Envisioning Hero-ism: Wenyi Biopic in Republican Cinema

In the standard historiography of Republican cinema, biopic is not a prominent genre. Yet in the late 1930s, biopic began to attract critics’ and audiences’ attentions due to the large amount of foreign productions imported to China. Following the foreign practices, Chinese wenyi biopic (wenyi zhuanji pian 文藝傳記片) began to appear in the 1940s in order to promote a new character of Chinese people in response to the crisis in China. Facing the invasion of Japan, film practitioners hoped to agitate Chinese audience through heroic stories in Chinese history to fight against the foreign enemies. Longing for this extraordinary kind of heroism, the literati sought revitalization of their home country through the figures embodying hero-ism (yingxiong zhuyi 英雄主義) in wenyi film. A particular type of hero-ism can be found in Chinese wenyi biopics in the 1930s and 1940s. In these film, the heroes were expressed in term of wen (the literary), wu (the military) and other types of quality that were meant to reformulate the national character. This paper traces the discourse of hero-ism in relation to wenyi biopic in response to the question of national character, an idea which had been rigorously debated in the Republican time. Fei Mu’s Confucius (Kongfuzi 孔夫子, 1940) will be used as an example for the interrogation of hero-ism and wenyi biopic, and re-energization of the national character. I situtate this wenyi biopic into its specific historical context to see how heroism was suggested during the anti-Japanese war.

Track: 

  • East Asian Studies