Rewarding Vice: The Non-Innocent Pleasures of Chinese Popular Films

Writings from these lectures are available as a PDF.

Confucianists occasionally attempted an ambivalent defense of fiction by promoting works that would “punish vice and reward virtue.” Recent Western attention to Hong Kong action films evinces a similar moralistic confusion. Instead of analyzing the features of those films that make them so interesting, many critics instead merely defend their own interest in the films. The critical evaluation of this cinema is thus preempted by an apology for one’s appreciation of it. Attempts to advance a new cinematic literacy, often begin—and even end up—as apologies for the “guilty pleasures” of Chinese popular film.

This lecture will attempt three interventions in the apologetic tradition of US critical reception of Chinese cinemas. First of all, it will scrutinize the notion of “the guilty pleasures of Chinese popular film.” Second, it will suggest ways to reconceive spectatorial pleasure, “Chinese film,” and “Chinese popular film.” Third, works from several genres of Chinese popular film will be “read”—not only the Martial Arts film but also the women’s melodrama; the crime film; huangmei opera; and the gambling-thriller in order to demonstrate how this reorientation enables a fuller and more nuanced access to the significations and significance of such films.

This is the first lecture out of a series of five in the East Asia Film Literacies Lecture Series. This lecture was given by Visiting East-West Center Scholar, Earl Jackson, Jr., Associate Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on September 25, 2003, in Crawford Hall 115 from 3:00-5:00 PM