to domestication. In many cases, subtitling from one language to another renders target language subtitles longer than the original, for example from English into Italian. In Finland, all subtitled films have to have subtitles in both Finnish and Swedish, so only one line of space is available for the Finnish subtitle and the Swedish subtitle (Gottlieb, 2001, p.257). It is widely acknowledged that subtitles are faced with rigid temporal-spatial constraints, and it may become an excuse for a subtitler to reduce cultural or linguistic specificities from an original subtitle in order to create a target language subtitle with a reasonable length. In other countries like France, Germany, Spain, etc., dubbing is more common than subtitling. When a film is dubbed, it is impossible for target language viewers to listen to the original audio, even if they can understand the original language. That means they can only rely on the dubbed audio for all verbal information, unless they can read actors’ lips whenever possible. Moreover, dubbing tends to take into account actors’ lip movements and requires the lip movements of the dubbers similar to those on screen. All these particular aspects may turn out to be an ‘excuse’ for the adoption of the domesticating strategy.
In contrast to the strategy of domesticating translation is the strategy of foreignising translation, which is to ‘register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad’ (Venuti, 2008, p.15). Foreignising translation is less common than domesticating translation. If we believe the act of translating is to assist target language readers in understanding the original text, completely retaining the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text is contradictory to the purpose of translation. This strategy respects the original work more than domestication, but may also incurtremendous difficulties for foreign readers to understand the text, so complete foreignisation may only be an experimental strategy but is not a practical one.
Therefore, I would like to propose a neutral position between absolute domestication and foreignisation.The excessive foreignisation of the original cultural and linguistic features will lead to a target text that can be so unfamiliar and difficult to comprehend for target language readers that it will contradict the purpose of translation. On the other hand, the excessive domestication of the original cultural features will not be respectful towards the author of the original text. In terms of film subtitles, if the subtitler intentionally domesticates original cultural references to a large extent, they may remove some of the references that can be translated with very few words. It will also be disrespectful towards a filmmaker’s effort in making a film. Domesticating original cultural references in order to meet an assumed foreign viewers’ expectations is what I would like to call ‘submissive translation’, which is submissive to the target culture that is allegedly dominant and prioritised. As a matter of fact, the existence of translation is commonly deemed as a bridge between cultures. If an original culture struggles to survive the process of translation, the translation will, by and large, fail. There is a deep distrust of the function of translation - to bridge the gap between cultures - in the domestication strategy. The failed translation might not be owing to the ‘invalidity’ of the function of translation, but to subtitlers’ attitudinal distrust.
Particularly in the case of subtitling and the fulfilment of the function of translation, non-verbal information plays a significant role in assisting with the dynamic communication between audiences and a film and compensates for what subtitles may fail to convey. Yet, domestication which withholds literal and semiotic meaning will contradict the effect that non-verbal information can make, as the verbal and the non-verbal culture ought to explain each other. Again, this is inconsistent with a world that is increasingly globalised where mutual understanding between different cultures should be promoted and facilitated. Besides, the concept of domestication is suspicious of readers’ capacity to read and understand and possibly underestimates their curiosity too, as it presumes that readers may fail to understand all the original specificities or that they are simply not interested. Hence, domestication apparently harms the Chinese cultural elements and underestimates readers, while neither foreignisation nor domestication is as beneficial to both the original culture and the target language reader as a neutral strategy. It is worth noting that the romanticisation of a perfect relationship between the text and the reader is unrealistic, as the relationship is bound to be imperfect and accepting the imperfection is the only appropriate way to conceptualise such an understanding (Eleftheriotis, 2010, pp.186-188).
Humour, politeness, history, songs and the Peking Opera all involve both verbal expression and non-verbal presentation. The non-verbal presentation of humour, politeness, history, songs and the Peking Opera will be analysed from the perspectives of film studies, especially representation and performance. Zhang Yimou’s films are always rich in cultural elements, and culture is an indispensable part of his films. Costumes, gestures, music, songs and all other rich non-verbal information does not necessarily need subtitles for foreign viewers to understand, but will undeniably facilitate a semiotic and dynamic experience of film watching, as viewers can learn to understand film plots with the aid of non-verbal information. For example, even if songs are not subtitled on many occasions for various reasons, foreign viewers who watch films with subtitles can still get a sense of the meaning of songs by means of the tune, timbre, pitch and voice of a song. Also, the existence of non-verbal information can accelerate viewers’ interaction with film subtitles, which will contribute to an interactive and dynamic communication between film subtitles and subtitle readers. On the other hand, dialect may be a verbal specificity only, but how dialect is translated in subtitles is still significant. History is a vital element in historical films and can be represented both verbally and non-verbally. When history becomes verbal, how it is transferred into a target language needs to be investigated.
I will examine the subtitling of Zhang Yimou’s films through detailed analysis of English subtitles of his films. By providing the literal meanings of the Chinese subtitles, the existing corresponding English subtitles and occasionally the back-translations of the English subtitles, I will speculate why subtitlers translated those subtitles with specific strategies, particularly domestication, and why some of the subtitles fail or why they are successful. When the subtitles fail to convey the original cultural references, I will suggest alternatives and compare them with the existing subtitles while discussing what advantages the alternatives have in comparison to the existing versions or why they are more beneficial to the cultural factors as well as general subtitle readers.
Two terms will be frequently mentioned in this thesis, ‘source language’ and ‘target language’. As this thesis studies the subtitling of Zhang Yimou’s films, the source language of the analysis in the case studies is Mandarin Chinese. The target language is English, the language of the subtitles of the DVDs and occasionally the online versions of the films and the databases. As this thesis will involve ample subtitle analysis, I will clarify at this point that all the Mandarin subtitles are transcribed by myself from the audio of the films, except those of The Flowers of War. Because the main language variation of that film is the Nanjing dialect, I referred to an online version (Letv, no date (a)) of the film that has Mandarin subtitles to ensure accuracy. The English subtitles are transcribed from the DVDs of the English versions of the films, unless specified otherwise. Another specific I would like to mention is that Zhang Yimou’s most recent films, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009) , Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010) , The Flowers of War (2011) and Coming Home (2014),were all subtitled by his daughter Zhang Mo, according to the credits. She was also the editor of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (Ma, 2015). She became an associate director during the making of Under the Hawthorn Tree and directed a few scenes herself, while also being the subtitler (ibid.). During the making of The Flowers of War, other than being Zhang Yimou’s personal assistant and Christian Bale’s interpreter, Zhang Mo took the responsibility of an associate director, an editor as well as the subtitler again (ibid.). The fact that she fulfils so many tasks in the filmmaking process, particularly her being the editor and subtitler makes it more complex to speculate the reasons of the adoption of certain translation strategies and the omission of certain scenes in the English versions of certain films. The filmmaker himself might have also been involved in certain decision-making of the subtitling and the editing of the English-speaking releases. This will also be discussed in some of the case studies.
Zhang Yimou is widely accepted as the most internationally and critically acclaimed Chinese filmmaker (Larson, 2011). He was involved in the making of the epoch-breaking film Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1984) which probably signifies the beginning of New Chinese Cinema. Zhang along with some of his classmates in the Beijing Film Academy are now known as the Fifth Generation filmmakers. He established his reputation in the international film industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s with three ‘red’ film, Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991) (Larson, 2011). His most recent film that has been released is Coming Home (2014). Apart from all the attention his films have drawn throughout China, they have also been widely researched by scholars in other countries over the recent decades (Clark, 1989; Browne et al., 1994; Cornelius, 2001; Dai, 2002; Qin, 2010). Being a prolific filmmaker, he has directed over 20 films so far and explored various themes and genres. He adapted Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s directorial debut and film noir Blood Simple (1985) into a comedyset in ancient China, A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop. This comedy showcases humour as well as a folk art, the song-and-dance duet. Also, Zhang repeatedly reflects on the Cultural Revolution of China between the 1960s and 1970s and sets this particular period as the time background of several of his films, including To Live (1994), The Road Home (1999), Under the Hawthorn Tree and Coming Home. Those films reveal a large number of terms and expressions that were only used during the Revolution. Zhang has also directed three martial art films, Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). These martial art films are all set in different dynasties in ancient China and history is represented both visually and verbally in the film dialogue. Zhang also sets his films during the Anti-Japanese Aggression War (1937-1945) which was part of the World War II, for example Red Sorghum and The Flowers of War. The Flowers of War intentionally employs the Nanjing dialect of the wartime, and the dialect constitutes almost all the Chinese conversations in the film. All those films of Zhang Yimou involve common Chinese politeness address terms and gestures and many of them also embrace Chinese songs or the Peking Opera. Humour, politeness, dialect, history, songs and the Peking Opera are all important aspects of the Chinese culture and comprise my five case studies. Songs and the Peking Opera are one case study.
Zhang Yimou’s different films were released through different channels. His early films were screened in international film festivals, such as Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern. Hero was presented to American theatres by Quentin Tarantino and released on DVD too. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop and The Flowers of War, among his more recent films, were also released on DVD. However, the same film released through distinct channels may have different versions of English subtitles. While I obtained DVDs of most of the films in this subtitling research, I found subtitles of some films on online subtitle databases or on YouTube. This is often to compare different versions of subtitles. Also, Under the Hawthorn Tree is not released in English on DVDs. Therefore, I list all the sources of my English subtitles in the Table 1.1. Zhang Yimou’s four most recent films all have the subtitler’s name –Zhang Mo - among the ending credits on the DVD releases. It is natural to assume that the director himself assigned the subtitling task to his daughter. However, it is hard to know whether the English subtitles translated by her and the subtitlers of Zhangs’s earlier films had been altered before the eventual theatrical and/or DVD releases of the films. Thus, my subtitle analysis only takes into account the existing English subtitles that I see from the sources.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Table 1.1: Sources of the English subtitles in this thesis.
The thesis consists of an introduction, a literature review, five case studies and a conclusion. Chapter Two, the literature review, discusses how the theme of this thesis came into being. It begins with the birth of Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1984) which is arguably the first Fifth Generation Chinese film and with its significance. This epoch-making film together with a group of new Chinese filmmakers launched Chinese cinema to the world. These filmmakers, now often referred to as the Fifth Generation, had a different life story from their predecessors. The Fifth Generation filmmakers moved on and made more films that were highly acclaimed in the international film festivals. Zhang Yimou is among them. He has been trying to combine art house cinema with commercial cinema and to win the international market. The literature review also explores the reception of his films in China as well as abroad and examines how his films investigate the reality of China during different histocial periods. As Zhang’s career developed, he directed martial art films, among which Hero (2002) was the most internationally successful. Thus, the transnationalism and the transnational production of Zhang’s films is also discussed. Since YellowEarth, international scholars have been attempting to read the new Chinese cinema and E. Ann Kaplan (1989/2006) examines whether the cross-cultural analysis can be fruitful. Yoshimoto (1991/2006) contends that the cross-cultural exchange has never been balanced between the East and the West. The lack ofcultural understanding of the East also causes the misreading of the East (Chan, 2003). Therefore, a cultural translation between the East and the West is significant. Thischapter also analyses how subtitles have been looked at in film studies, especially their relationship with the apparatus theory and the relationship between the text and the readers. I then draw upon readers’ semiotic and literal act of reading raised by Eleftheriotis’s (2010, p.184) and Benjamin’s (1923/2012, p.81) ‘translator’s task’ and emphasise that the meaning of the text and the filmic elements like the visual and the acoustic are both significant in translating subtitles.
Chapter Three focuses on humour that is showcased in A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop and the loss of it after translation. I refer to humour theories and a number of translation studies theories to examine the translation of humour in that particular film. I specifically emphasise the adoption of an explicitation strategy by the film subtitler Zhang Mo, Zhang Yimou’s daughter. This strategy will be illustrated and exemplified in detail in this chapter with plenty of examples and the consequence of an adoption of such a strategy will also be discussed. The English subtitles of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop manifest a few weak subtitles where the aforementioned strategy of domestication is applied. I will attempt to provide my alternative translations to expound how the alternatives might better retain the cultural references in the humour. Another aspect this chapter will lay emphasis on is omitted scenes in the English version of the film. I will explain the possible reasons why those scenes have been edited out from the original Chinese film and discuss how those scenes might be translated into English. Humour in this film is represented non-verbally as well, so this chapter will analyse the visual humour and investigate how visuality and English subtitles might interact and affect subtitle readers’ interpretation of humour at the same time.
Chapter Four analyses the politeness in four of Zhang Yimou’s films, To Live, Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower and The Flowers of War. This chapter will mainly employ Gu’s (1990) Address Maxim and Self-Denigration Maxim as a framework, and the purpose is to point out the domestication of politeness in the English subtitles. All four films reveal a large number of address terms, as addressing people with appropriate terms in China is a significant part of politeness habits. The address terms in the four films will be categorised into two types and exemplified with various examples. Self-denigration might not be a common polite phenomenon in other countries, but is fairly obvious in China, especially in the past, so this chapter will also explicate how Chinese people commonly denigrate themselves in ancient China as well as contemporary China. Although politeness is frequently domesticated and reduced, it is unquestionably demonstrated through gestures and performancejust like humour. Thus, there will be a section in this part where visual information shows politeness specifics that should beobvious to subtitle readers.
The theme of Chapter Five is the Nanjing dialect in the film The Flowers of War and its translation. The filmmaker recruited an actor and most of the actresses in Nanjing and had them trained to speak the Nanjing wartime dialect, which indicates the significance of the dialect in the film. This chapter begins with a brief summary of some existing literature on the subtitling of dialects and an explication of the linguistic features of the Nanjing dialect and its difference from Mandarin. Three main translation strategies adopted by the subtitler Zhang Mo will be summarised and explained with examples from the film. This chapter will also emphasise the domestication and the loss of Chinese cultural referencessaid with the dialect and provide alternatives that might better keep the references.
Chapter Six centres on history in subtitling and the first section employs three of Zhang Yimou’s films that are set in ancient China, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. In historical films, history is often depicted visually and acoustically. However, history can also be manifested in the film dialogue, so how history is handled in subtitling needs to be researched. This chapter particularly aims at discovering the marks of history, i.e. archaisms, which are categorised into four kinds: nouns, idioms, adverbs and four-character phrases. Each of the four kinds of archaic terms and expressions and the ways they have been translated into English will be elaborated. Again, cultural references in Chinese are constantly domesticated when they can be translated into English concisely. The second section of Chapter Six focuses on the Cultural Revolution, as Zhang Yimou’s films set during that historical period involve a large number of terms that are specific to that era. Hence, this section will attempt to investigate what the Revolution-bound terms are and how they are translated. On the surface, those terms are faithfully translated, but in fact, there are more cultural, historical and social specifics that are hidden underneath the superficial meaning of them.
Chapter Seven investigates the subtitling of the songs and the Peking Opera in Zhang Yimou’s films. In his films, the songs and the opera are often diegetic and are choreographed performances. It is undoubtedly that they are critical to specific film contexts. They are also multimodal entities of verbal, visual and acoustic information where the sound and the image are connected to the lyrics. I will examine the subtitling of songs with some examples from Zhang’s films from three perspectives, rhyme, rhythm and content. There are several scenes of Peking Opera singing in the film Raise the Red Lantern, but none of them are translated into English, probably for various reasons, including the plethora of Chinese socio-cultural specifics which render it challenging to translate. Hence, I will also analyse possible solutions to translate the lyrics of the opera into English, and make an attempt to translate one of the scenes into English. Moreover, as both the songs and the Peking Opera are contextually significant, I will also explain how the lyrics are related to the visual and the acoustic and how the translation of the lyrics might help subtitle readers to understand the non-verbal information.
The significance of my thesis is that I emphasise the conspicuous existence of domestication in the translation of Chinese films into English. As the subtitling of Chinese films into English has not yet been widely researched by scholars in China or other countries, my thesis can fill in this gap. Research on the subtitling of Chinese politeness, dialects, historical words and expressions, songs and the Peking Opera is also very limited. Subtitle readers are very likely to comprehend more of a filmic context with the aid of the image and the sound, as the subtitles of the dialogue is not the sole source of information. That is why I purposefully combine my subtitle analysis with a discussion of non-verbal information in order to understand how the verbal and the non-verbal interact and how they reach audiences together. On the other hand, subtitledfilms are bound to reveal foreign cultures and it is most natural for the English subtitles of Chinese films to contain Chinese cultural specifics. Of course there might be meta-textual factors, such as deadline and pay, which limit translators’ exhibition of their mastery of the source and the target languages and their translation skills. Yet, my suggestion is that translators should try to retain more Chinese cultural references in their subtitles, as long as it does not render the subtitles too long or evidently go against the language norms of English. Even if the relationship between the text and the viewer is imperfect and the text is not the only location of meaning (Eleftheriotis, 2010, pp.183-188), textual details are still critical and it will be translators’ task to unravel them to the audiences.
In 1984, a Chinese film shown at the Hong Kong Film Festival was said to have marked a new epoch of Chinese cinema (Yau, 1987-8/2006, p.202; Clark, 2005, p.1). Applauded widely, Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1984) garnered several international awards and was soon regarded as the stylistic breakthrough in new Chinese cinema (Yau, 1987-8/2006, p.201). It initiated significant debates within China about filmmaking and attracted the attention of international film scholars (ibid.). While keeping the original story of the screenplay, the young film crew have managed to include a troubling picture of Chinese feudal culture that had never been conjured up so vividly before by urban intelligentsia (Yau, 1987-8/2006, p.201). This film is deemed a very important milestone for Chinese cinema. ‘If it hadn’t been for Yellow Earth, then there couldn’t have been the whole debate about film aesthetics, and there couldn’t have been the overall progress that cinema has made (Yang, 1991, p.127).’ Yellow Earth demonstrates a style that was non-existent before. Classical Chinese cinema embodies a melodramatic imagination which is culturally and historically specific, as it is closely connected to the morality of Confucian ethics, and constitutes a symbolic response to the socio-political effects of Western modernity, from capitalism to Marxism, on China (Ma, 2006, p.184). The filmmaker Chen Kaige also rejected the conventions of socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism that dominated the mainland Chinese cinema in the previous decades (Berry and Farquhar, 2006, p.103).
A distinct style is one of the major factors that distinguishes Yellow Earth from earlier films. Tony Rayns (1989) has pointed out the stylistic elements that render the film a major contribution to the development of Chinese cinema, which are: the use of large foregrounds that resemble the look of Shaanxi peasant paintings; the dwarfed people in the long shots under the vast sky or yellow loess2 ; a preference for traditional peasant songs against dialogue; and the natural light that gives interior shots a claustrophobic quality. The landscapes strike the audiences with their resemblance to a traditional Chinese art: scroll painting (Dai, 2002a; Yau, 1987-8/2006; Hitchcock, 2006), and dynamically links abstraction with realism. Presumably, the vast sky and the yellow loess are the most impressive and striking view in the film. Esther Yau (1987-8/2006) notes both the scroll-painting style and the ‘non-perspectival’ use of space that alludes to a Daoist thought: ‘Silent is the roaring sound, formless is the image grand.’ Yau (1989) argues that the adoption of Daoist elements of the quasi-scroll painting style aims at freeing Chinese cinema from the repeated classical mainland cinematic tradition. From the director Chen Kaige’s own perspective, the film may be interpreted through critical symbols and principles of Daoist cosmology, which traditionally formulated and explained the human and natural worlds and their relations and comprise the philosophy for traditional Chinese art (Farquhar, 2002, p.221).
The director Chen Kaige and his young crew, including cinematographer Zhang Yimou, brought onto the international screen a version of Chinese people that are hardworking, hungry and benevolent peasants who look inactive but whose storage of vitality would be released in their struggles to survive and in their celebration of living (Yau, 1987-8/2006, p.201). Peter Hitchcock (2006, p.120) also discovers the enthusiasm buried in the heart of Chinese peasants, and refers to ‘a series of equivocations that together disrupt the simple oppositions between representation and reality, collective desire and individualism, and revolution and reaction.’
With the different stylistic features and a seemingly open ending, this film alienated the then Chinese audiences who complained about not understanding the meaning. However, audiences were not the only ones that were alienated. Peter Hitchcock (2006, p.125) argues that Yellow Earth presents a contradiction that concentrates on the alienation of the artist from the Communist state, and on the radical disjunction between the intelligentsia and the agricultural masses of China. Meanwhile, the exotic rural landscape, peasant life and women’s subjugation to the patriarchal economy constitute elements of the then new Chinese cinematic product which just began but was growing popular (Chow, 1990, p.96).
The cinematographer Zhang Yimou went on in his own directing career and made his international debut three years later. Yellow Earth might be a start of a new Chinese cinema and arguably signifies the birth of a group of particular Chinese directors. After this film, the group of the Fifth Generation Chinese directors achieved a fruitful filmmaking career that launched Chinese cinema to the world.
What makes the ‘Fifth Generation’ different from earlier generations in the Communist Chinese cinema? The short answer is: the life-stories of its directors. (Rayns, 1991, p.106)
The Fifth Generation directors began their studies in the Beijing Film Academy in 1978 and graduated in 1982. The story of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou and their fellow classmates, now considered the Fifth Generation Chinese directors, goes back to more than half a century ago. From 1966 to 1976, the Communist Party of China started the Cultural Revolution, or the Great Revolution of the Proletarians. Re-education of urban youth by peasants in the countryside was encouraged by the Party during that time, and millions of young people from cities were sent to the countryside against their will. The children of the ‘Five Black Categories’ (黑五类, hei wu lei) – landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionists, bad-influencers and rightists (地富反坏右, di fu fan huai you) – were among the first to be sent away. After the Cultural Revolution, education across the country resumed and schools and colleges started to enrol students again. The Beijing Film Academy reopened in 1978 and the Fifth Generation was among its first post-Cultural Revolution intake.
The Fifth Generation had a different life story from earlier Chinese film directors (Ni, 2002; Dai, 2002; Clark, 2005; Larson, 2011). The future for the urban youths cast away in the countryside was far from hopeful. Those academy students who belong to the Fifth Generation had laboured in fields and quarries alongside peasants for years, and the reopening of the academy symbolised a lifeline for them to return to urbanity (Rayns, 1991, p.106). On the other hand, they were all born after 1949, the year when the People’s Republic of China was established, and had no first-hand experience of the feudal society (ibid.). By contrast, what they experienced and their predecessors had not, was first-hand experience with peasants and a comprehensive grasp of the ‘real-politik’ of the Cultural Revolution that had been gained with massive exposure to didactic and monotonous theatre, cinema, fiction and painting during the revolution (ibid.). This experience has been shown in their films. For instance, Erxi in Zhang Yimou’s To Live (1994) paints excellent portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong, so did Zhang himself (Qin, 2010, p.172).
In addition to Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum, 1987), Tian Zhuangzhuang (On the Hunting Ground, 1984; Horse Thief, 1985), Hu Mei (Army Nurse, 1985; Faraway from War, 1987), Zhang Nuanxin (Drive to Win, 1981; Sacrificed Youth, 1985) and Huang Jianzhong (Black Cannon Incident, 1986) were also among the first post-1976 graduates of the academy. The Fifth Generation could begin work as directors almost as soon as they graduated, whereas earlier graduates had waited for a long time until their 40s to direct their first feature (Dai, 2002; Ni, 2002). The reason is that the Fifth Generation were allotted small, regional studios where there were fewer directors waiting for work. Furthermore, the TV industry at that time was burgeoning, which provided work for newcomers to the industry. The older director Wu Tianming became head of Xi’an Film Studio and gave opportunities to young directors too (Dai, 2002; Ni, 2002).
Between 1949, the founding year of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and 1966, the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, this period is known as the Seventeen Years. During this time, major concerns of filmmakers were correct political bearing, the avoidance of restrictions imposed by the authorities and a subtle but noticeable freedom of filmic expression (Ward, 2011, p.93). Films that were popular among the public but politically incorrect or ambivalent could incur severe political criticism and might even lead a filmmaker or a star into imprisonment. For example, The Life of Wu Xun (Sun Yu, 1950), a popular and ‘controversial’ film, was accused of spreading feudal culture (Ward, 2011, p.88). Meanwhile, the films produced then appeared to be generally critiqued for specific features they share:
The new films have been criticised as formulaic in terms of subject matter and of limited artistic quality, suffering from static camerawork, stagey presentation, lack of profound literary content and the avoidance of any potentially confusing features, such as non-linear narratives or unexpected plot twists. (Ward, 2011, p.88)
The predecessors of the Fifth Generation, amongst whom were the Fourth Generation of filmmakers3, had generated an art form out of a search for personal memories in the midst of a political configuration, which is a ‘spurious’ style but the ‘official’ mainstream art (Dai, 2002a, p.13). The Fifth Generation, by contrast, portrayed the individual’s trauma that was full of symbolic meanings. There is a strong Symbolic Order in the Fifth Generation films (ibid., p.14, original capitalisation). The filmmakers/Sons became fatherless during the Cultural Revolution that witnessed a patricide in the name of the Father (ibid., pp.14-15). The authorities and power-holders that were the Father – the ‘capitalist class’ - were enemies of the people and were obstacles to building the absolute authority of Mao Zedong and his thought, so these power-holders were overthrown by the Red Guards, who were youths that were motivated by the rebellious slogans and thoughts (ibid., p.15). Even though the Fifth Generation was not in the centre of the Red Guard Movement and belonged to ‘five black categories’, they, too, ‘drew a clear class line’ against the Fathers and accepts rights and duties of Patricide (Dai, 2002a, p.17). Hanhan, the boy in Yellow Earth, is seen rushing against flows of people, which may metaphorically refer to the Fifth Generation’s drudgery of creating a new style and Order (ibid., p.19). However, Red Sorghum represents the Fifth Generation’s coming-of-age (ibid., p.33). The Grandpa/Hero/Son not only replaces the Father but also becomes a leader in a cultural combat where the national culture wins over the alien/Japanese, and in the process of establishing the New Order, the Fifth Generation looked for a salvation for national memory and culture (ibid., pp.44-45).
Chen Kaige once said that he described his interest in filmmaking as that of ‘reform’ (1995, p.79). The notion of reform tells much in the discussion of Chinese cinema, and derives from what Rey Chow (1995, p.81) calls the ‘politics of identity-formation’, ‘that is a politics that confers upon the “other” the right to exist by a taxonomic differentiation such as is often intended by the ethnic label “Chinese”’ (Chow, 1995, p.81). This gives the right to the West to ethnically categorise Chinese landscapes, national memories and culture as simply ‘Chinese’. This also naturally assumes that every Chinese-like phenomenon should be instantaneously intelligible for the Chinese audience. Nevertheless, Chinese critics argue that the ‘other’ is also trapped in the effort to understand the other (Wang, 1989, p.35). For instance, the landscapes in Yellow Earth are equally alien, remote and ‘other-looking’ to the average urban Chinese, whereas the ‘Western’ mind would identify the ethnic difference as a presumably unified Chineseness, as if the hard work of understanding the Chineseness is immediately resolved with the ethnic label.
The Chineseness is an ‘othered’ China for the foreign gaze, which looks all the more delicious and tempting, and the truth is that the Fifth Generation films had almost immediate overseas success. After winning awards in various international film festivals, the expensive nature of this form of art pushed those filmmakers to seek investment and financial support from overseas sources (Dai, 2002b, p.50). This, to some extent, resulted in them reconstructing their narrative subjects in order to produce pictures that were palatable and intelligible for international film festival judges (ibid.). Thus, elements like the dye mill in Ju Dou (Zhang Yimou, 1990) and the claustrophobic square courtyard in Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991) that create an exotic, othered Chineseness and the effort to meet the projected foreign expectations caused the Fifth Generation films to fall to another extreme: they display an imaginary pre-industrial China that appear different but not at all alien to the Western gaze (Wang, 1989, p.36; Dai, 2002b, p.50). Previously, thanks to the close relation between the new-born PRC and the former Soviet Union, China to a large extent adopted the ethical and didactic Soviet cinematic tradition, only to aggravate during the Cultural Revolution (Wang, 1987, p.37). There is no doubt that the Fifth Generation filmmakers had been exhausted by the ideological dogmatism and been in search of alternatives to the then cinematic formulae (Wang, 1987, p.37). However, the critics of the Fifth Generation’s pursuit of cinematic alternatives which is deplored as imitations of Western cinematic repertoire, are confronted with the fact that, a national cinematic tradition can hardly be rid of the influence of the Warner Brothers or the Soviet Union (Wang, 1989, p.37). Early Fifth Generation filmic texts also represent ambiguity or elusiveness in the ways of reading them (Berry, 1994). Yellow Earth, for instance, contrasts with classic didactic film narrative, but still lead the audience to realise the seeming praise of the CCP army’s effect in changing peasants’ lives, which is possibly why it passed the Film Bureau’s censorship (Berry, 1994, p.102).
The Fifth Generation received higher education in the Academy after China started its social and economic reform, and thus were in the presence of large openness of the world and the Western ‘Other’ is increasingly felt (Wang, 1989, p.34). As Wang (ibid.) puts it, ‘The premise rings true that only when one feels oneself encouraged by a permeating force from the Other is one alert to the integrity of one’s Self; and only when one is uncertain about the Self does one feel promoted to self-examination.’ The rural, unfamiliar backdrops to an urban intelligentsia in Yellow Earth, On the Hunting Ground (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1985), Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986), etc., are part of the Fifth Generation’s exploration and investigation of cultural identity. On the one hand, the overwhelming power and the material affluence of the West might show a future scenario of China. On the other hand, the Chinese sensibility also sought its Self in a more primitive Other within its own geographical realm. The Fifth Generation’s early works incessantly looked for a cultural identity engaged in self-examination.
The Fifth Generation were also questioned for their narrative impotence in the Fifth Generation films (Zhu and Robinson, 2010, p.146). The filmmakers’ later works like Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern as well as Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993) all have richer storylines and more evident conflicts. Presumably, the last Fifth Generation film was Tian Zhuangzhuang’s Horse Thief (1986), which is demonstrated by the portrayal of ethnic minority and rural backdrops, non-commercial nature and state funding (Gladney, 1995/2002, pp.201-202). Tian’s documentary-like films failed to become box office successes, which might be related to his claim at the beginning of his career that he was ‘making films for the audiences of the next century (Zhu and Robinson, 2010, p.153).’
Berry (1991, p.122) mentions that three audiences have to be satisfied in China: the government, the art world and the ordinary popular audience, which respectively requested ‘reform films’, ‘exploratory’ films and ‘kung fu’ and detective films. It is apparently hard to meet the expectations from more than one side, but some Fifth Generation directors have succeeded in winning the favour of more than one of the three audiences.
Zhang Yimou created an elaborate and expressive national mythology that aimed at superseding the cultural dilemma of allegorical self-entanglement facing the Fifth Generation. (Dai, 2002b, p.52)
Zhang Yimou was concerned with the Fifth Generation’s story-telling capacity, and was eager to combine their filmic exploration with a classical plot structure (Zhu and Robinson, 2010, p.146). He made his own move when the Fifth Generation was faced with the Self-seeking journey and the immediate critique of history (Dai, 2002b, p.53). He managed to merge story-telling into a historical narrative (ibid.). In his three early films, Red Sorghum, Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern, each has an unreasonable, domineering older male figure that manifests feudal oppressiveness, and this morbid oppression is symbolised by the contrast with exquisite colours in the depiction of ‘backwardness’, for example, the colour red that is almost omnipresent in all three films, not to mention the architecture, furniture, food, utensils and costumes (Chow, 1995, p.143). For instance, Raise the RedLantern was shot in a mansion-turned museum. The lanterns were not only of oriental appeal but a clue of the film narrative (Dai, 2002b, p.58). In some respects, Zhang’s three films constituted a new kind of ethnography that offered its research result in the form of cinema rather than books or museum exhibition (Chow, 1995, p.143). Considering that some ethnic practices and customs in his films were invented, his use of things, characters and narratives aims at a collective, hallucinatory signification of ‘ethnicity’ (Chow, 1995, p.144).
Zhang’s early films have been accused of a ‘lack of depth’ and for some critics, the beauty of Zhang’s films is a sign of his attempt to pander to the tastes of foreigners (Wu, 1988, p.85; Li, 1989, p.113; Dai, 1993, p.336; Chow, 1995, p.151; Dai, 2002b, p.57). The strong visual features tend to reach across borders, but the films are only distinctively Chinese for a small percentage of Chinese audiences (Clark, 1989, p.121). This is like the aforementioned unfamiliarity of the loess landscape for urban Chinese viewers of Yellow Earth. A similar fact is that general Chinese audiences may not be well-informed of the culture in every part of China or every period of Chinese history represented in a Chinese film. The so-called ‘lack of depth’ in Zhang’s films also shows the contrast to Chen Kaige’s depth. Nevertheless, Chow (1995, p.161) argues that, ‘Whereas Zhang makes the maximal use of the limited but predominant mode of time on the screen to construct the kinds of images that would be accessible to a large number of people, in Chen’s films there is… a fundamental distrust of the positivity of screen images.’ Juxtaposed with Zhang, Chen brings in more Daoism thinking and understanding of the presence that symbolises xu (虚) or an emptiness (ibid.). ‘In Chen’s films, blanks signify and silences speak: this is why they invited interpretation (italicised in the source) (Chow, 1995, p.161).’ A philosophical interpretation is requested in viewing Chen’s films and the kind of demanding attentiveness excluded a large crowd of audiences (ibid.). On the contrary, Zhang saves audiences the effort of digging into philosophical depth and the film-viewing becomes a sole enjoyable leisure, which is probably the key to his commercial success.
Zhang’s films demonstrate dazzling colour design and the visuality projects ‘strange’ customs, costumes, architecture and artefacts for both international and Chinese audiences. However, Mayfair Yang (2001, p.40) comments that ‘Zhang makes his tragedies very beautiful in Red Lantern.’ The visual elements become dubious for diluting or even aestheticizing the tragedy (Qin, 2010, p.173). Qin (2010) illustrates this suspicion with the foot massage scene in Raise the Red Lantern. Although receiving a foot massage represents a power competition among the wives, the main female character Songlian played by Gong Li is seen mesmerised by this competitive service which is only enjoyed by the master’s most desired wife and her face manifests an enjoyable sensual pleasure which may not be highly compatible with the struggle and patriarchal oppression of the women.
Zhang has been taken by some in China as an exemplary instance of the wilful surrender of Third World cinema to the Orientalist gaze, as a classic case of the subjugation of Third World culture to Western hegemony (Chang, 2009, p.10).’ However, since the pattern of ‘othering’ has been used by the non-West to construct their own cultural and historical identity, such arguments assume the self-orientalising and self-othering position and follow a ‘reactive’ rather than an active posture in theorising China-related issues (Beus, 2008, p.310). Despite Chow’s (1995) discussion of the characteristics of Zhang’s film and her categorisation of his works as ‘autoethnography’ or ‘self-anthropologization’, she does not encourage an Orientalist reading of his works (Chang, 2009, pp.17-18). In Chang’s (2009, pp.17-18) interpretation of Chow in ‘Globalized Chinese cinema and localized Western theory’, Chow proposes reading Zhang’s work in terms of cultural translation, which is essential to promote global/local interaction and share cultural products, as cultural translation is not the same as surrendering to Western cultural hegemony or to dissolute local difference. ‘In order for local cultural difference to be understood and accepted, Chinese filmmakers and critics alike cannot insist on their privilege of interpreting Chinese culture for the Chinese, but must learn to expect and appreciate a local conversation with the world in film as well as in scholarship (ibid.).’ Also, in ‘Filming China: Zhang Yimou’s shifting visual politics’, Chan (2013) contends that to argue that Zhang’s self-conscious and self-orientalism is no more than selling out Chinese culture for Western consumption is to neglect the multilateral and multi-dimensional nature of cultural flows. It is not so desirable to separate what is ‘Chinese’ from what the West wants to see (ibid.).
Early on from the beginning of his filmmaking career, Zhang publicly announced his interest in finding a middle way between art cinema and the commercial blockbuster (Wang, 1991, p.92). A film like Red Sorghum is not only motivated by a historical investigation or cultural and aesthetic visions, but also by a desire to meet the audience’s spectatorial approval (ibid.). In due course, contrary to his repressed and introspective nature, his own ‘liberation’ or ‘abandonment’ is achieved in the making of Red Sorghum. ‘My personality is quite the contrary to the mood of the film. I have long been repressed, restrained, enclosed and introspective. Once I had a chance to make a film on my own, I wanted to make it liberated, abandoned (cited in Wang, 1991, p.100).’ Zhang’s films also display a defiance which is also a sign of resistance against power and his resistance is consistently being externalised (Chow, 1995, p.168). For example, Jiu’er in Red Sorghum unfemininely assumes her dead leper husband’s distillery and openly allows another man into her widowed life (ibid.). Songlian in Raise the Red Lantern fakes her pregnancy and seeks revenge on her maidservant Yan’er who exposes her lie. In exposing Yan’er’s own ‘illegitimate’ secrecy, Songlian’s revenge and Yan’er’s unapologetic and silently violent defiance causes Yan’er’s debilitation and death.
On the other hand, Li (2007, p.298) regards the symbolic patricide in Red Sorghum as a deliberate mediation of China’s material present of the 1980s rather than Zhang’s prehistoric escape outside society.
‘If the biological father of Grandma stands for the arbitrary authority of ancient feudalism, the Big Head Li, the Big Boss of the winery, who exists in the name of the Father but never appears on the screen, serves as an invisible trope of historical communism/socialism. Both are patriarchal hierarchies steeped in hereditary succession, whether through actual blood lineage or revolutionary heritage. Like the removal of wild sorghum that stands in Grandpa and Grandma’s libidinal fulfilment, the inhumanity and unreason of patrilineal political economies must also be eradicated on their road to heaven (ibid.).’
Li (ibid.) considers the film as Zhang’s active participation in the 1980s Chinese cultural reflection from feudalism to socialism while leaving aside semi-colonial and semi-capitalist past. Creating an Oedipal hero in the Chinese context is an unambiguous disavowal of a deeply rooted system as well as an enthusiastic introduction/endorsement of ‘a system of transparent commodity exchange based on the voluntary alienation as well as vigorous competition of labor via the boundless market (ibid.).’
Later on, Zhang also made films that reflected social issues, such as The Story of Qiuju (1995) and Not One Less (1999). These films seem to have avoided pampering to the taste of international audiences, and thus were welcomed by the Chinese authorities (Chow, 2003, p.145). However, the poverty portrayed in them may become another case of oriental exoticism (ibid.). The poor Chinese countryside and the unsatisfactory situation of farmers and their children seem to, once again, prove the scenario which has been titled ‘Chineseness’. Interestingly, Ebert (1993) notes that the film would be more obviously humorous if made in America. Silbergeld (1999) also argues that The Story of Qiuju seemed to have disappointed audiences and critics in America, not because they missed the mentioning of Chinese law, but the sarcastic tone at moments in the film unobvious to non-Chinese viewers.
Zhang’s film of the year 2000, Happy Times, according to Li (2007, p.302), is not an allegory of able bodies achieving autonomy in the competitive market. As the fundamental status of ethics in China and elsewhere has been increasingly acquired by neoliberal economics, Zhang is more concerned about the threat to older forms of social collectivity and about the role of cinema in cultivating ‘more humane and enabling communities’ (ibid.). Happy Times, along with Red Sorghum, can be juxtaposed with China’s developmental trajectory to emphasise Zhang’s dilemma about China’s opening to global capitalism (ibid., pp.294-295),
The liberalization of the Chinese economy and the revolution of Reagan and Thatcher are not just historical coincidences in different parts of the planet. Rather, they are expressive of an ascending cross-border consensus of culture after the end of the Cold War and the near disappearance of alternative political economies. If the persuasive power of this neoliberal common sense resets on its radical promise of individual sovereignty and ruthless denial of social necessity, the value of Zhang lies in his earnest and often ambivalent mediation of this cultural logic, sometimes through affirmation and assimilation while other times through questioning and opposition. (ibid.)
Thus, Zhang’s cinema is a clairvoyant grasp of globalisation in its contradictions, which is also the auteur’s framing of liberty and community against his rapidly changing nation (ibid.). However, as Chan (2013) notices, when the film subjects become more realistic and contemporary, the mode of address becomes more dubious. The mode of address of Happy Times encourages Chinese audiences to see the gentle and caring relationship between a middle-aged man and a young blind girl and the story is acknowledged by Scott (2002) as ‘wise, gentle and sad’. However, Chan (2013) mentions that the narrative is on the verge of discussing social taboos, but it is by no means a Lolita story. In the meantime, Ebert (2002) points out how unimaginable the relationship can be if the film were Hollywood. Considering Ebert’s (ibid.) notion of the film being ‘creepy beyond all reason’ rather than a compassionate and affectionate comedy, he assumes that the American critics who have praised the film have made concessions to the original culture of the film.
Apart from a focus on social issues, Zhang has long cherished the idea of making blockbusters and/or martial art films, and his blockbuster attempts began with the action films in the late 1980s (Zhu, 2010, p.205). After the mixed reviews of Codename Cougar (1988) and Shanghai Triad (1995), eventually Hero (2002) became a box office success (ibid.).It apparently won the favour of internationally acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino. ‘Acclaimed by critics and honoured with numerous international film awards, this motion picture was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film (2002).’4 Nevertheless, domestic audiences enthusiastically saw it, but complained about it, as ‘the watered-down, “acted-up” fight scenes provoked anger and irreverent laughter among Zhang’s domestic audience (Zhu, 2010, p.205).’ Many audiences did not appreciate the well-arranged non-linear narrative either (ibid., p.206). Again, House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) received similar box office success and lukewarm response from native audiences (Zhu, 2010, p.206). The two both incorporate lavish visual elements and cinematography. Yet, unlike the intricate plot of Hero, the storylines of House and Curse are thin and over-simple (Zhu, 2010, p.206). The box office success may also be owed to the stars’ appeal and successful marketing strategies (ibid.). Since Zhang made a sensational presence in the international market with his ‘red’ films, he has been conscious of combining art and commerce, and whether he has bridged the gap in between is hard to say (Zhu, 2010, p.206). However, Braester (2005) maintains that filmmakers like Zhang are also considered cultural brokers who erase the distinction between ideological and commercial cinema as well as between art and market-driven media.
The Cultural Revolution has been a topic which Zhang keeps coming back to: To Live, The Road Home (1999), Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010) and Coming Home (2014). In contrast to the banned To Live, The Road Home has no strong political inclination and thus no obstacle in censorship, so it may be considered merely a simple love story for international film festivals. Under theHawthorn Tree is similarly a pure love story set in the chaotic period of time in China. What has distinguished this film from most of the rest of his work is the limited range of colours he has used. The plain and pale colour palette adds up to the overall purity and innocence which characterise the love story per se. One criticism of Under theHawthorn Tree is directed towards his story-telling capacity again, as the simplification of a novella into a film script renders the story less convincing (Wang, 2011, pp.100-101).
1 Totem: an animal, plant etc that is thought to have a special SPIRITUAL connection with a particular tribe… (original capitalisation) (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). [Online]. [Accessed 27 January 2016]. Available at: http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/totem
2 ‘Loess is a geologically recent deposit of silt or material which is usually yellowish or brown in color and consisting of tiny mineral particles brought by wind to the places where they now lie (Anon, no date (a)).’ The loess showcased in Yellow Earth is the oldest area where the Han Chinese civilisation began.
3 The Fourth Generation directors refer to the directors who graduated before or during the Cultural Revolution and began to direct films after 1979 (Dai, 2002, p.47).
4 This is written on the box of the DVD released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2005.