Chinese cinema and culture – Week 12

I’m becoming a Mandarin-language cinephile! What made me think of this was realizing that I’ve recently seen three movies with the same actress, the beautiful Zhang Ziyi. I saw Memoirs of a Geisha years ago (which is in English and Japanese), but as part of my experiment I’ve seen Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (again), and most recently the film that first made her famous, The Road Home. The other realization was watching a clip of a Chinese version of America’s Got Talent, and actually knowing one of the judges—Jet Li! I’ve recently seen two of his movies—Hero and Fearless.

zhang_ziyi jet_li

Compared to true cinema aficionados, of course, I’ve actually seen very few movies. However, because I generally watch few movies and almost no television, I think it’s quite likely that a few years from now I will be as or more familiar with Chinese cinema and television culture than with the corresponding American or Brazilian entertainment cultures! That will be funny.

I took this week off work to stay close to my son, who is hospitalized. Pretty much my only entertainment was Chinese, so I got a lot of viewing in! I watched The Road Home, a simple but beautiful love story, Fearless, a cool kung fu movie loosely based on a true story, and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, a movie about a Japanese father going to China to fulfill a wish of his dying son and thus reconnect with him. This latter movie is partly in Japanese and partly in Mandarin, so it only counted about half time toward my viewing.

road_home fearless Riding_Alone_for_Thousands_of_Miles

I’ve already purchased two more movies on Amazon—House of Flying Daggers (which also features Zhang Ziyi) and a 2013 movie, A Touch of Sin. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

Sometime soon, I’m going to make a table of Chinese movies I’ve watched with notes and ratings as a resource for other students of Mandarin.

Watching these movies is giving me real insight into Chinese culture. Here’s a silly little example. I’ve come to realize that it is considered acceptable or comical to show snot coming out of people’s noses in China! I’ve seen it a few times in Boonie Bears, then in Journey to the West, and most recently in Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. It this important? In itself, no, but it’s the kind of thing that I would probably never learn in a textbook or from a Chinese teacher. And this kind of understanding, added to a thousand other little insights (some hopefully more significant) will give me a better appreciation of a vastly different culture, which is the entire context of this radically different language.

Through April 12, I’ve watched a total of nearly 47 hours of Mandarin, averaging 32.5 minutes a day. Amazingly, on April 3, my daughter Camila Daya actually caught up to me on total viewing, but this week she fell behind again, and is undecided about continuing with the experiment. I told her it’s not particularly important and it’s entirely up to her. She spent 6 days with zero viewing, and then watched 4 episodes of Boonie Bears yesterday.

I believe I’m continuing to increase my comprehension. It’s only a new word or two per movie that I definitely pick up, but I also recycle a lot of vocabulary and, I imagine, get more and more accustomed to cadence, tonality, and so forth. And who knows what my subconscious mind is doing.

When I watch films, I don’t try to cover up the English subtitles. I probably will in the future. But I also don’t pause the movies and play scenes over and over to try to match subtitles to words. Even so, the subtitles do help me learn certain words, but in the long run they may actually slow me down, since they distract me from paying full attention to what is being said. While it’s certainly different from watching videos without subtitles, as I’ve said before I don’t think it fundamentally alters the experiment. I am simply getting some added context. It is similar to what I planned to do from the outset (but haven’t yet), which is watch Western movies that I already am familiar with in Mandarin, because the added context will similarly make it easier to follow meaning and pick up new words.


8 thoughts on “Chinese cinema and culture – Week 12

  1. Greta Browne says:

    I like the Boonie Bears photo at the top of the post. Plus it’s neat to see other photos and posters – keep them coming.

  2. Luca says:

    Ok Victor, I caught you up. I was wondering, after done your experiment, will you start Chinese in a more “old fashion way”? I mean taking reading or writing classes. I am just curious.

  3. Author says:

    Since this listening experiment will take several years, I haven’t planned the next steps yet.

    However, I believe that after finishing it, I will want to continue my studies of Mandarin. I’m guessing I will design a new experiment for a speaking phase, somewhat shorter than the listening phase (since I hope my accumulated knowledge from the videos will help me learn to speak more quickly). After that, I will want to learn to read and write with Chinese characters. So my studies of Chinese will probably have 3 steps: (1) this listening experiment, (2) a speaking phase, (3) learning to read and write Chinese characters.

    It’s worth noting that, if not for the experimental nature of the project, I would definitely do steps 1 and 2 together, and probably start step 3 soon as well. In other words, I believe in combining language skills as one learns, but am separating them in this case in order to isolate variables.

    What I highly doubt I will do is adopt truly “old fashioned” methods, such as grammar study, translations, vocabulary lists, rote exercises, and so on. I do not think these are effective or time efficient.

    How are your studies of Chinese structured?

  4. Luca says:

    My situation is a bit different because I study Chinese at university. I think in English you would call it “Master’s degree” (laurea magistrale) and in school we just read articles or translate stuff or discuss about some topics.
    And I have got exams…

    As for me I watch videos like you, most of the time dramas, or try to find as many Chinese buddies as I can so I can practise speaking.
    When it goes to learn new words, I think a situation (a context) and figure how I would react and learn sentences that I might consider useful. And then write them down in my agenda.

    For writing I use the social Lang-8 and let some natives correct the paper for me.
    Nothing new I would say.
    Basically I try to be surrounded by the language in the everyday life and try to use it as much as I can, like make my shopping list in Chinese!

    • Author says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a good approach. In particular, seeking out natives to speak with and to correct your writing, along with watching videos. By the way, are you reading and writing Chinese characters? Simplified, classical? I’m actually quite ignorant on this subject.

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