Spectacle of Transnational Cinema

Like most topics under the umbrella of Cinema Studies, transnationalism is fluid, hard to define, and it borrows, shares, and re-represent certain characteristics from different cinemas around the world.

For this post, I would like to focus on the last 3 films screened were set in the past, particularly period films. 2 out of 3 films we watched were set in the pre-world-war dates (Yojimbo and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), not forgetting, the other one employing the 70s era in the first half of the film (Om Shanti Om).

Having set their films in the ancient past of swordsman, isolation, and various social classes, I believe the filmmakers uses this opportunity to express the sense of nostalgia to viewers by building sets, costume design, and props that stays true to their period, regardless if it was in the Jedaigeki, or WuXia films which are respectively Japanese folklore and Chinese sword fighting films. Having said that, the filmmakers also explored the use of imagination, historic myths and legends.

As we witness in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the lead characters, Jen, Shu Lien, and Mu Bai, have the ability to “fly” from roof to roof gracefully like as if they were in a dance movement. Obviously, if we were to attempt that in real life, we would fall flat smack on our face, and possibly leading to death. However, the film taps into legends and myths of how the ninjas used to roam on the roof of buildings to execute intricate missions of sabotage, murder, or theft. (Donn F. Draeger, Robert W. Smith, Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts). This would not be as possible if the film was set in the current day, as it would have been slightly harder for the audience to imagine.

Despite the films being set in the past, we can recognise certain modern elements from the films that can be related back to films produced from the west (ie. Hollywood). Ang Lee’s mark of being a Chinese diaspora is prominent in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As mentioned in the readings for week #3, Ang Lee was born and raised in Taiwan, but moved to the States to pursue his career in filmmaking. He collaborated with James Schamus in producing the film, and Schamus himself wrote the screenplay for the film. However, Lee, found himself stuck between Eastern and Western society when it came to how the people from both ends interpreted the film. Just like how the film was received a broad spectrum of ethnicity, nationality, and culture, the cast and crew too came from very different backgrounds and upbringing. This sparked several debates and arguments around the cinema realm whether Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, can be considered an authentic WuXia film or just another Hollywood production that tries to be one.

We definitely see traits from the classical Hollywood narrative where there’s a simple plot line of set up, problem, and resolution, and of course the overarching romance story. To elaborate further, the readings mentioned the film lacked deep narrative. The uses of the martial arts are attempts of Lee attempting to appeal to the Western audience, but leaving out the essential philosophical ideology behind the martial chivalry exhibited. Another mainstream Hollywood trait where action is mostly used as a drive factor in films, rather than the actual narrative or plot.

Transnational Cinema is a two-way traffic. Exchange of culture, ideas, myths and legends. It is the ever-lasting debate of “the hen or the egg”, but one would not be able to co-exist without the other. Of course, cinemas around the world grow organically, but even so, we tend to take a corner stones from our influences, our roots, and our neighbours around us.


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6 thoughts on “Spectacle of Transnational Cinema

  1. Hi Sem,

    I like your point on filmmakers almost tapping in to a viewers “sense of nostalgia” by using conventional visual cues associated with a particular culture in their films (like you state: “sets, costume design and props”). I believe this is a key component of films that attempt to represent a particular time in history.

    I would have to mention however, that “action” as a “drive factor” in “mainstream Hollywood” only becomes apparent to those who act as passive viewers. What I am basically trying to say is that, someone who would (for example now that you have mentioned Hollywood) watch a Martin Scorsese film purely for action will only see action whereas an active viewer would be able to notice “the actual narrative or plot” as well as other technical and story elements. I do agree however that a film like Crouching Tiger did shy away from “cultural features” as Chia-Chi Wu stated and (as you say) attempted to “appeal to a Western audience”.

    Arnie 🙂


    1. Hi Arnie!

      Thanks for you comment.

      Yes, I would agree with you on, action as a drive factor in mainstream Hollywood films only to those who are passive viewers. I should have specified that in my post. However, I would like to clarify that I was only referring to Hollywood films such as, JAWS where it requires very little backbone for the storyline, and mainly focuses on visual aspects of violence and terror might be a better example on going to the extreme of “structural simplicity” and just relying on action. For Crouching’s case, the sword fighting scenes would be one of the to “selling points” of the film.

      Appreciate your thoughts.



  2. Sem,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Yojimbo and CTHD as works of transnational cinema.

    Perhaps transnationalism is a noose around the neck of non-Western filmmakers. Will they ever be able to make a film without audiences/critics (both Western and Eastern) comparing them to Hollywood production/s?

    As Hollywood cinema is the dominant global cinema, it would be impossible for a filmmaker to create a work that isn’t influenced in some way by Hollywood cinematic conventions, whether intentional or not. Instead of being able to embrace one’s influences and blend them to create a unique work, filmmakers seem destined to be classified as Hollywood-trying-to-be-national-cinema, or vice versa. It’s a shame, because both CTHD and (especially) Yojimbo had their charms and were much more interesting films because of the diversity of influences within them.



    1. Hi Sonia!

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Yes, I would have to agree with you, strongly, that it is pretty sad, to a certain extend, that we tend to view films through a filter that has been set by “Hollywood conventions” to see if the film is good or bad, depending on whether it meets these “Hollywood conventions”. We have to bear in mind that every film has its own qualities, good or bad, in its own entity. Unfortunately, not everyone, or every critic can view it that way, especially when the filmmaker was raised or established in an industry that has been so dominant such as Hollywood, or popular cinema.

      Still, like you mentioned, CTHD and Yojimbo were much more interesting due to the diversity exhibited in them, as well as what they bring to the table.



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