Book: Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
Author: Tom Vick
For my first book review, I thought it would be fitting to do a review on a book about Asian cinema. The book, Asian Cinema: A Field Guide, is a book I have mixed feelings about for a couple of reasons that I will get into later, but for now, I’m going to focus on what the actual book has to say.
The book itself is divided into different sections that attribute films to a specific region or country. With that said, the book is quite in-depth when it comes to explaining how film came to life in that particular area, which is a great approach for showing the historical context that influenced the films of a given time period. Overall, the book has information about films from China, Japan, India, Hong Kong, Korea, Iran, Taiwan, South and Southern Asia (including Cambodia, Bangladesh, and many other countries), as well as a section that is comprised of Central Asian and Middle Eastern films. As one can see the book has a lot of material for one to cover and can be overwhelming at first if you have a strong intrests in Asian film in general instead of a wanting to learn of one country in general.
In these sections, there is an in-depth overview of film from its beginnings up to the day the book was published, which again is an expansive and rich history that is quite intriguing and interesting to avid film watchers. However, although I find production stories and little gimmicky things about directors interesting, it can be overwhelming. In these chapters, there is so much to work with, it almost feels that these sections are consolidated for that purpose, which is fine in the respect that the book has other sections, but I still feel that other parts have been completely left out. I noticed he tends to touch on mainstream Asian films more thoroughly than on independent small studio films that are less heard of by Westerners. I do understand that this is a beginners guide and that they should start with the more known films before preceding onwards into the films that are harder to find in order to interest the reader. With this tone set, its easier to get along with this behemoth of a book, and I’m not saying that I didn’t learn anything from this book, because there were movies I haven’t heard of, but I was expecting to read about more films that were less genre breaking and more like little gems that were being unveiled in front of me for the first time.
Although the book is more for people who are just getting into the Asian film genre, like I said before, it does a great job of providing the reader with a chronological history of films in that country or region. The things I learned about were quite gratifying and made me happy that I purchased this book.
Another draining quality of this book that is noticeable after a while is the fact that the writer tends to drop what he is talking about and begin to explain a movie’s plot without warning. This isn’t too bothersome until you realize he does it a lot. I understand that the book is titled Asian Cinema, however, the way he implements these short synopsis in the middle of explaining a studio cause the reading not to flow as gently as it could have. I wouldn’t let this small problem keep one from reading the book, but let’s just face it, some movies are not interesting to certain people, so be prepared to thumb through some sections of the book due to his long drawn out explanations of film plots that have randomly been jumbled into the middle of sections. Now, I’d admit there is a little bit of bias on my part here because the films I do find interesting I tend to read more closely and find enjoyment out of them. Especially since I’m a huge Wong Kar Wai fan, I found the section on him gratifying. It left me with a yearning to watch all of his movies I have in my collection again. However, I just wish he could have implemented the synopsis a little bit better
Overall, the book is a must own for someone who is interested in Asian cinema. I don’t care how knowledgeable the person is in the field of cinema because this book will have something in it that they can learn from. The book has its problems and limited appeal, and the writing style can eventually become tiresome, however, if one keeps in mind that they can hold onto this book and use it as a reference or as a gargantuan list of movies, the book becomes the holy grail of Asian cinema. Just remember to read it in small doses. Another quick and painless feature this book has to offer is a list of different websites and books that can help the reader discover more about Asian films.
The author of Asian Cinema: A Field Guide, Tom Vick, currently works at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution. He often helps arrange for the showing of Asian films at the Freer Museum such as Red Cliff, Ashes of Time Redux, Ip Man and many others and somehow every time I’m in Washington D.C. I miss the showing by a day or two.