• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 1:46am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 5:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 5:18am

Where is the Chinese Oliver Stone?

When Oliver Stone recently rounded on mainland filmmakers for failing to make critical movies about their country and its past, he is really asking why there is no one like him in China.

From JFK to his Untold History of the United States, the director has made a brilliant and provocative film career undermining the traditional American narrative of the land of the free and home of the brave. As he puts it in Untold History, "That popular and mythic view, carefully filtered through the prism of American altruism, benevolence, magnanimity, exceptionalism, and devotion to liberty and justice ... only tells a small part of the story."

In Salvador, an early, and in my opinion, his best movie, he exposed how right-wing dictatorships in Latin America operated death squads funded and trained by the US during the Reagan years.

China has its own popular and mythic view of its past. So why aren't mainland Chinese artists and filmmakers re-examining their nation's unsavoury history and puncturing myths like Stone does with his own country? "Mao Zedong has been lionised in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticised," Stone told an audience in Beijing. "It's about time. You've got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution."

Stone is right. But his criticism is also misdirected. In the US, you can make contrarian and dissident films and make millions like Stone. In China, you get censored - if lucky - or jailed. It's simply too much to ask mainland artists to risk their lives while you lead a comfortable life in Hollywood. If Stone were mainland Chinese, would he still be the great Oliver Stone? It's highly doubtful.

Still, his criticism should not be ignored. A more relevant question to ask is why aren't filmmakers in Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora making that kind of critical film?

Do they or don't they have a responsibility to explore the nation's dark past when they can work without the fear of persecution? Don't we all get tired of watching endless variations of The Joy Luck Club and triads? A well-made Stone-like movie about Mao's brand of totalitarianism would sell at the box office. And yes, it would be good to have a Chinese Oliver Stone.


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Mr Lo is just so... let's say 'endearingly naive.'

Films need financing, marketing and distributions. This is still, overwhelmingly, done by the big movie studios: Warner Bros, Disney, Sony, Paramount etc. Say one of those were to finance, market and distribute a film that does not stroke with the CCP's semi-mythical version of (recent) history.

How many other films do you think that film studio would then get to market and distribute in the 1.3bn people mainland market after the release of this critical film?

Answer: none, not for many many years.

And then they should also hope that their Shanghai offices don't get burned down by 'spontaneous' protesters.

And that is why there are so very few films critical of the CCP's version of history: unlike the US and many other governments, the CCP has no tolerance for criticism, nor does it welcome even a slight deviation from its propagandistic, nationalistic historical narrative.
I think it is Mr. Lo's analysis that is "misdirected". If the CCP system is such that Chinese film-makers would need to risk their lives, freedom, and livelihood in order to make a meaningful movie about Mao (ie. one that does not involve Mao worship) or any "critical movies about their country and its past", then the criticism should be directed at said CCP system. That would represent a great awakening for Mr. Lo.
As for HK or diaspora film-makers, what Impala said. Which studio would bankroll such a film when it has zero chance of being shown in its biggest potential market, not to mention the black-listing besides? The same black-listing risk would be borne by the writer, director, producer, every actor, sound tech, gopher, grip, probably all the way down to the catering company. Who is going to sign up for that?
If you want to bemoan the lack of a Chinese Oliver Stone, you can start by bemoaning the CCP system.
I guess we Chinese have a less tolerant society. That's all.
Compare Zhang Yimou's earlier works with his latter films. Starting with "Hero" to the unwatchable "Curse of the Golden Flower" he took a detour from criticizing to ***kissing switching to themes that pleased Beijing.
Think Bejing would have given him the 2008 Olympics grandeur had he been a Chinese Oliver Stone?
How About
First up thank you Alex for this article, for the benefit of all those who were not aware of Stone's work particularly the Untold History. I found the book and the documentary to be just tantalisingly short of criticique but potent enough to bring out the key messages that USA has not been all that it made itself out to be, and only just on its military imperialism side.
It's partly financed by Stone and by a lesser known studio. Alex is right again that we do need a China's Oliver Stone to let us know critically what actually happened in the past 101 years if not the past 120 years, what and who shaped China and the real reasons behind them.
If one of her more famous directors could pay CNY 10M for siring more than one child, there is yet hope..
How About
Good to hear from pslhk going right for the proverbial that happened between 120 -90 years ago, that many good western history put down/off to the Taiping boxers' rebellion and the Japanese burgeoning Meiji ambitions, i.e. wholesale revisionist history that flagrantly perhaps all too conveniently sidestepped the many triggers and wraths that they together had inflicted to China that humbled her for the next 100 years.
So it is to kctony, that it is Zhang that I'd hope to see works on a truer iteration of China. But there may not yet be the necessary critical mass, both in the product infrastructure (as some commentators pointed out) and the actual demand within China, for it to be a "success". And FYI Stone's Untold History is still little known within USA so may be "success" should be qualified to mean its ultimate ability to reach the right audience and to ignite greater awareness, rather than in any commercial return.
OS does everybody a favor
when America is in heat
he takes down its pants
American heat gets cool down
The world gets a glimpse of truth
OS gets a credit
though the truth a sordid sight
American heat has a long history
of nation-building thru heterophobic genocides
from natives American thru Africa and Indochina to “Middle East”
China following a peacefully path of nation building
hasn’t gathered that kind of heat
domestic affairs are for internal review
no need to take off pants for worldwide display
at least not until China is better established
in perhaps 30 or 50 years
The OS we need is one who shares the vision of de Villepin
who sees our history as a revival from the Opium War”,
Yuenmingyuan arsons, international concessions,
Nanking massacre, and colonial clones of Joshua Wong
What we have instead are “variations of The Joy Luck Club and triads”
which are in fact not all that bad
Endless kungfu masters are murderous
Stephen Chow is a cultural equivalent of SARS
To imp...
Salvador would never have been made if Stone has gone the usual path how a production of a movie must to be considered – box office? Censorship? Etc?
AL seems to be an enthusiastic movie fan. He is desperate to find a movie about China’s Mao. Not with a usual story. It should be an unusual comment about Mao. The fearless AL has topped himself of all his comments he has had. Refreshing and important.


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