Course: EAS236 / COM228
Instructor: Erin Y. Huang
F 2019

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

Professor Erin Huang guides the student through a wide selection of contemporary films from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, with the aim of positioning film as a reflection of major events of East Asian history. This course teaches you to become a more critical, active watcher of films, viewing them as parts of a broader framework rather than isolated instances of entertainment. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on understanding film as a "revolution of the sensible world" through a critical exploration of key non-narrative cinematic elements: cinematography, color, film genre, temporal experience, mise en scene, gender and sexuality, and sound. According to the 2019 Fall syllabus: "The diversity of Chinese cinemas reflects cinema’s relations to global capitalism, Asia’s democratization movements, financial crises, and the arrival of post- socialism.... Chinese cinemas put on full display the forces of globalization in shaping the aesthetics and politics of film."

(The course is separated into three major units which pull films from either China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. The films encompass a wide breadth of genres and subject matters, ranging from avant- garde, to blockbuster hits and horror films. The selection is also accompanied by scholarly texts which delve into the theoretical frameworks and critics' assessments, revealing political contexts in which the film was produced. A sampling of the film selection is shown below:

  • Wandering Earth (directed by GWO Frant, 2019)
  • In the Mood for Love (directed by WONG Kar-wai, 2000)
  • Song of Exile (directed by Ann Hui, 1990)
  • The Wild Wild Rose (directed by WANG Tian-lin, 1960)
  • The Eye (directed by Danny and Oxide Pang, 2002)
  • Terrorizers (directed by Edward Yang, 1986)
  • Brokeback Mountain (directed by Ang Lee, 2005)

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(The student engages with films both through Socratic-style discussions in the classroom, as well as through analytical writing in the form of weekly journals, two term papers, and a film Wikipedia project. A final creative film project encourages students to think like a filmmaker to incorporate lessons learned throughout the course.)

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Learning From Classroom Instruction

There are two 80-minute lectures a week, and no precepts. Lectures are formatted as Socratic- style discussions in which Professor Huang will guide the class through discussion questions relating to the film. Each lecture centers around a material which is either a film or a substantial reading. The student is encouraged to watch the entire film on 1x speed and take notes while watching it so that they have adequate knowledge to answer Professor Huang's questions in class. While she does not call on specific individuals during class, participation allows the student to get the most from the discussion, as there are no smaller precepts to engage with the text more in depth. Slides are not posted on Blackboard so attendance in class is highly encouraged.

Note-taking during lecture is helpful to remember the topics covered during the discussion, which will make it easier later to compile thoughts for the weekly journal, term papers, and the final film project. Professor Huang uses a slideshow as an outline for herself rather than for the students to take notes; however, it may be helpful to write down the major bullet points she types out relating to the readings, which may be dense and theoretical.

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Learning For and From Assignments

There are weekly film journals in which students must answer a specific prompt relating to both or one of the films watched that week. These are graded for participation only and encourage the student to engage critically with the films. In these film journals, the student should focus on non-narrative elements of film (e.g. cinematography, color, sound) rather than narrative aspects like plot and character development. One tip for these film journals is to hone in on a specific scene in the film, describe it in all its sensory detail, and relate it to a broader topic, e.g. capitalism or Hong Kong's Handover. Professor Huang emphasizes in class the importance of being able to textually describe the film.

Throughout the course, the student also is placed in a group of 3-4 classmates to do a film Wikipedia project. Each group is assigned a cinematic aspect--cinematography, color, film genre, temporal experience, mise en scene, gender and sexuality, or sound--and then creates a summarizing "Wikipedia" entry in which they aggregate analysis of the films in the course in relation to that cinematic aspect. This is a short and simple project which is also not graded harshly. Its aim is to encourage the student to pay close attention to an important non-narrative aspect of film while watching the films.

There are two analytical, 5-7 paged papers which account for most the grade. The student may choose between two out of the three units (China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan) for the paper. Professor Huang will give a broad prompt toward the end of each unit. Again, the focus when writing the paper should not be on the narrative elements of the film, but the non-narrative elements such as cinematography, color, sound, etc. Additionally, the students must incorporate one or two substantial readings such as books by Ackbar Abbas or Rey Chow, to tie in to their analysis of the film. This paper is not a research paper in which the student should pull from a variety of outside sources; rather, it should be centered around the student's own new ways of thinking about the film in question.

The final project is a creative film project which the student may elect to do in groups or individually. The film may either be a spin-off or reimagining of the films in the course (e.g. a modern-day version of Yellow Earth), a documentary-style film, or any other East Asian-related idea. The film should be approximately 10 minutes and is accompanied by a short textual analysis by the student which ties it in to the major themes of the course. In making the film, the student should be particularly careful about their engagement with the non-narrative elements on which the class focuses. For instance, the student may consider different filming angles and incorporate narration as a background sound, then discuss these choices in relation to similar choices by Chen Kaige in the making of Yellow Earth.

External Resources

All of the films are available in course reserves. If the student is dissatisfied with the film quality in the course reserves, some, but not all, of the films in the selection are available in high definition from the Criterion Collection. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu may also have some of the films.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

There is no prerequisite language requirement or background knowledge that students need to take this course. This course is a great survey of East Asian cinemas. Through discussions and analytical writings about the films, the student also grapples with critical historical events such as the 1997 Handover and trends such as globalization and capitalism that remain impactful to this day. Professor Huang teaches how to think about films at a deeper level, which is a skill that will allow for a much more nuanced understanding of films in general. This course is especially recommended for the East Asian certificate, for anyone looking to gain a more general understanding of the histories and cultures of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Chinese Cinemas

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