(Re: this post) Why is Asian cinema of the past ten years so important? What are the highlights? Where are they relative to American cinema?
Asian cinema has broken more new ground recently than any other. They take more risks, they explore strange and original themes, and they do it all very well. There is no doubt in my mind that the next generation of film makers will be profoundly influenced by Asian movies that have gone over the heads of most movie watchers. There's a whole new world of movies out there that many people, even many movie watchers, aren't aware of.
Some key films I recommend:
- Election and Election 2, Johnnie To - Anything by Wong Kar Wai, of course. Esp. In the Mood for Love - Yi Yi , Edward Yang (I actually haven't seen this, but it's supposed to be unbelievable. I'm watching it soon.) - Most Hou Hsiao-Hsien movies - The Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, and pretty much anything by Zhang Yimou - I've seen two movies by Katsuhito Ishii--Funky Forest and The Taste of Tea and they were both really great. Funky in particular is incredible.
The question to me is, why is it so great? I have a couple of theories. First, in Taiwan, a hotbed of film culture, the minimum budget that a movie is made with is $500K, sponsored by the government. This allows film makers there the resources to explore their ideas without worrying about financial stuff, which, as cliche as it is, is one major problem with American movies. It's a business, and there's little getting around that. Someone's gotta put up the money.
My other theory is that the freshness and originality in Asian cinema is manifesting itself now because these countries are becoming more open. It's no accident that with Asian cinema, Iranian and Eastern European cinema are also being held in high regard nowadays. These cultures are also opening up, albeit slowly in some cases.
Re: the relationship between American and Asian cinema: I'm sure that there are some aspects of the Asian movie industry that are shared with early/developing American cinema. I don't really know what they are; I haven't looked into that question much. The main differences as I see them are that American movies as a whole are a business that caters to the lowest common denominator in some ways--think Pearl Harbor or any movie starring Marting Lawrence. Movies are a business in Asia also, obviously, but the hilarious thing is that their audiences are wealthy enthusiasts and the festival crowds all over the world. These amazing Asians directors I mentioned above are largely ignored in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The audiences there are busy watching Black Knight or whatever. I may be wrong about that, but the evidence certainly seems to point that direction.