URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Urban Generation

At the beginning of the 1990’s, a new wave of Chinese filmmakers emerged out of industry taking the world by storm, calling themselves “The Sixth Generation”. It was coined as “the return of the amateur filmmaker” because of the trademark use of producing edgier underground films that relied on long takes, hand-held cameras, etc. However, through all the usage of techniques like nonlinear narratives, fast-motion camera, jump cuts, and a lighting style similar to film-noir, the essence of these films always revolved around the urban. This new generation of filmmakers, including Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle) portrayed a less romantic view of the urban, but focused on the disorientation and loss of place associated with the metropolis. It was the intention of these filmmakers to highlight the negative repercussions of China’s emergence on the global-economics front through the often unpleasant and mundane activities/spaces. These films are intentionally set within the metropolis as a way to narrate and deal with the urban physiology in hand with the psychological; what becomes of the public/private space in the rapidly urbanizing Chinese city? The following are various clips from two sixth generation filmmakers: Lou Ye’s Suzhou River, Jia Zhangke’s The World.

Lou Ye’s major motif of the river serves as the backdrop from which the story and, to a certain extent, the city of Shanghai is perceived. The Suzhou River has historically been a major waterway that has supplied trade and commerce to the development of Shanghai. But the former glory is sharply contrasted with what Lou depicts: dark and muddied and filled with trash. The city in the background is starkly imposed upon images of decrepit steel factories decaying at the river’s edge, the crumbling ruins of an industrial China. In essence, the Suzhou River once supplied the lifeblood to the city, but now merely acts as a relic of time, receiving the waste of Shanghai’s shift into urbanization. What is the real Shanghai, is it the romanticized picture of glamour, or is it really comprised of the gritty reality engrained within the urban fabric?

The World is a film about the unfulfilled lives of a few characters that work at a World theme park. Zhangke celebrates the glamour of this make-believe world, but undermines the superficial through exposing the deception of what the park really means. The despair of the characters is epitomized by the soul-less architectural manifestations that surround them; it is representative of their desire to escape, yet inability to actually do so. Their search for the cosmopolitan associated with the urban leads them to the false realization of “traveling the world”. If the metropolis has evolved to point of quantifying and servicing the macro, global scale as a commodity, what then becomes real? For some, a theme park may be the closest chance they have to exploring the world/culture. It is the realization (and the capacity) of China’s global emerging perspective, but presenting it in a mundane and almost repetitive way that makes The World a telling narrative of an empty, urbanized, city.

_Jonathan

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Filed under: Architecture, China, film, Jia Zhangke, Lou Ye, Metropolis, Psyche, Suzhou River, The World, Urbanism, Video,

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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