SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Cinema, Nation and Transcultural Asia

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year
Within critical discourse until the late-1980s, ‘national cinema’ has often been defined and posited in terms of the ‘other’ of Hollywood and as such, it has often been located within high/low culture debates that sought to elevate cinema to ‘high culture’ status centred on the ‘art house’ cinema circuit. Alternatively, elementary discourses stemming from notions of ‘cultural imperialism’ have considered the ‘negative’ influences (both cultural and financial) of Hollywood on local production.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The principal objectives of this module are to assess the concept of ‘national cinema’ in the Asian context, first challenging the traditional Eurocentric development of film studies and second, proposing an alternative trans-regional perspective for the study of the relationship between cinema and the Asian nations in the age of globalisation. This methodological approach analyses ‘national cinema’ as social practice, while taking account of the hybrid nature of the medium through a study of cross-cultural connections. From the context of recent critical debates on the transnational nature of cinema, this line of thought is extended to question the existing paradigms that define ‘national cinema’ in the simplistic terms of geographical production.

These objectives will be framed within an initial discussion of the context of cinema as a western technological invention that was imported into Asian countries, and a consideration of the historicity of the juncture in time when it was invented. Cinema began in the age of Freudian psychoanalysis, the rise of nationalism and the emergence of consumerism (Shohat and Stam 1996), and as Comolli (1986) reminds us, the development of the camera obscura as a ‘machine’ was not neutral but came imbued with certain ideological assumptions that underpinned its development.

Where possible, classes will be ‘learner-centred’ and styled as directed workshops with some lecture content. As such, students will be assigned weekly readings and attend formal weekly film viewings. will also be directed to additional supporting films for private viewing.


Total of 20 weeks teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture, 1 hour seminar/tutorial and 2 hour film screening.

Scope and syllabus

In practical terms, the module will be divided into two discrete segments corresponding to the two academic terms. Term one will take up historical, theoretical and methodological issues relevant to the study of ‘national cinemas’ in general, while the second term will centre on the increasingly transcultural nature of the aesthetic cutting across the cinemas of Asia.

Topics covered include:

  1. Introduction to national cinema in Asia. Challenging the Eurocentric approach to film history. Orientalism and hegemonic discourses in cinema. Representation of modernity and the new femininity in East Asia.
  2. The limits of National Cinema. The local/global debate. Global cinema and transnational co-productions. Changes in technologies of production, distribution and exhibition. Asian Diasporas and film. Plurinational Realities.
  3. Marketing Asian Nations. Commercial Appropriation of the ‘National Cinema’. Exporting Asia to the World. Re-invention of cultural forms.
  4. Asian art house cinema: Art cinema, Third Cinema and Accented Cinema. The relation between European art cinema and Asian film cultures. The aesthetic and institutional frameworks of ‘third cinema’ and ‘accented cinema’ as alternatives to the ideals of art cinema. Realism and subjectivity. The non-fiction film in Asia.

Method of assessment

An essay of 3,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 2 (40%); an essay of 4,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 3 (60%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive film and reading list will be made available to students at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules