By Sam Kench
There are many countries in the world that have their own film industry, but many American kids have only seen a few if any foreign films. There is nothing at all wrong with American movies, but only ever viewing American movies stops people from experiencing the full gamut of styles, tones, and even emotions that the medium of film has to offer.
The movies a country produces represents the country itself. Different countries focus on different genres of film, and the chosen genre of film can say a lot about how people from that country think. It can show what people find entertaining, what they are conditioned to accept, and it can demonstrate how one culture differs from another.
There are handful of countries that can be used to demonstrate just how different of a movie a culture can produce. China, England, France, South Korea, Taiwan, and India all have different niches and styles.
There was a time when China dominated the world with their Hong Kong action cinema. Although China produces films from all genres, their niche is action movies. Martial arts films and shoot ‘em ups headed by the likes of people such as Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat, and Jackie Chan. Chinese action films became known as the best in the world and the country has been since associated with this genre. The films can aim for entertainment and intensity in films such as “Hard Boiled“ or “The Killer“, or they can aim for Poetic beauty in films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“ or “Hero“. The action films made in China would become refined to the point of art. Director John Woo choreographed such elaborate shootouts that his films became known as “Bullet Ballets” or “Bullet Operas” because of the complexity of the action. It grew to the point where a gunfight could say something poetic.
Taiwan is a country that eventually grew itself a name in action films. Actions films from Taiwan developed their own specific style. Taiwanese action films have a sense of humor that is very specific to the country and you can tell a film is from Taiwan based purely on directing style. The direction of Taiwanese films has not developed much beyond the old customs of 80’s cinema. Most film industries are still accepting of slow motion, but instant replays are a thing of the past in most countries. Taiwan however still embraces instant replays. Taiwanese action films aim to show you something cool and let you enjoy it, rather than being concerned with telling a deep story.
Different countries focus on different genres. While a country like China or Taiwan focuses on action films as its priority, France focuses on a different genre. France also produces its share of action films, but France has a particular penchant for romance and drama films. Countries can do films in all genres but they tend to zero in on one in particular. China does action, France does romance and drama, England does crime and mystery, Japan and Australia do horror, etc. etc.
Sometimes you can tell which country a film comes from based on how they tell the story. Take South Korea and England for example. South Korean films tend to tell incredibly emotional stories with heavy poetic elements. South Korean films such as “I Saw the Devil“, “Oldboy“, and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance“ tell their stories visually. These films have very little dialogue and the stories are propelled by the striking images that they present to the audience. A great deal of effort and creativity is put into the composition of every shot.
Films coming from England tend to rely on dialogue to tell the story rather than the visuals. Both work perfectly fine for the stories they are trying to tell, but the point is that they are different. The culture of a country influences the media it produces. (More to come on films from England in Part II)