Locating Fey Mou(s): The Topos of Chinese Film Theory by Victor Fan, 26 March, 6-8pm

Location: 50 George Square, Project Room (1.06), University of Edinburgh

A screening of Spring in a Small Town (dir. Fey Mou, 1948) is held on Monday, 25 Mar, 4-5:30 pm at David Hume Tower, LG. 06

Chinese film theory and criticism are often considered being radically different from their Euro-American counterparts. Yet, during the Republic period (1911–49), under colonialism and semicolonialism, Chinese filmmakers, critics, and intellectuals discussed the cinema with a vocabulary and an epistemic space that are already cross-cultural and inter-regional. In other words, ‘Chinese’ film theory has always been a comparative discursive space.

Yet, how do we reconstruct and rethink this comparative space so that we can make it useful for film and media studies today? In my seminar, I would like to use the theories of Fei Mu (Fey Mou, 1906–51) as a case study. Fey is best remembered for his 1946 classic Xiaocheng zhi chun (Spring in a Small Town, Wen Hwa Film Company). This film is about the unrequited love between a young doctor, Zhang Zhichen (Li Wei), and his former lover Zhou Yuwen (Wei Wei) now the wife of his best friend, Dai Liyan (Shi Yu). What could have been a melodrama was shot and edited in a highly lyrical style, with a series of long takes, elegant camera movements, and deep staging. Yet many people today forget that Fey was also a prolific writer of film criticism. In this presentation, I analyse Fey’s film theory in association with Spring in a Small Town, to examine how for him, cinema conveys a xingshi guan (view of forms), rensheng guan (view of life), and zhengzhi guan (view of politics). I shall do so by opening a comparative space between his theoretical writings and those of David Bordwell, Kristen Thompson, Christian Metz, and André Bazin on the relationship between art and reality. I argue that Fey’s ontological view is based in his belief in cinema’s ability to make present an absence, that is to allow life, its ontological order, and its regulating principles to manifest themselves without preaching them. Rather, they become palpable when the film image reveals the profound mundaneness of life, in which desire, longing, hope, and their attendant frustration and desolation obstinately hover around the cinematographic image as reality.

Victor Fan is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London. He is Film Consultant of Chinese Visual Festival (London). Prior to his position at King’s, he was Assistant Professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, McGill University. Fan graduated with a Ph.D. from the Film Studies Program and the Comparative Literature Department of Yale University, and an MFA in Film and Television Productions at School of Cinema-Television (now School of Cinematic Arts), University of Southern California. He is the author of Cinema Approaching Reality: Locating Chinese Film Theory, published in 2015 by the University of Minnesota Press. His articles have been published in peer-review journals including Asian Cinema, World Picture Journal, Camera Obscura, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Screen, Film History: An International Journal, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, anthologies A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder and American and Chinese-Language Cinemas, film magazines 24 Images: Cinéma, Dianying yishu [Film Art], Zihua [Zifaa or Word blossoms], and Siyi.  His film The Well was an official selection of the São Paolo International Film Festival; it was also screened at the Anthology Film Archives, the Japan Society and the George Eastman House.

Besides his academic career, Fan is also a working composer. He was a performance artist with his own theatre company Post [ET]2! in Hong Kong between 1993 and 1996. He also worked as a freelance sound editor, film composer and re-recording mixer, and later on with Fissionarts (Los Angeles) and Solar Film/Video Productions (NYC) between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s. In New York, he also wrote for the magazines Film Festival Reporter and Film Festival Today, covering news from the MIX Festival, the New York Underground Film Festival, the African Diaspora Film Festival and MOXIE Film.