East Asian Cinema, Cultural Globalization and Identity Articulation

In this book, Ran Ma investigates the modalities of transnational Asian cinema, as reflected in independent films of auteurs either based in East Asia or belonging to global diasporas.
East Asian Cinema, Cultural Globalization and Identity Articulation

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This monograph examines an array of auteur-driven fiction and documentary independent film projects that have emerged since the turn of the millennium from East and Southeast Asia. Its author, Ran Ma inquires, thus, into a strand of transnational film-making that converges with Asia’s vibrant yet unevenly developed independent film movements amidst global neo-liberalism. As this book traces that, these projects bear witness to and are shaped by the ongoing historical processes of inter-Asia interaction characterized by geopolitical realignment, migration, and population displacement. This study on contemporary independent film-making in Asia, therefore, threads together case studies of internationally acclaimed filmmakers, artists, and collectives, such as Zhang Lu, Kuzoku, Li Ying, Takamine Go, Yamashiro Chikako, and Midi Z. The trans-border journeys and cinematic imaginations of the latter, as Ran Ma argues, disrupt static identity affiliations built upon national, ethnic, or cultural differences. This border-crossing film-making can also be viewed as both an aesthetic practice and a political act, reframing how people, places, and their interconnections can be perceived. Thereby, these film-makers, this book suggests, open up possibilities to re-imagine Asia and its connections to globalization.

Ma, Ran. Independent Filmmaking across Borders in Contemporary Asia. Amsterdam University Press, 2019. Accessed November 23, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.
Ma, Ran. Independent Filmmaking across Borders in Contemporary Asia. Amsterdam University Press, 2019. Accessed November 23, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.

Topical Spotlight

As Ma indicates in his introduction to this work, “[i]ndependent border-crossing cinema, which here includes both fiction  film and documentary, is closely analyzed in the first chapter, […] at the conjuncture of inter-Asian culture and media  productions and the new waves of independent film movements across Asia  since the late 1980s and early 1990s” (Ma, 2019, p. 22). While theoretically leveraging the notions of translocalism, transnationalism and postcolonialism, Ma analyzes border-crossing Asian film-making in terms of the connections it establishes between different locations, the articulations of aesthetic positionings in conjunction with minority identity and the larger-scale discussions of diasporic, intercultural cinema, as presented across international film festival events (Ma, 2019, p. 22).

For instance, Ma approaches the works of the Korean-Chinese filmmaker Zhang Lu, such as Scenery (2013), as instances of translocal authorship that emphasizes multi-layered identities, translocal movements and globalization processes. Likewise, the cinema of independent Japanese filmmakers Tomita Katsuya and Aizawa Toranosuke, and their colleagues, e.g., Saudade (2011), features marginalized figures, part-time workers, rap musicians and foreign immigrants as intertwined subjectivities that draw on disparate temporalities and affectivities, while gaining in visibility. This book also focuses on Japan-based displaced subjects, in order to delineate how they articulating a plural sense of national or cultural  belonging across the international sinophone community. While drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s notion of time-image, Ma interprets film narratives as texts with heterogeneous layers that cut across the boundaries between the real, the imagined and the virtual. This also allows for examining Jacques Rancière’s philosophical points concerning aesthetics in relation to border-crossing film-making, such as in Human Flow (2017) by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei that concentrates on the global refugee crisis and illegal immigration trajectories (Ma, 2019, pp. 23-25).

Similarly, Chris Berry and Laikwan Pang (2010, pp. 89-90) have previously argued that, as regards contemporary Chinese cinema, its significant restructuring under the impact of globalization needs to be put into the context of global film production and movements, while investigating the thematic, aesthetic and stylistic layers that are internal to this accumulating oeuvre,  as these cut across geographic boundaries, e.g., between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. This approach also places an emphasis on the cultural openness and multiple identities that the umbrella notion of the Chinese cinema increasingly encompasses, as it participate in global cultural production relations (Berry and Pang, 2010, p. 90).


Ma’s book is an important contribution to the field of transnational cultural studies, as it concentrates on East Asian cinema. Furthermore, as the boundaries between mainstream and independent cinema, art and cinematography,  and national and transnational film-making are becoming blurred, the transnational cinema demands additional interrogation, particularly in the context of globalization processes and cultural and economic logics on which these are based (Berry, 2013, p. 453).

Published by Amsterdam University Press in 2019, Independent Filmmaking across Borders in Contemporary Asia, authored by Ran Ma, has become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library in 2020, as part of the KU Select 2019: HSS Frontlist Books collection.


Berry, Chris. “Transnational Culture in East Asia and the Logic of Assemblage.” Asian Journal of Social Science 41, no. 5 (2013): 453-470. Accessed November 23, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23654795.

Berry, Chris, and Laikwan Pang. “Remapping Contemporary Chinese Cinema Studies.” China Review 10, no. 2 (2010): 89-108. Accessed November 23, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23462331.

Ma, Ran. Independent Filmmaking across Borders in Contemporary Asia. Amsterdam University Press, 2019. Accessed November 23, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.

Featured Image Credits

Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong, SAR Hong Kong, China, November 23, 2014 | © Courtesy of Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr.

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