Hop on pop: jiangshi films in a transnational context.
1. Pin a spell to the vampire's forehead. This spell should be written in chicken's blood, on a piece of thin yellow paper. This will subdue them.
2. Fend them off with a Ba-qua mirror, which is an 8-sided mirror often used in Feng Shui. Reflect the light in their direction, and they will beat a retreat.
3. Attack them with a sword made of lucky Chinese coins. This sword must first be charged, which is done by placing it in the light of a full moon.
4. Freeze them in place with a dab of blood to the forehead.
5. Fling sticky rice at them. The sticky rice will draw out the evil, banishing them. (1)
Aside from such instructional texts on how to defeat a Chinese Hopping Vampire, more elaborate internet fan sites and discussion threads exist devoted specifically to describing the jiangshi's origins, its similarities to and differences from Western vampires and the most effective way to combat one. Such factoids are gleaned from close readings of Hong Kong produced jiangshi dianying or "cadaver movies," and the films themselves are consolidated into a canon of sorts by enthusiasts. Fans of jiangshi films are quick to point out that the term "Hopping Vampire" is in fact a misnomer. The jiangshi is technically not of the same ilk as a Western vampire in that it does not feed on blood but rather seeks to absorb qi or life force from humans. More accurately, according to Chinese folklore, they are the revenants or reanimated corpses of those who were either improperly buried or died unusually cruel deaths. Although one could go on to speak at more length about the jiangshi's features, its strengths and weakness and its place in a supernatural order, the more salient point to emphasize is that the figure of the jiangshi was only brought fully into the Chinese popular imaginary through Hong Kong films of the 1980s and 90s. The use of the descriptive term "vampire," Stephen Teo notes, was a decision made by Hong Kong publicists for marketing purposes. (2) No doubt this label is precisely what draws a comparative impulse in both Chinese and Western viewers. Due to the jiangshi film's peripheral point of origin, its lo-fi aesthetic and its eclectic mixing of genres, the films enjoy considerable cult status in the West, where discourse has tended to fixate on the body of the vampire as a curiosity both familiar and strange.
It is precisely the body of the jiangshi that is of interest to me, for in its hybrid and liminal status, it is in many ways a perfect vehicle for the exploration of Hong Kong identity. While jiangshi films circulate globally as mass entertainment, these films also speak to particular local sentiments regarding cultural location and ethnicity. Ackbar Abbas and Stephen Teo have looked at the ways in which Hong Kong cinema of the late 1980s and 1990s turned to questions of identity, nationality and ethnicity as a way of working through anxieties spurred by the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. As Teo notes, during and after the period of negotiation "'a China syndrome' began to develop in the territory, colouring perceptions of kinship and cultural affinity with undertones of political anxiety and fear." (3) Young Hong Kong filmmakers, while acknowledging the influence of Western cinematic traditions, also began tracing the roots of Hong Kong cinema in the Shanghai films of the 30s and in even older Chinese literary and theatre traditions. Responding to the pending handover in 1997, Hong Kong cinema of this period was marked by intense exploration and identification with an imagined Chinese heritage. The Chinese influence, writes Teo, "began to manifest itself as an identification with China as the source of one's culture and language, a kind of abstract nationalism that while registering it, bypassed fear and loathing for the communist regime as well as for aspects of the colonial, laissez-faire capitalism which ruled Hong Kong and Taiwan." (4) I argue that while the jiangshi film, a quirky hybrid of kung fu, horror and slapstick comedy has considerable global appeal, it also serves as a medium for exploring the specific concerns of a local Hong Kong populace.
In order to think through the multiple ways in which the body of the jiangshi signifies within a Chinese popular imaginary as a vehicle for negotiating cultural identity, I will examine three films: Mr. Vampire/jianshi Xiansheng (Hung, Hong Kong 1985), The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (Baker, Britain and Hong Kong 1974), and The Cods Must Be Crazy III, also known as Crazy Safari/Fei Zhou He Sheng (Chan, Hong Kong 1996). Specifically, I am interested in how one might read these popular texts allegorically as reflections of real historic and desired geopolitical relations. Taking Arjun Appadurai's view of the "imagination as social practice," I will examine how these films, in their movements through local and transnational circuits, reimagine relations between individual and national bodies. According to Appadurai, "the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work, and a form of negotiation between sites of agency and globally defined fields of possibility. ..." (5) Each of these films map out a unique topography of social relations between fictitious sites of agency, and it is the figure of the vampire--as archetype and pop cultural icon--that allows for a negotiation between these sites.
For a diasporic population, frequently connection with an imagined homeland is maintained via consumption of the popular media produced from within these regions. As with many of the Chinese diaspora, growing up in Calgary, my own exposure to these films was via late-night Chinese television and laser disc rentals from Chinatown. The Hong Kong film industry, being relatively small in size, has always depended on exports to sustain itself. Serving a dispersed Chinese population, as well as providing popular entertainment for neighboring Asian markets--and with the advent of home-viewing technologies and exposure via international film festivals, a Western audience--it has contributed substantially to what Appadurai terms a global mediascape: the distribution of electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information. "Whether produced by private or state interests," Appadurai writes, "mediascapes tend to be image-centered, narrative-based accounts of strips of reality." (6) National popular cinemas, in their ability to reach dispersed populations who continue to identify culturally and politically with these geographic locales, play a significant part in imaging and articulating historic and emerging relations between peoples and places, ties that have become both fractured through migration and creatively reimagined through media texts.
Watching Hong Kong produced wuxia (martial arts) and horror films provide a window onto a space I equate with Chineseness. I am interested in how the jiangshi genre, in opening onto a complete space of fantasy, allows for the exploration and articulation of what Teo terms "abstract" or "cultural" nationalism. For Teo, cultural nationalism manifests itself as an affiliation with an abstracted sense of national heritage without explicit ties to state bodies. Best exemplified in the films of Bruce Lee, where the kung fu adept serves as an appropriate expression of cultural pride and potency, much of Hong Kong genre films are coded in such a way as to speak to specific Chinese and diasporic desires for cultural affiliation. Lee's Chinese nationalism, Teo argues, cannot be easily dismissed as narcissistic or xenophobic (although it is in many ways these things) if one wishes to understand its particular appeal to Chinese audiences:
The nationalism Lee's films invoked is better understood as an abstract kind of cultural nationalism, manifesting itself as an emotional wish among Chinese people living outside China to identify with China and things Chinese ... They wish to affirm themselves and fulfill their cultural aspirations by identifying with the 'mother culture', producing a rather abstract and apolitical type of nationalism. (7)
By apolitical, Teo refers not to the absence of political undertones within Lee's films--indeed his characters often express overt anti-American sentiment--but rather to cultural nationalism's particular de-emphasis on state politics. In order to grasp the appeal of and need for this particular form of nationalism, Teo suggests that one must look at its philosophical underpinnings and historic lineage. The concept has complex roots in a Chinese dynastic rule that regarded China as the centre of the universe. The term tianxia, literally meaning "between
heaven and earth" or "all under heaven," has long signified the Chinese Empire and the rest of the world's location within a cosmological order at the heart of the Heavenly Kingdom. According to Confucian orthodoxy, the dual concepts of tianxia and guo specified different aspects of Empire: "tianxia designated a civilizational value, whereas guo referred to a regime of power, to what the West would regard as a state government ... " (8) The notion of tianxia, with its focus on the moral and cultural aspects of Chinese civilization and its concern for the well-being of the people, was mobilized by Chinese nationalists in the twentieth century as an ideological foundation for supporting the intense stages of economic modernization needed for China to compete in a global economy. (9) A Chinese nationalism that engages the concept of tianxia imagines a fundamentally different worldview from that of a Euro-American tradition that posits the nation-state as an autonomous and self-interested party in a competitive global sphere. Having geographical meaning and sentimental resonance, tianxia's application to a nationalist rhetoric paradoxically promotes China as Empire while imagining a harmonious global order with a de-emphasis on territorial borders. Today this form of cultural nationalism has evolved to accommodate the needs of disparate Chinese populations whose historic ties to the nation-state have been severed: "This ideology is particularly suited to a diasporic people since it allows them to remain distant from 'their' state while retaining pride in the cultural value allegedly embodied in their tradition which is, as all traditions are, highly portable." (10) Like the films of Bruce Lee, I would suggest that by exploring the representational strategies of jiangshi films, one finds strong articulations of a Chinese cultural nationalism.
Mr. Vampire, directed by Sammo Hung in 1985, is generally regarded as having kick-started the jiangshi trend in Hong Kong filmmaking, whose popularity lasted roughly a decade. A subgenre of the Chinese ghost story films, Hung's Mr. Vampire series freely mixes together kung fu, slapstick comedy, Chinese folklore and Western vampire motifs in a manner that appeals to both local and global sensibilities. Specifically, one sees how the film might have obvious resonances with a local Hong Kong and diasporic audience in that it allegorically addresses issues of hybridity and colonial history. In the first of the Mr. Vampire series, (11) Hung developed the formula to which future jiangshi films would more or less adhere. The ingredients include one to two Taoist priests, a couple of bumbling assistants, a smattering of wayward corpses, and at least one vengeful female ghost. Add to this the figure of a Western-educated female love interest and one colonial-sympathizer and the stage is set for Mr. Vampire's particular brand of action comedy. Read allegorically, the real conflict in the film is not between humans and cadavers, but between an abstracted Chineseness and a British colonial presence. The jiangshi signifies an unstable middle ground in that its body, always in transit toward a final resting place, is neither here nor there, neither dead nor truly alive. It is literally a puppet through which a Taoist priest, marked by his access to traditional martial arts and mysticism, exercises simultaneous control and care. As ancestral bodies, the jiangshi's unmooredness and excess can only be contained through recourse to traditional knowledge, folklore and authentic kung fu fighting. Guns and Western rationality in these films are equated with cowardliness, coded as ineffective tools and frameworks for taming the jiangshi's unruliness. The film depicts colonial sympathizers as paradoxically repressive and effeminate, suggesting that the real site of patriarchal power and right lies with the Chinese traditionalists. In insisting upon the importance of ritual and myth, the film symbolically refuses British colonial rule in favor of a Chinese authority and heritage--even as this heritage is idealized and abstracted through fantasy and mythology.
Legends of the Seven Golden Vampires
While Mr. Vampire works through these anti-colonial sentiments at a local level, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a 1974 co-production between Britain's Hammer Films and Hong Kong's Shaw Studios in many ways anticipated the popularity of Mr. Vampire and its subsequent imitators. As I.Q. Hunter suggests, in the face of waning influence and in light of Bruce Lee induced kung-fu mania in the West, Hammer Films attempted to inject new life into their Dracula formula by joining forces with one of Shaw Brothers' martial arts choreographers, Chang Cheh. (12) Shot entirely in Hong Kong at the Shaw Brothers studio and directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film attempted to bridge the Gothic horror Hammer was famed for to China's own tradition of mythological pictures and martial arts. For the producers, perhaps there was an analogy to be made between the hopping cadaver of the East and the vampire of Western lore. Stylistically, Legends is an awkward and intriguing blend of two distinct popular genres with longstanding ties in local literary and cinematic traditions. Ideologically, the film enacts, in the words of Leon Hunt, "a form of mythological colonization." (13) In the film's prologue, Dracula, living in Transylvania, is visited by Kah, a Chinese priest who asks his help in restoring the former glory of his Seven Golden Vampires, a cult of undead followers. Not only does Dracula refuse, he proceeds to inhabit the body of the priest and travel to China to rule over the cadavers himself. Through a brilliant lap dissolve, one sees their bodies merge. But before Dracula assumes the identity of his host, he announces, "I will take on your image, your mantle." What are we to make of this line? Is this an acknowledgement of British imperial history and unbalanced globalization more broadly speaking? Is this a self-reflexive gesture, a nod to the global flow of images and narratives that are at once locally specific, yet highly portable and marketable abroad? I would suggest that Legends essentially plays out the dynamics of an asymmetrical globalization by absorbing and appropriating the Chinese martial arts genre into its colonial narrative and re-marketing it for a Western audience. The film underscores the fact that certain mythological figures, the vampire being one, have cross-cultural resonance. Not only does the image of the vampire circulate globally through the medium of film, as archetype, it potentially taps into cultural anxieties over power, space and fear of the Other. As Ken Gelder notes, European vampire fictions have always shared an intimate connection to the travelogue; Bram Stroker's Dracula, framed as a document of the protagonist's travels and encounters with the vampire, is emblematic of this tradition. (14) Indeed Baker's film unfolds like a travelogue, albeit it is one that is inversely driven by Dracula's appropriation of the Chinese body and his transgression into Chinese space. Unlike the later jiangshi films made to suit local Hong Kong tastes, in Legends, Dracula is defeated neither by a Taoist priest nor through traditional martial arts. Instead, Van Helsing, while on a lecture tour in Guang Zhou is implored by seven kung fu fighting siblings to lead them in their battle against the fanged colonizer and his appropriated minions. The result is a Western-framed anthropological and touristic survey of Chinese culture, with kung fu as a familiarizing idiom. Here, kung fu is effective in defeating the Chinese cadavers, but in the climactic (or rather anti-climactic) defeat of Dracula, it is Van Helsing who has the honor of driving a stake through his heart. Besides being useless against Dracula's colonizing and terroristic acts, for Hunt, Legends' exhibition of kung fu is "explicitly played out for a Western gaze." (15) After one of the more elaborate fight sequences, Van Helsing, as though speaking on behalf of the spectator, remarks, "it was the most fantastic display." While the film capitalizes on the spectacle of kung fu, the real agents and stars are Van Helsing and Dracula. In many regards, Legends is essentially a Dracula movie that appropriates and unfolds overtop of the image of Chinese culture, which in the 1970s was made portable and consumable in the kung fu film.
Having looked at one jiangshi film, Mr. Vampire, that allegorically promotes a Chinese cultural nationalism and another, Legends, that reinscribes a narrative of Western imperialism, Hong Kong director Billy Chan introduced a further hybridization of the jiangshi film by harnessing an ethnographic gaze and syntax already established in a Western anthropological heritage. While the original Botswana-South African film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, is familiar to many, few people are aware that there are in fact four sequels, the last three of which were all made by Hong Kong directors. The first of these, Crazy Safari, is set primarily in the Kalahari desert and stars Gao, the Ju/'hoansi actor featured in the first two films directed by Jamie Uys. While both Mr. Vampire and Legends set up a binary between the West and the East, colonizer and colonized, Crazy Safari introduces a third term, or more literally a so-called Third World into the picture. Not only does Chan's film articulate forcefully the cultural nationalism present in Mr. Vampire, it channels this nationalism into a sentiment of cultural superiority by actively fetishizing a new space and body of an Other. Having retrieved the mummified body of his ancient jiangshi ancestor from London with the intention of giving it a proper burial in the homeland, a man from Hong Kong and an attendant Taoist priest find themselves stranded in the Kalahari desert after their plane runs out of gas. The jiangshi they send down by parachute and it miraculously lands in the vicinity of the same tribe of Bushmen (hereafter referred to as the San peoples) from the original Gods film. Gao's character, N!Xau, and his family proceed to worship the jiangshi that has fallen out of the sky after observing its effectiveness at frightening away a group of violent white South African diamond hunters. The film then spirals into a series of encounters with African animals, along with numerous amicable exchanges with the San as the Hong Kong character, Leo, and the Taoist priest attempt to locate and reclaim ownership over the jiangshi. The film ends with the two Chinese men successfully convincing the San to relinquish rights over the vampire, which they had up until this point gradually integrated into their culture. Before Leo and the priest leave, the two groups engage in an important act of cultural and material exchange, establishing a trade relationship that bypasses the authority of white neo-colonial power. I suggest that one can read Crazy Safari allegorically as an assertion of desire for Chinese global presence. Like the Coca-Cola bottle in the original Cods film that literally falls out of the sky to signal the arrival and intrusion of a Western capitalist order, the jiangshi lands in Africa as an announcement of an emerging and, by the film's logic, more empathetic Chinese presence. Through a spatialization of race and power relations, the film establishes a sympathetic view of African history by claiming a shared historical antagonism with white colonial power; at the same time, it articulates a Chinese cultural superiority that, in many ways, effaces any real gesture toward understanding and affiliation. Most importantly, however, it does all these things by adopting a pre-established representational framework originally conceived by Uys, whose own ideological position reflects an Afrikaner projection of nostalgia for a mythical, idyllic past. As Kenyan Tomaselli suggests, one must see the myths represented in the original Cods as having their origins in the real historic developments of the twentieth century:
Gods I is not a direct reflection of the apartheid ideology of the P.W. Botha era, but a symbolic integration of a variety of cultural, political, and economic myths which emerged throughout the Twentieth Century. Though presented as timeless, the origins of each myth-- pastoralism, 'Bushmen,' Afrikaner and the city--can be identified in and through history, just as articulations within cinema and other media can be identified, dated, and explained in terms of maturing social discourses. (16)
It is no doubt fascinating, then, how Chan manages to appropriate the cultural, political and economic myths established within the Cods franchise in order to promote an equally mythologizing account of Chinese nationalism.
Whereas the jiangshi in Mr. Vampire and the Chinese zombies in Legends are restricted in their movements to the geographic locale of China, in Crazy Safari, it serves as the vehicle by which the film introduces the spectator to other spaces and racialized groups; it operates as a kind of narrative agent (although one that is limited by the ultimate controlling power of the Taoist priest) and guides the film's ethnographic/touristic gaze, first to London and then to Africa. This gaze however, is more pronounced when fixed on black bodies than white bodies. The film frames the white British presence more as a competing agent than as an object of anthropological interest. It characterizes this presence as immoral, as having access to capital (cultural and monetary), and as associated with a history of colonialism. During the opening scene in the London auction house where Leo's ancestor is the next item up for bidding, the auctioneer calls on a Chinese intellectual to present a short lecture on the differences between Chinese and Eastern vampires. Through this campy use of a mock art historical slideshow, he illustrates the pop cultural knowledge that the spectator presumably already has. This East-West binary is further elaborated on and evaluated through the unsympathetic representation of the British. For the white bidders, the jiangshi is simply a commodity they hope to acquire via capital; for Leo--and by extension, a presumed Chinese spectator--the jiangshi is a connection to Chinese history. Leo and the priest manage to reclaim ownership over this cultural object not via money, but through their ability to literally raise the jiangshi and make it hop out of the auction house. Ownership is determined not through purchasing power, but through the ability to control the jiangshi's movement, a skill available only to those with specialized (Chinese) knowledge.
Regarding the film's ethnographic function, it is important to note that while the narrative implies three geographic spaces--London, Africa, and Hong Kong--only two are represented. Hong Kong is the structuring absence that informs how the spectator is to interpret the two Other spaces. These two spaces are set in opposition, with Hong Kong as a third absent space, so that the touristic gaze may be more fully activated. When flying to Hong Kong from London, the film cuts to a view of a giant map indicating the plane's coordinates within and trajectory over the African continent. This cut effectively sutures the fantastic space of the fiction to a real cartographic representation of the earth, momentarily referencing the realm of the imaginary back to real geographic space. Additionally, as soon as Leo and the priest realize they have lost control over the plane's movements, they take out a compass in order to regain a mastery over the space below. The priest asserts and takes pride in the fact that the compass was a Chinese invention; unfortunately and to comedic effect, the compass malfunctions. Thus Crazy Safari, while continuously articulating this kind of cultural nationalism, also humours the characters' inability to actually orient themselves within the African landscape or affect any kind of overt power once outside their cultural context. The film, after all, positions them as accidental tourists and eyewitnesses to a pre-existing conflict between white South Africans and the San. Even the explicit mastery they attempt to claim via vision is farcical. In trying to locate the wayward jiangshi, Leo and the priest decide it would be effective to activate a "bird's eye view" of the landscape. Literally, they do so by attaching a parachute (and Leo) to a giant ostrich that the priest then rides and maneuvers. The inclusion of this panoramic view is worked (barely) into the narrative demands of the film; primarily, though, this view offers the spectator temporary and haphazard mastery over the space of Africa and grants a form of pleasure rooted in the visual language of tourism.
Having considered the way in which Crazy Safari creates racial and cultural hierarchies through its representation of geographic space, it is worth turning more explicitly to an analysis of the way in which geometric relations cement a rhetoric of Chinese cultural nationalism and superiority at the expense of the black body. Specifically the film uses what I refer to as "duels and dualities" in order to oust the presence of the white body as a third and unwelcome term; these "duels and dualities" represent moments of cultural exchange between the Chinese and the San and are construed as necessary alliances forged to displace white power. For the first half of the film, the narrative refers to historic antagonisms using a structure of binaries. The historic tension between the people of Hong Kong and the British is presented in parallel fashion to the "present" conflict between the San and the white South Africans (and their Zulu allies). Through this parallelism, Crazy Safari translates the history of South African conflict to beneficially reflect the Chinese as a potential partner and ally in a changing global order.
To elaborate on the film's restructuring of a binary relation that omits and undermines the presence of a white body, it is worth looking at two "duels," the first of which occurs near the film's end between the jiangshi and a Zulu zombie. Aside from the sheer spectacle of the two creatures engaged in stiff-armed battle, this moment significantly articulates Chinese cultural nationalism and asserts Chinese superiority over the African body. Following the film's logic, these two pop cultural icons function as embodiments of Chinese and African nationalism respectively. Similar to a mock boxing match, the priest and a Zulu shaman prepare their respective fighters for entry into the ring. Intercutting between the two parties, the film establishes a dichotomy between the Zulu's and the Chinese. Their conflict is to be settled in the ring and both nations' cultural worth evaluated according to the strength of their representative monsters/technologies. Curiously, this is one of the only moments in Crazy Safari where the jiangshi affects any kind of autonomous agency. This agency is brought out through a series of incitements by Leo and the priest to represent Chinese culture; they shout at the jiangshi, "We're Chinese, we can't lose" and "You've insulted the Chinese. I don't know you." This is the moment in which the jiangshi assumes human qualities and sentiments, acting out of an abstract national pride and on behalf of a Chinese populace, both past and present. No doubt the film depicts this battle for comedic effect, but this scene is also a sentimental performance of Chinese cultural nationalism for the benefit of a Chinese spectator.
The second "duel" functions as a more explicit moment of cultural exchange. Here, cultural exchange is literally an exchange of signifiers wherein the "spirit" or "essence" representative of both Chinese culture and African culture is made to inhabit the body of the Other. This sequence, in its absurdity, is barely contained within the narrative frame and its significance is more symbolic than functional. Primarily, it is present to suggest that white neo-colonialism can literally be driven away via a mutual exchange of cultural signifiers between the San and the Chinese. This sequence unfolds according to a parallel structure. In the first scene, the Taoist priest, in order to help Leo in his battle against a Zulu shaman, transfers a baboon's spirit into his body. Leo miraculously performs a "monkey" style form of kung fu fighting and successfully defeats the shaman. In the even more elaborate second scene, the priest calls forth the spirit of Bruce Lee, raising it from a press photo and directing it to inhabit N!Xau's body as he fights off a number of Zulu warriors. By tapping the mythology and image of Lee, Crazy Safari also calls forth all the semiotic weight associated with Lee's body. In Legends, Hsi Ching and his siblings' kung fu fighting is performed uninterrupted and framed frontally by the camera for the spectatorial gaze of Van Helsing, and by extension, an imagined white spectator. Here, Lee's kung fu fighting is recast as a spectacle for the enjoyment of a Chinese viewer with assumed knowledge of Lee as a symbol of Chinese nationalism. N!Xau's body is possessed by Lee's spirit, yet the film chooses to show only despatialized footage of Lee fighting amidst a collage of abstract shapes and sounds; the spectacle of his movements offers the viewer direct visual pleasure without recourse to identification with any of the fictional characters, and thus facilitates a sense of privilege and pride. After this fantasmatic display of Lee's prowess, the camera cuts to show N!Xau's real body in real space flailing and jabbing in a parodic, rather than heroic, manner as if to reinforce the ultimate sanctity and primacy of Lee's spirit. This sequence, wherein a baboon's spirit is equated with Africaness and Bruce Lee's with that of Chineseness, is no doubt problematic. It suggests the essence of Africa as primal and animalistic, whereas the essence of China is mediated and absolutely embedded in culture. Not only does this parallel exchange establish a rhetoric of Chinese cultural superiority, it posits this exchange as a necessary and effective means by which to defeat white power.
In pitting white power as a historic (for the Chinese) and present oppressor (for the Kalahari San), the film suggests that Chinese and Africans can, through cultural and spiritual exchange, join forces to redefine power relations with past and present white colonial bodies. This gesture presents the Chinese as an equitable trading partner by suggesting that they share an "essential" historic, if not cultural, sameness. Significantly, after a series of spiritual and cultural exchanges that effectively oust the white body as a competing term, the two groups engage in material exchange. Upon leaving the desert, the priest offers N!Xau a set of jiangshi and Taoist priest robes, and the jiangshi is seen leaving dressed in garbs of animal skins. The clothes serve as signifiers if not of cultural authenticity, then at least of the exchangeability of such signifiers. As a parting gift, N!Xau gives the priest a bag of diamonds. This gift is integral to Crazy Safari's attempt to posit Chinese presence as a legitimate and ethical trading partner. The film ends with a scene of N!Xau dressed in the robes of the Taoist priest, training a figure clothed in the jiangshi's robes. This final scene functions to imply that both parties are satisfied with having encountered each other as cultural ambassadors and potential trading partners.
No doubt it is worth pursuing a closer reading of Crazy Safari in relation to Uys's original Cods films in order to compare the different ideological positions that each director stakes out at the expense of the San. While this line of inquiry deserves development, by inscribing Crazy Safari within a tradition of jiangshi films, one can also see how a cinematic articulation of Chinese cultural nationalism might be mobilized not only as a critique of Western imperialism, but as an outright projection of Chinese power in a changing global order. Rightly so, one might interpret Crazy Safari's cultural nationalism as a veiled expression of Chinese cultural imperialism. Considering Appadurai's insistence that the imagination is a form of social practice, it is appropriate to investigate precisely whose imagination Crazy Safari speaks to and to what end. Crazy Safari translates a South African film in order to have it apply specifically to Chinese concerns; by the same token, it translates San culture to support Chinese cultural interests. The film harnesses and, in many ways, subverts the ethnographic intentions of the original Gods format in order to frame Chinese presence in Africa as a possibility. Significantly, it omits any mention of past Chinese presence in the region or the forms of material and cultural exchanges that have already occurred between the two nations. By doing so, it imagines a "fresh" introduction to African culture, one that is as equally paternalistic and opportunistic as Uys's films were. Nonetheless, when viewed as a fragment of a global medias-cape, the film articulates an imagined world through which a Hong Kong and diasporic population might come to terms with the territory's historic and then-pending relations with China. By the same gesture, through a retranslation of the Gods ethnographic structure, it engages in a process of self-representation that casts China as an agent capable of replacing Western influence in a post-colonial world order.
In relation to mediascapes, Appadurai suggests that "scripts can and do get disaggregated into complex sets of metaphors by which people live ... they help constitute narratives of the Other and protonarratives of possible lives, fantasies that could become prolegomena to the desire for acquisition and movement. (17) As a narrative of the Other and a protonarrative of future movements, Crazy Safari foreshadows China's anticipated presence in the African continent. Most recently, this presence has been interpreted in the West as a threat. A recent BBC article, "China in Africa: Developing Ties--Friend or Foe?" paints budding Sino-African relations as a sinister form of Chinese economic and cultural exploitation disguised within a rhetoric of tianxia:
The Chinese insist they are not interested in dominating Africa. Instead China says it seeks a "harmonious world", an evolution of its Cold War search for "peaceful co-existence", and it wants to coax African countries along the path towards development. Instead of top down aid projects, Chinese companies seek profits in Africa as they bequeath the continent a new infrastructure - one that will more than likely be used to increase trade with China. (18)
The article, in warning the West of China's seemingly disinterested presence, posits its own version of world affairs. As multiple competing and supplementary texts that contribute to a global mediascape, news articles such as this one, along with jiangshi films and the internet fan sites that promote them, offer glimpses of the way in which the imagination exists as a form of social practice. Not only do jiangshi films construct fantastic worlds capable of facilitating ties between local and diasporic Chinese populations, they serve as vehicles for commenting, contesting, and projecting narratives of past and future global relations. By tracing the evolution of this popular and somewhat understudied genre, one can see how mythologies of national and transnational identities develop and exist in dialogical relation to other media texts and their attendant ideologies.
(1) eHow, "How to Defeat a Chinese Vampire," http://www.ehow.com/how_2144443_defeal-chinese-hopping-vampire.html
(2) Stephen Teo, Hong Kong: The Extra Dimension (London: BFI Publishing, 1996), 219.
(3) Ibid. 207.
(4) Ibid. 207.
(5) Arjun Appadurai, Modernity: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 31.
(6) Ibid. 35.
(7) Teo, 111.
(8) Ibid. 111.
(9) Ibid. 111.
(10) Ibid. 111.
(11) There are six in total, all made between 1985-1990.
(12) I.Q. Hunter, "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires," Postcolonial Studies 3:1 (2000): 82.
(13) Leon Hunt, Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger (London: Wallflower Press, 2003), 164.
(14) Ken Gelder, Reading the Vampire (London: Routledge, 1994), 2.
(15) Hunt, 165.
(16) Kenyan G. Tomaselli, "Rereading The God's Must Be Crazy," Visual Anthropology 19:2 (2006): 184.
(17) Appadurai, 35-36.
(18) BBC, "China in Africa: Developing Ties," http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7086777.stm
Stephanie Lam is an MA candidate in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute. She is currently working on a Major Research Paper that looks at duration and moving image projection works in art institutions.
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|Title Annotation:||GLOBAL CINEMA|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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