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A man with Chinese characters painted on his face.

Kwaidan, a film of four Japanese ghost stories, is one of 11 Asian movies being screened this summer in Nolte Center. The film series is free and open to the public.

Asian cinema at the U

U's Institute for Advanced Study hosts Asian film series on Twin Cities campus

By Pauline Oo

July 11, 2006

Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are household names in the United States. But in recent years, other Asian actors, and even Asian directors--who are largely behind-the-scenes--have made their mark with film critics and the movie-viewing public.

Zhang Ziyi, for instance, beguiled us as the willful young heroine of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--winner of four Academy Awards, including best foreign language film in 2001. Ziyi also appeared in House of Flying Daggers--a Golden Globe contender for best cinematography in 2004. Both Asian films with dialogue in Mandarin became international successes. Crouching Tiger, alone, grossed $128 million in the United States--quite a feat considering foreign-language films are rarely embraced by the American public. Recently, Ang Lee, director of Crouching Tiger and, most recently, Brokeback Mountain, was named among its 100 "people who shape our world."

Every Thursday through August 31, the University of Minnesota's Institute for Advanced Study presents an Asian film at 7 p.m. in 125 Nolte Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. Admission to the Asian film series is free and refreshments are served. Christine Marran, event organizer and associate professor of Asian Languages and Literatures, which is cosponsoring the series, says the idea behind the film series comes from her department wanting "to give students an opportunity to look at films from Asia while they are taking Asian languages." This summer, the U's Asian Languages and Literatures department offers a host of classes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Hmong. This year's Asian film series includes three films in Japanese, three in Cantonese, three in Korean, and two in Hindi. (Next up: on July 13, Korean film Old Boy and on July 20, the Japanese Bounce Ko Gals.)

"[Students] are our primary audience," says Marran, who teaches a course in Asian film and animation. "But we also wanted to provide a place for people in the community to see more Asian films. There are just so few that come through the Twin Cities, and there's really a need in the community."

"We can no longer think of Asia as being there," she adds. "Asia is here. Asia is in our community, and it's such an integral part of our life. It's changing the way the economic system works, the way art looks, and how we think about literature, and Asian films are changing how we think about films. All we have to do is look at films like A Chinese Ghost Story or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,and we'll see what a huge impact they're already having on Hollywood and U.S. films and filmmaking."

Marran handpicked the 11 films being screened this summer from her department's DVD collection--more than 200 to date--with input from her colleagues and faculty members in the women's studies department.

IAS collaboratives

The Asian Film Collaborative is one of six collaborative and interdisciplinary working groups within the Institute on Advanced Study (IAS). The others are "Art as Knowing," "Asian/Asian American Bodies in Performance," "Politics of Populations," "Theorizing Early Modern Studies," and "Science/Nature/Culture." Proposals for these research and creative collaboratives--which can be made up entirely of faculty or faculty and students--are sought each year by IAS, and those that are selected receive funding from the institute for various activities, ranging from informal discussions and structured presentations to concerts and film screenings. The current Asian film fest is part of the Asian Film Collaborative.

To learn more about each 2005-06 collaborative, visit IAS.

"It's good for us to have some background and some understanding of Asian films so that we can better interpret the influence of Asian films on US filmmaking," says Marran. "By having a familiarity with Asian films, we can then also be more critical of pseudo Asian films like Memoirs of a Geisha or Last Samurai. We can come to understand how much of an American fantasy those are."

In conjunction with the series, IAS and its Asian Film Collaborative (see sidebar) will show one Asian documentary every Thursday evening during the fall semester. Thus far, the line up includes 14 Taiwanese films, 20 Chinese films, and a few from Tibet. Additionally, from November 2 to 4, IAS will host "DocuLens Asia," a mini festival that will include presentations by six Asian documentary filmmakers and two panel discussions on topics such as filmmaking in Asia and political concerns that can arise in documentary filmmaking.

"There is already an interest in global cinema out there, but the problem is access--people don't really have an opportunity to watch it," says Marran. "What we're trying to do is begin creating the University as a central place for viewing foreign film, and especially Asian film. I think it's important for the U to engage in providing venues for the community for exploring art and film."

For more information about the U's curent Asian film series, visit the Institute for Advanced Study.