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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: December 2020

11 - Pure Love?: Sanitized, Gendered and Multiple Modernities in Chinese Cinemas



This chapter explores through the prism of three highly popular romantic movies Love Is Not Blind (China, 2011), You Are the Apple of My Eye (Taiwan, 2011), and Love in a Puff (Hong Kong, 2010), performances or mediations of what is termed sanitized modernities, modernities that are cleansed from all dirt, pollution and impurity that constitutes the everyday. The movies share the desire to polish the real to a level that it shines, that its surface becomes smooth and touchable, the city transparent, and our movements within it sophisticated and swift. The films articulate different modernities. In Love Is Not Blind, the velocity of the modern, propelling ever more conspicuous consumption, is confronted. This compressed modernity that Chinese youth is currently facing produces both a desire for as well as anxiety over a modern lifestyle. In Taiwan, it is a nostalgia for high school days that is most pertinent, and as such the movie gestures towards the past: youth is being idealized. We are confronted here with what we can term a kawaii modernity, saturated with cuteness, soft-focus shots, and a profoundly romantic structure of feeling. This can be linked to the current political situation of Taiwan as a country that is struggling to retain its position and identity vis-à-vis a China that is gaining power so quickly on the global stage. This predicament is amplified in Hong Kong. Here, we witness a postcolonial anxiety, one that in real life had the Umbrella Movement as its somewhat later political articulation. In the movie we see characters negotiating what we can term a pragmatic modernity, in which young people navigate through the city and quest for their demands by taking over back alleys, by avoiding surveillance and by gaining more space in the private realm, although they ultimately surrender.

Keywords: Chinese cinemas, modernities, purity, romance

Is there hope? Rubbish dump! Is there hope? Rubbish dump!

– He Yong, ‘Rubbish Dump’ (1992)

When 25-year-old Yuan Yuan picked me up with his Volkswagen Beetle in 2011 to go for a drink in Beijing, I realized how much had changed in just two decades. The Beetle has now, for some, replaced the bike, bus or the yellow ‘bread taxi,’ the name of the latter referring to its bread-like shape.