Beyond the Great Wall: An In-Depth Look at the Rich Tapestry of Chinese Cinema

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The Film Industry in China

The film industry in China was created in the 19th century after multiple unsuccessful attempts. The industry, however, began in 1913 with the production of The Difficult Couple in China. China's film industry is mainly represented by the Cinema of China with Cinema of Taiwan and Cinema of Hong Kong. Despite thriving in transnational exchanges, immigrant connections, and diasporic alliances, Chinese Cinema is defined by a number of unifying aspects. Some of the elements defining Chinese cinema include language, ethnicity, culture, and most importantly history. The aspects tend to link together Chinese communities to create a cinema that they can all connect with.

Chinese Films and Genre Diversity

Chinese films incorporate all genres ranging from historical, thriller, romance, comedy, mystery, action, adventure, and children films. Film censorship in China restricts the content displayed by films. As a result, artists tend to make sure that they are familiar with any film censorship laws to avoid losses associated with producing restricted film content. Visual arts in China greatly influenced film since they tend to set the standard for films (Jordi, 35). Films such as "The Butterfly Murders," "Once Upon a Time in China," and "The Taking of Tiger Mountain" can be used to illustrate the changes that have occurred in the Chinese film industry.

Once Upon a Time in China

Produced in 1991, the film's setting is in the Qing Dynasty during the 19th century. The film, being the first of the Once Upon a Time in China series, features Wong Fei-hung, a Chinese folk hero. The life of Wong is followed to his encounter with 13th Aunt whom he has a crush on but cannot establish a romantic relationship since their Chinese taboos do not allow it (Liu, 533). Following a series of attacks by the Shaho Gang, the Foshan Governor blames Wong for the attacks and orders his imprisonment. The Gang also seeks protection from an American official whom they help run a human trafficking business. However, after a series of encounters and face-offs, Wong is able to defeat the Gang and the American official.

Exploring Differences Between China and the West

Once Upon a Time in China incorporates the differences that China had with the west. Chinese ways were portrayed as highly conflicting with western ways of living, civilization, and technology. The American official, for instance, runs an underground human trafficking business and shelters the Shaho Hang when they burn down Wong's clinic. Western civilization is also portrayed by the use of guns while Chinese fighters depended on Kung Fu. The plot of Once Upon a Time in China simply raises the issue of civilization and morality (Jordi, 36). The film tries to establish the benefits of western civilization. Also, the film portrays the negative effects of civilization on societal morals and respect for human life. In such context, the major themes of the film include western civilization, societal morals and values, and the value of human life.

The Quality and Interest of Once Upon a Time in China

The quality and interest of Once Upon a Time in China are substantial. The films are able to incorporate various elements and principles of design that successfully capture the attention of viewers in different scenes. For instance, in pleasant scenes, the film utilizes soft sounds, allows for characters to repeat themselves, and chooses suitable proximity for the moment (Liu, 536). Scenes that involve violence are presented with loud and fast background tracks to mark the scene. Also, some of the most interesting moves by characters during the film are presented in a slower motion to make sure that they intrigue the viewer. For instance, some of Wong's moves during fights are presented in the slow motion to make sure that viewers can see them.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Once Upon a Time in China

The film has various strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of the film include portraying the benefits of courage in fighting societal vices and the need for cooperation across authorities to deal with crime. Also, the film encourages respect for human life and discourages societal vices (Jordi, 44). Some of its weaknesses include the fact that it does not incorporate the various benefits of adopting western technology and civilization for the Chinese. Also, the film does not present ways in which the negative effects of civilization can be controlled across societies.

Influence of Once Upon a Time in China in Modern Visual Culture

Once Upon a Time in China has been referenced in various films in modern visual culture. Although not directly cited, the ideas in the film have been used in a number of films. For instance, the idea of Kung Fu against guns is used in various films (Liu, 539). Also, the theme of western civilization against Chinese primitive taboos and beliefs is portrayed in various films in the present day. Similarly, the use of historical events or figures to present essential elements of the society has also been shown in most films.


The Chinese film industry has undergone massive transformation since its development in the early 19th century. As a result, the industry has evolved from a primitive Chinese setting to incorporate other issues across the world. Although most Chinese films would be based on history, current day Chinese films can adopt any genre and entertain all categories of viewers. With the evolvement, the industry has come to value various elements that were initially not of much significant such as western civilization and technology. Also, following increasing diversity, the Chinese film industry has developed control measures such as censorship to make sure that the content of films is acceptable.

Works Cited

Jordi, Codó Martínez. "Transnationalism and the Decentralization of the Global Film Industry."        Coolabah 16 (2015): 34-47.

Liu, Zixu. "Once upon a Time in China: Nationalism, Modernity, and Cinematic             Representation." Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 8.4 (2014): 532-554.

September 25, 2023




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