Seeing Whale Rider in an Asian context

After some years since first I first saw Whale Rider (Niki Caro, New Zealand, 2002) I watched it again recently, and apart from the obvious pleasures of such a well-made and moving film, something struck me which might be extrapolated to reveal something of a pattern of film writing from the same broad geographic region.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that its central themes are challenges to long-standing traditions in the societies represented and the conflicts between traditions and modernity. What struck me in my reflections of these, after seeing this movie again, was how common this thread seems to run through a some Asian films. Without thinking too hard one could cite from Yojimbo (Kurosawa, Japan, 1963) to In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 2000), Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, India, France Germany, US, 2001) to Red Sorghum (Zang Yimou, China, 1987). I wonder why this preoccupation seems particular to the Asia-Pacific region and what might account for it.

In other regions of the world there seems to be little consistency in terms of a thematic backdrop, or at least it doesn’t seem as significant, for example in many Latin American films the backdrop might be seen as integration within and alienation from a community, and, in what limited African Cinema I’ve seen there seems to offer either a gritty social realism or hankers after the imaginative richness of personal and community mythologies, the very best offering both. But in neither case are these the thematic basics of so many stories.

In European film one does encounter similar thematic issues, but usually as they impact on immigrant communities who have often originated in Asia, a good(ish) example might be be Bend it like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, UK, 2002) or Bhaji on the beach (Gurinder Chadha, UK, 1987). So why might this be?

To be frank the scope of any explanation is likely to be far to lengthy or detailed to be explored in a short blog post like this one, but it might make a darned good independent study.

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