Keywords: six generation, Chinese film, entropy change, genre film, microfilm
To Cite This Article:
3 A Glimpse of the Article
Energy Transformation and Genre Film Practice (2009–2010)
Nie, Wei. "The Generation, Transformation, and Dissipation of the “Sixth Generation” Cinema in China: The Entropy Change of a Concept" Journal of Chinese Film Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2021, pp. 377-397. https://doi.org/10.1515/jcfs-2021-0033
The “Micro-era” and “Micro Reality” of the Film (2011 and Later)
In the year 2009, when “Shanzhaiism” went rampant nationwide, the transformation of the Sixth Generation kicked off again. This time they were leaning on genre film and made “high copies” of the Hollywood commercial films and the mode of mainstream filmmaking. However, films such as Da Da’s Dance (Dada,2008), Chongqing Blues(Rizhao Chongqing, 2010), I Wish I Knew, Driverless (Wurenjiashi, 2010), and Apart Together (Tuanyuan, 2010) were accused of “a halfway transformation and an unalterably stubborn temper.” As exemplified in the extreme case of Zhang Yuan’s new feature Da Da’s Dance, which constantly reflects the films of He Jianjun’s Postman (Youchai, 1995), Zhang Ming’s In Expectation (Wushan yunyu, 1996), and Wang Chao’s Luxury Car (Jiangcheng xiari, 2006). Da Da’s Dance is like a narrative and aesthetic return to the early works of the Sixth Generation focused on urban youth: featuring a predetermined fate of running away, a banal plot dominated by the salvation of the peeper, and an everlasting and depressing dream of adolescence. The sluggish pace, together with the lack of nondiegetic music and the stage manners of the nonprofessional actors, makes it difficult for the mass market to embrace and digest its aesthetics. The lack of experiences of the Sixth Generation directors was thus fully exposed, and the following question came naturally: why is it so difficult for the Sixth Generation directors to step out from the initial stereotype of coming-of-age stories based on their memories and experiences to stride into the new creative space and establish a more intimate aesthetic that could connect with a broader audience?
Wei Nie is a professor of Film Studies at Shanghai University. His research interests include the Chinese film industry and culture, Asian films, and new media. He is the author of Chinese-Language Cinema and the Pan-Asian Practice (2010) and Exploring the Chinese Film Industry (2010–2020): The Perspective of Supply-Side Reform (2021), and the chief editor of Studies on the Six Generation Directors (2014) and Film Criticism: Image Codes and Chinese Interpretations (2010).
The end of the twentieth century witnessed the collective outburst of spontaneous creativity of the Sixth Generation who drew their initial inspiration and energy from the accumulation of raw personal experiences. These outcast heroes remained estranged from the Chinese film apparatus during the transformation era. Determined to record and interpret their memories in their own way, they chose to present their lived reality with an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical narrative.
1 About the Author
聶偉 Wei Nie
The overwhelming power of the early works of the Sixth Generation derives from the rawness and authenticity of individual experiences drawn out by the disorganized creative impulses. The cultural capital accumulated by the community of the Sixth Generation filmmakers neared its peak within a decade at the turn of the new century. Meanwhile, external forces shaped the creative work of Sixth Generation filmmakers with the invisible hand of the market. By the end of 2003, as “the ban was lifted,” these directors gradually outgrew the chaotic state in which each of them fought their own battles alone and entered a period of organized development when they consciously took advantage of mainstream market resources, cultural capital, and techniques.
Abstract: Ever since its advent in the 1990s, the term “Sixth Generation,” as a postulated label, has so far run the course of three consecutive phases: generation, transformation, and dissipation. In the first phase (1990–2003), the Sixth Generationdirectors based their films on the authenticity of their individual experiences and significantly altered the structure of cinematic power and aesthetic expression in China. The second phase (2003–2008) witnessed the group’s entry into a period characterized by a “generation-less” narrative drawing closer to mainstream cultural capital, market, and filmic techniques. The market overexploited the label of the Sixth Generation, and its independent identity was corrupted. 2009 and 2010 constituted the third phase in which the Sixth Generation sought all the possibilities for market survival by shooting a wide range of films, from mainstream production to commercial films. Since 2011, the label “Sixth Generation” went through a process of self-dissolution. Nevertheless, these directors once again came together on the platform of new media, transforming their energy through microfilm and continuingto exert social influence directly or indirectly.
The Exploitation and Transformation of the Concept (2003–2008)
From the online video, podcast to the trendy microfilm, the “micro-era” media context seems to be nourishing for the multifaceted extension of the Sixth generation in its grass-roots narrative and “Aesthetics of the People.” [...] Even so, the Sixth Generation directors are still racing to acclaim and celebrating the coming era of microfilm in the 10th year of the twenty-first century, just like their warm embrace of DV in the 1990s. Compared to traditional film, microfilm bears the advantages of lower budget, richer themes, fewer limitations, faster spreading, and a more casual mood of the creators (Sun 2011). This gives the new media overflow effects in its value (Levinson 2009/2011). After tens of millions of online sharing, forwarding, or comments, the production process has already created a huge crowd of onlookers in the virtual world. While the reform of the film rating system is still indefinitely delayed within the current traditional film apparatus and the segmentation of the market greatly boosts a burgeoning business, the directors do count on microfilm, as the virtual imagined community, to promote the effective development and collective sharing of the video market of new media.
It is interesting to notice that by the time the Sixth Generation was officially embraced by the administrators, the dissolution of the “the generation rooted in the crack” also got started; the term Sixth Generation has since then begun to be used in the past tense, a historical concept which gives off “the anxiety of implications.” More young filmmakers swarmed into the domestic and international film market and branded themselves as the Sixth Generation, propelling its evolution into a hybrid concept. When the coherence within the generation is limited to the market value of a shared brand, the new era of Chinese film history characterized by the “generation-less” narrative came about in the new century (Jia 2006).
The Generation of the Concept (1990–2003)
2 Abstract and Keywords
Some directors try to attain creative transformation by recounting a widely-known history. City of Life and Death(Nanjing, Nanjing, 2009) and Cow (Dou niu,2009) demonstrate the missions national history can confer to the films. As are markable synthesis of individual innovation and shared memory of national history, Guan Hu’s Cow serves as a riposte to the popular view that the Sixth Generation “is inept in presenting the grand history.” In A Thorough Understanding of Life excerpted from Chuang Tzu, a good craftsman is portrayed as one who pays no attention to rewards and gains, and refuses to be distracted by critics, so the match between his natural disposition and the natural disposition of the object can be achieved. In the same way, the director of Cow remains faithful to the raw experiences of individuals and locates the juncture that fits the pursuit of the authenticity of the national history into his spiritual agenda.
In terms of techniques, the Sixth Generation is marked by low budget production curbed by capital size, excessive direct shots taken indoors or in natural light due to inferior equipment, and the directors’ penchant for exceptional, long takes marred by artistic immaturity. The alternative and authentic outlook presented in the films of the Sixth Generation, distinctive from the grand and fictional narrative of the Fifth Generation, tore a hole in the then dreary cinematic aesthetics of the Chinese mainland.
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From the spectator’s point of view, the Sixth Generation speaks to the multifaceted spiritual interests of the cultural communities of the young people in the reform era (Nie 2006). Their refreshing narratology differed from Hollywood’s conventional storytelling, while their artistic style was deeply influenced by the European avant-garde and neorealism, and their reflective camera work catered to the taste fostered by urban youth. These young filmmakers gathered under the banner of the Sixth Generation were uninterested in creating aesthetic spectacles with blockbusters. Instead, they dedicated themselves to pursuing China’s aesthetics of cinema verité while quenching the “spiritual thirst” yielded by an era of drastic transformation.
Journal of Chinese Film Studies立足於中國，面向國際，旨在搭建世界級國際學術科學研究網絡平臺，刊登海內外高水平的中國影片科研成果，強化相同文化背景的科學研究者之間的對話和溝通交流，促進海內外影片科學研究界積極開展交流與戰略合作，推動中國影片科學研究的全球經濟發展。想與海內外著名歷史學者一同深入探討中國影片嗎？趕緊行動投稿吧！
The Generation, Transformation, and Dissipation of the “Sixth Generation” Cinema in China: The Entropy Change of a Concept
With a toolkit endowed by the new media, countless “migrant-worker filmmakers” try to register the delicate alterations in epic time with their “vagrant film” (Han 2006).While seeking beyond the grand discourse to find the most comfortable form of audiovisual expression, they accomplish narratology from what Benjamin acknowledged as the “interior space.” The microfilms that populate virtual communities on the internet cultivate the defensive posture and try to create aspace temporarily cut off from the world. However, as Benjamin put it, “the space disguises itself,” though it maintains “unconscious retention of a posture of struggle and defense” (Gunning 2003), ultimately the interior cannot withstand the exterior; it can only transform the nature of its looming invasion optically.
Journal of Chinese Film Studies Volume 1, Issue 2
Journal of Chinese Film Studies
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