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5 The Narrative (I): Melodrama as a Social Form

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Chapter Summary

This chapter analyzes how Mingxing directors and screenwriters told stories via the film medium. After their initial exploration of the documentary and slapstick genres, the Mingxing bosses ended up adopting the narrative genre. A major driving force for this 'narrative transition' was the phenomenal success of Orphan. The chapter discusses this particular film and the socio-cultural context that provided the fertile soil for the adoption and favorable reception of the melodramatic mode. A comparison of Orphan and Way Down East (dir. D. W. Griffith, 1920) further illustrates the global connections of Shanghai filmmaking. The study of Orphan shows how the marriage between melodrama and May Fourth ideas was rooted in the earliest practices of Chinese filmmaking. Melodrama as a social form was vital at this seminal moment. The chapter analyzes melodrama as a connecting point between Shanghai filmmaking and world film culture and between Chinese tradition and western-inspired new culture.

Keywords: Chinese filmmaking; Chinese tradition; Melodrama; Mingxing directors; narrative genre; Orphan; Shanghai filmmaking



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