March 25th (Wednesday) Mia Liu, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Asian Studies, Bates College
Peepshow and Fortunetelling: The Peach Girl (1931) and its Contesting Visual Fields
In 1931, a film titled The Peach Girl (dir. Bu Wancang) was a box office sensation in Shanghai and beyond. A love story between a rich boy from the city and a poor girl from the country turns tragic, However, while the story is rather trite, the film offers a fascinating study of vision and opticality: it includes sequences of voyeur, peepshow, photography view-finding, and fortune-telling (gazing into future). This paper attempts to argue that through such a curating of both pre-modern and modern modes of seeing, the film asserts itself (cinema) as a visual device capable of synthesis and reconciliation. While peepshows and photography can afford special (in)sight into the present, the traditional gaze and gimmicks can help peer into the past and the future. But in the film, such temporal designation is negated and dissolved. This is cinema at its most smug, believing itself poised to break the barriers of temporality of vision. And if temporal differences are dissolved, so might be the barriers between genders, social structure, popular and avant-garde art, or even tradition and modernity.
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