Asian Cinemas and the Potential of Cinematic Space

In Lilian Chee and Edna Lim (eds.), Asian Cinema and the Use of Space: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2015), 1-18. Co-authored with Edna Lim.

The foregrounding of space as the subject of inquiry in film studies is, in itself, not new. Indeed, the variety of scholarly work that focus on space in cinema is as wide-ranging as the ways in which space may be defined; from discussions on landscape, geography and cartography in films to how space is constructed in particular genres (such as science fiction) and cinematic representations of urban space and particular cities, as well as within the boundaries of specific cinemas (such as European, notably Italian, cinemas).1

This book is concerned, on the one hand, with how cinematic space can be used to study, understand and reveal new perspectives on Asian cinemas, and on the other, to reciprocally employ these cinematic spaces as a means to understand the construction and production of physical spaces within a national milieu. Given its cultural diversity and immense geographical coverage, we acknowledge that “Asia” is a conceptually problematic term and use it here as a broad label to bring together a limited range of cinematic practices. Our intention is not to develop an Asian-based theory for exploring Asian cinema through space or to propose an Asian conception of space. Nor do we assume that Asian cinemas use space differently from other cinemas. Instead, this book forwards the proposition that a dedicated study of how space is used in a range of Asian films could potentially allow us to learn more about cinema in Asia in ways that are either new or relatively unexplored. The aim is to respect the cultural diversity of “Asia” as a series of relatable but independent entities through chapters that seek to represent this plurality while also recognizing the possible commonalities and overlaps between different cinematic practices. Mindful of the global and transnational flows of capital, labor, culture and commodity impacting these cinemas, this book also argues that a productive understanding of transnational mobility can be achieved when viewed in tension with specific national ambitions. As such, the inquiry is couched within the remits of a range of Asian cinemas and foregrounds cinematic space as the site of inquiry in films from different genres across various cinemas in Southeast, South and East Asia. The chapters focus on the negotiations that occur within these cinemas and takes into account the specificity of geopolitical contexts, different articulations of nation and nationhood and how these issues are enacted in cinematic performances and representations of space.

In this volume, space is projected as a conceptual tool that allows access, consciously or unconsciously, to the latent political, social and cultural ideologies underpinning a geopolitical region. We are interested in the role of space in film, that is, when such ideologies find material expression in spaces portrayed through filmic media. What we propose here follows on from Frederic Jameson’s argument that “the political content of daily life, with the political logic which is already inherent in the raw material with which the filmmaker must work” finds its unembellished 2 form in a series of spaces and locales, which when read closely suggest that they are more than just mise-en-scène. The essays here propose that space becomes the prime motivator of filmic plot, narrative and style. More importantly, such cinematic space ultimately reveals the “emergence of profound contradictions”3 that mark the material or absolute spaces to which the films refer. In particular for this volume, such contradictions revolve around the persistent dialectic of the national and the transnational, with their attendant sites and spaces, as these ideologies and identities are played out in the cinematic spaces of Asian films.


Taking its cue from the multidimensional potentials of space as a conceptual tool to unpick Asian films, this book engages the relationships, outcomes and discourse which ensue between space and film by exploring the performance of space in Asian films in two ways: how cinematic space (re)produces or (re)imagines the material space to which it refers, and the implications that such negotiations reveal about national cinematic practice(s) in an increasingly transnational field.




1. For discussions on landscape, see, for example, Martin Lefebvre, Landscape and Film (New York: Routledge, 2006). On geography, see, for example, Graeme Harper and Jonathan Rayner, Cinema and Landscape Film, Nation and Cultural Geography (Bristol: Intellect, 2010); Catherine Fowler and Gillian Helfield (eds.), Representing the Rural: Space, Place and Identity in Films about the Land (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2006). On cartography in films, see, for example, Tom Conley, Cartographic Cinema, (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2007). On space in particular genres, see, for example, William H. Katerberg, Future West: Utopia and Apocalypse in Frontier Science Fiction (Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2008). On cinematic representations of urban space and the city, see, for example, Stephen Barber, Projected Cities: Cinema and Urban Space (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) and Richard Koeck and Les Roberts, The City and the Moving Image: Urban Projections, (Houndmills,Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). On space and specific cinemas, see, for example, Tiziana Ferrero-Regis, Recent Italian Cinema: Spaces, Contexts, Experiences (Leicester: Troubador, 2009).
2. Frederic Jameson, Signatures of the Visible (New York: Routledge, 1992), 38.
3. Ibid.

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