‘Best film of the last 25 years’ debuts at UK: Ongoing ArtsAsia festival hosts Chinese favorite

By: Sarah Owsley

Admirers of Chinese culture can go see a film favorite for the first time on UK’s campus Tuesday night.

The popular Chinese film, Yellow Earth, will debut in White Hall Classroom Building as a free feature for the ongoing 2011 ArtsAsia festival.

The film, debuting on behalf of the College of Arts and Sciences’ new half semester Year of China course: “Passport to China: Global Issues, Local Understanding,” is an important film for understanding China, said the assistant director of the Asia Center at UK, Shana Herron.

“It is a visually stunning film,” Herron said. “The story is set in 1939, so the filmmakers are looking back at pre-Communist China and examining hard peasant living against a harsh and yellow earth landscape … in some ways wondering if the Communist promise of better life has made things better.”

“Yellow Earth,” which debuted in 1984, was named “Best Film” of the last 25 years in Asiaweek’s 25th edition: “Best of Asia” in 2000, and it came in at number four on the 100 Best Chinese Motion Picture at the 24th Hong Kong Film awards in 2005.

“The Yellow Earth is the first film I show in my contemporary Chinese film class,” said Liang Luo in an email to the Kernel. Luo is an assistant professor of Chinese culture and literature at UK. “It is a foundational work and provides a new visual language for contemporary Chinese filmmaking.”

Luo said the importance of the film extends well beyond filmmaking.

The use of the figure of “father” in the film creates a dialogue between filmmaking and oil painting, as one of the most important breakthrough in contemporary Chinese visual art is Luo Zhongli’s 1980 oil painting “Father,” Luo said. “For the first time, an ordinary peasant’s portrait was featured on a grand canvas, a privilege only reserved for Mao in the past.”

Yellow Earth shows the difficulty of breaking away from tradition and desiring change, said Luo.

“The Yellow Earth is avant-gardist both in terms of content and form,” Luo said. “It violates many of the prescribed conventions regarding positive heroes in socialist realist literature and filmmaking, and provides a new visual language for a new generation of filmmakers.”

UK Asia Center’s website quotes The Case for Global Film calling it “one of the most important films to appear in the 1980s, not just in China, but in the whole of global cinema.”

The ArtsAsia festival is organized by the UK Asia Center and the UK College of Fine Arts, and includes everything from musical performances to art workshops and film showings.

“Yellow Earth” will be shown at 5 p.m. Tuesday in room 118 of White Hall Ckassroom Building. For more information about the film and other ArtsAsia events, go to UK’s Asia Center website uky.edu/center/asia.