About

Sino-Cinema 《神州电影》 is written and managed by Derek ELLEY 艾德礼, who has been writing about Chinese (and international) cinema since the early 1970s, initially in places like the UK monthly films and filming and the annual International Film Guide and subsequently in the US trade paper Variety (1991-2010, as its chief international critic) and on the Hong Kong-based website Film Business Asia (2010-15, as its chief film critic). Over the years he has organised many seasons on Chinese cinema at cinematheques and festivals, and in 1999  co-founded the Udine Far East Film Festival (focused on quality mainstream cinema), of which he was artistic director for the first three years. Juries he has served on include Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, China’s Shanghai International Film Festival and South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.

∗∗∗

The purpose of this site is simple: to publish new writings by myself on Chinese cinema, as well as to re-publish older material. Some of the latter dates back to the pre-internet age of the 1970s and 1980s, and is pretty much inaccessible nowadays. Maybe it would have been better left that way, but for my sins I’ve chosen to excavate it, warts and all, out of historical interest – showing not only how the films were judged at the time but also how a relatively small group of us groped our way towards understanding this exciting new form of popular cinema that hit the West in the early 1970s. (Any modern annotations or corrections to these “archive” reviews and articles are put in square brackets.) Only in the 1980s did Chinese cinema really gain widespread critical “respectability” in international eyes, as new generations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan made a type of film that was to the liking of the festival circuit and its self-appointed tastemeisters. But that’s another story.

∗∗∗

For those who are interested, this site uses simplified Chinese characters and the hanyu pinyin transliteration system across the board.

Much as some may mourn the passing of traditional Chinese characters, the reality is that they are used nowadays in only two territories, Hong Kong and Taiwan – i.e. by about 30 million Chinese, compared with well over 1 billion using simplified. And even in Hong Kong and Taiwan, many simplified characters (already based on cursive script in the first place) are in common use, as well as cropping up in film titles; the line between traditional and simplified has never been hard and fast, and is especially blurred nowadays as a Greater China evolves. Simplified characters have been standard in the Mainland for over half a century (except for decorative purposes) and are now taught in classrooms virtually worldwide.

The decision whether to use simplified characters also for hanja versions of Korean names and the kanji versions of Japanese names was more difficult. But as a China-centric site, it made sense: both hanja and kanji names are simplified when they appear in China publications. Some kanji are simplified characters, anyway (e.g. 国, not 國), and Korean hanja tend to follow kanji, sometimes using characters that have passed out of use in modern Chinese.

So, simplified it is, across the board.

∗∗∗

Rendering Chinese names in English has always been a much bigger problem, given long-established regional practices and colonial influences, and the ground rules are constantly changing. When I first started writing about Chinese cinema in the early 1970s, Hong Kong was still going through a period of making mostly Mandarin-language films, despite being a mostly Cantonese-speaking territory, and names were mostly rendered in their Mandarin versions in the Wade-Giles system. Mandarin-speaking Taiwan also used the Wade-Giles system for names, as did Mainland China internationally. So, Hong Kong action star 刘家良, for example, was known as Liu Chia-liang.

But then times changed. In 1974, 80% of Hong Kong films were in Mandarin and only 20% in Cantonese; by 1979 the figures were reversed, and from the ’80s virtually all films were in the local Cantonese dialect. The English versions of names started to reflect the switch: so, Liu Chia-liang was reborn as Lau Kar-leung, though to the Chinese he was still 刘家良.

Nowadays, even the geography of Chinese cinema has changed. Once divided by dialects and politics, the China, Hong Kong and Taiwan film industries had separate identities (though with some overlap between “offshore” Hong Kong and Taiwan). Nowadays the barriers are virtually non-existent, cross-border co-productions are the order of the day, and Hong Kong Cantonese cinema has shrivelled from being an East Asian international powerhouse that once set the rules to a regional dialect cinema clinging to the rump of mighty Mandarin-speaking China. It makes no sense to perpetuate out-of-date regional and dialect barriers by still using different ways of transliterating the same names (e.g. Chang or Cheung for Zhang 张, Chou or Chow for Zhou 周, Hsu or Tsui for Xu 徐).

All of which is a roundabout way of justifying the (no doubt controversial) decision to use the Mandarin pinyin system as the default for all names, including Cantonese ones, on this website. So, Lau Kar-leung is again reborn, this time as Liu Jialiang, though to the Chinese he is still 刘家良.

The pinyin system has been China’s official international transliteration system since 1982 and Taiwan’s since 2009; it is the way forward, and harmonises names rather than dividing them, in much the same way as written Chinese transcends differences between spoken dialects.

Old (“archive”) reviews and articles have been pinyin-ised. When pinyin makes a well-known name look unfamiliar to the general reader, the better-known version is noted in square brackets for clarity (e.g. Liu Dehua [Andy Lau], Wu Yusen [John Woo]). It may sometimes look a bit clumsy, and needlessly academic, but for a site like Sino-Cinema it’s the only logical solution. As Greater China evolves, it’s become a Mandarin-speaking world – and for non-Chinese, hanyu pinyin is the expression of that world.

D.E.