Mainstream Film Production in a Country on the Cusp of Change: An Army Officer’s View of Three Chinese Films of the Early 1980s Produced by the August First Film Studio

Julian Ward

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Abstract:  In June 1984, the journal Dianying pingjie (Film Criticism) published a short article titled “An Open letter to the August First Film Studio”, written by an army officer called Xu Gewei, in which he described The Colourful Night, The Last Military Salute and Star of the Battleground, three of the studio’s recent productions, as mediocre, inept and crudely made. This paper will look at the three films in the context of the early 1980s, a period in the history of filmmaking in Communist China, which, in spite of being critical for the subsequent development of the Chinese film industry, still receives comparatively little attention. The paper will show how, although the films rely for the most part on out-moded techniques and narrative forms, there are moments that display an interest in new film techniques and reveal an understanding of the evolving world of China in the early 1980s.

Keywords: August First Film Studio; post-Mao cinema; mainstream filmmaking; film language; Four Modernisations; zoom.