Q&A with Gary Bettinson and Birgit Beumers from Directory of World Cinema: China 2 & Russia 2

Intellect caught up with the editors of DWC: China 2 and Russia 2 to see what their thoughts were on editing the books.

Gary Bettinson, Editor of DWC: China 2

Where do your own personal research and academic interests lie?

My main research specialism is Hong Kong cinema, and Asian cinema in general – so I feel like the DWC: China volumes are right in my wheelhouse. I also research Hollywood cinema, both as an entity in itself and in relation to the Chinese film industries. My overarching approach to these cinemas would be called, I guess, formalist. I’m primarily interested in the aesthetic dimension of the films I study, but always in relation to particular contexts and traditions (genre trends, authorial traits, industrial practices, and so on).

How do you think Chinese cinema has evolved over the years?

Each of the three Chinese cinemas explored in China vol. 2 – Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong – has developed in its own distinct way. But the rise of the PRC market means that Hong Kong and Taiwan have succumbed to Mainland China’s gravitational pull. So we’re beginning to see a greater level of co-operation among the three industries than before. Pan-Chinese coproduction has a long history, but it has intensified in recent years. Both volumes of the China Directory trace this historical development.

Was it any different editing this volume of the Directory from the first one?

This new volume has a slightly broader scope than the previous volume. It encompasses a wide variety of cinematic genres from the “three Chinas” and covers Chinese filmmaking from its inception to the present. It contains more than 20 critical essays and over 80 film analyses. So this volume is bigger than its predecessor in every sense. I had 38 authors contributing to China vol.2. The logistics of that can be demanding, but it’s also the collaborative aspect of these books that energizes me. That’s the real joy of it. And the virtue of having so many contributors is that the book harnesses a range of expertise and critical points of view. 

What do you think makes this book stand out from other similar works in the field?

The book is very accessible to the general reader, but it’s also illuminating for devotees of Chinese cinema. It functions both as a primer of Chinese cinema and as a substantive addition to the research field. I do think that readers of all kinds will find the book thought-provoking. China vol. 2 examines canonical films such asChungking Express and Lust, Caution, but it also introduces readers to less well-known yet equally significant titles. And it treats film stars seriously, placing them on a par with film directors – so, figures such as Bruce Lee and Maggie Cheung receive similar coverage as directors Zhang Yimou and Jia Zhangke. The caliber of authors, too, sets the book apart; the scholars included in this volume are among the world’s leading experts in the field of Chinese cinema studies.

Do you have any favourite Chinese films and directors?

If I had to choose, my favorite would probably be Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town. It was made in 1948 but it’s still so incredibly modern. It’s a very humanistic and personal film, my favorite kind. The New One-Armed Swordsman is wildly entertaining. For me, it marks the pinnacle of the wuxia (swordplay) genre. Infernal Affairs is a brilliant movie, and I’d say a great example of what Scorsese calls “smuggler’s cinema” – on the surface it’s a skillful genre movie, but it’s underpinned by something pretty subversive. I admire many Chinese directors – Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ann Hui, and Johnnie To among them – but Wong Kar-wai is particularly special. He always works at a very high level. In the Mood for Love is a fully conceived work, I think. In fact, you could make the case that Spring in a Small Town anticipates it in some ways.

 What do you think the future holds for Chinese cinema?

 I’m not much of a prophet, but I think we can expect an increase in PRC coproductions, both pan-Asian and Hollywood ones. It seems inevitable that China will soon become the world’s largest film market, and Hollywood is already courting Chinese studios. It wouldn’t surprise me, either, if the PRC finally produces the bona fide international blockbuster that it’s been chasing since the global success ofCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Some critics fear Chinese movies becoming too “Mainlandized” – they think that traditional Hong Kong and Taiwanese aesthetics will fossilize. I’m more optimistic about that. I think there will always be filmmakers in Hong Kong and Taiwan who possess a kind of independent spirit, and they’ll stridently resist the aesthetic and ideological sensibilities of Mainland and Western cinemas.

Do you have any future research projects or plans?

There are a few irons in the fire. Lately I’ve been researching Hong Kong screenwriting practices, especially with regards to HK-PRC censorship regulations. The strategies that Hong Kong filmmakers use to outfox the Mainland censors are pretty ingenious!

Birgit Beumers, Editor of DWC: Russia 2

How would you describe the book in a few words?

Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2 provides a second layer of information on some well-known genres in Russian and Soviet cinema, such as the blockbuster, and some genres that one might not be commonly associated with Soviet/Russian film history, such as the horror. 

How do you think Russian cinema has evolved over the years?

The history of pre-Revolutionary Russian, Soviet and Russian (i.e. post-Soviet) cinema is rather complex and a topic that cannot be answered in a few sentences. 

Do you have any favourite Russian films and directors?

Yes, I do. But my "favourites" change also. And think it is irrelevant, ultimately, what I like and what not. What matters are the films and what they mean at different times and in different contexts. Often a "bad" film can make a wonderful case study. Therefore the Directory tries to include films that have been neglected, or forgotten, or not been widely released or written about. 

Where does your own personal academic and research interests lie?

I specialise on Soviet and Russian culture, especially theater and cinema, and Central Asian cinema.  

How do you think Russian cinema distinguishes itself from other international cinemas?

 Again, this is a broad topic. Also, it depends on what period we are talking about. I think what matters is not whether a cinema is different or not (and indeed, from which "international" cinema/s), but whether it speaks a distinctive, original language. 

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