Final paper

Write a research paper (9-10 pages, font 12, double space) to formulate an argument based on the films and issues we have studied in class. You can also choose to examines other Chinese films and related cultural issues not covered by our discussions.


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=== Writing Instruction and Some Suggested Topics ===

Writing academically about film: midterm paper and final paper

Academic writing

Academic writing essentially requires two elements: thesis (or argument) and evidence. The clip analysis assignments in the first half of the course are designed to give you practice in interpreting evidence — making use of film concepts and terminology, reading a sequence skillfully — and the most important element of the two paper assignments will be your development of a thesis.

Make your thesis, not the evidence you use to argue it, the centerpiece of your paper.

One particular way in which the papers will differ greatly from the close reading exercises is that here you should, as a general rule, avoid structuring your paper around the plot of the films you are discussing. Going through the films scene by scene is often a good way to review the material and come up with evidence, but it is not a good way to organize an academic paper. Rather, you should organize your paper around your thesis, bringing in evidence from the films and readings as your argument requires.

Formulate some question or problem that the thesis of your paper will answer, explore, or resolve.

The papers are your space to think on, and although suggested paper topics will be provided, always remember that you should not simply “answer” a question. For instance, if one of the topics asks you to “discuss the image of the female in three of the films we have seen so far,” you cannot just go through three movies “discussing” it by means of comparison and contrast. Rather, you should use the suggested topics to present, investigate and answer some “question” or problem of your own formulation. You might, for example, choose some aspect of the portrayal of the female and think about why it may be different in the three films you have chosen.

Likewise, you should not feel like you have to answer every question in a suggested topic. Draw out and develop a question that interests you.

Writing and Re-writing

Revising your first draft will almost certainly have a positive effect on your grade.

The most common shortcomings of written assignments — poor structure, weak thesis, bad grammar, etc. — are not really ‘writing’ problems, but ‘re-writing’ problems. That is, these are problems common to almost all first drafts, and the important thing is that you do not submit first drafts as finished work. If you have a friend or classmate who is interested in reading your paper, try to get his or her reactions to it — an outside eye is usually much clearer than one’s own.

For the midterm paper in particular, make your argument as narrow in focus as possible. Remember that an ‘argument,’ or thesis, should present some problem that you will explore. Below is an example of an opening paragraph that is considered less successful, from a paper arguing that the films (Crows and Sparrows, Farewell my Concubine, and Once Upon a Time in China ) are making statements about Chinese ethnicity and nationality:

From the Japanese soldiers in Farewell my Concubine to the Americans and British in Once Upon a Time in China, foreigners are conspicuously isolated from the masses of natives. In its choice to dislocate and juxtapose particular groups, the camera has often used nationality as the primary discriminating agent and thereby visually spelled out the notion of Chineseness as a national identity.


Good: the author has thought about how ideas are being dealt with cinematically

Needs Improvement: should view and discuss the films more carefully; film techniques should be considered more specifically; no clear thesis has been formulated.


At first glance, this may seem like a promising argument: the author identifies cinematic choices (“the camera”) and connects them to a broader thematic message (“the notion of Chineseness”). Yet much here needs improvement.

The main problem here is the conceptual weakness of the author’s argument. The terms in which the author frames his thesis — “foreigners,” “nationality,” “Chineseness,” “identity” — are under-defined. Is he using Mr. Ho as an example of “foreigner”? If so, what implications does this have for “the notion of Chineseness?” Is “Chinese” an ethnic or a national designation, or is there a difference? Had the author taken these sorts of questions into consideration, his thesis might have taken on the focus it needs.

When it comes time to write papers, don’t forget the close-reading skills you practiced during the semester. You can refine your thesis by continuing to pay close attention to cinematic detail.

Moreover, “the camera” is not really a useful film term — specifically which technical aspects is the author using to support his argument? Do different films use different techniques to segregate the nationalities, and are these differences reflective of various versions of nationality? More specific use of film language would have led to better close readings of the film, which would in turn have shaped a more reasoned thesis.

A checklist for completing the written assignments

Does my paper have a clearly stated thesis?
Is my thesis based on a question or problem that I am trying to solve? An argument I am trying to make?
Is there a clear and coherent structure to my paper? You should have an introduction that presents a thesis, body paragraphs that break the thesis into arguable parts and connect them fluidly, and a conclusion that furthers the significance of your point.
Have I avoided plot summary except where absolutely necessary to the point I am making?
Are my close readings of the evidence accurate and perceptive?
Do I make any unsupported generalizations? Remember that cultural generalizations (e.g., “Confucian culture”) are especially dangerous.
When I use secondary sources, have I understood them correctly? Does my use of these sources serve to enhance my argument (as context, as evidence, as counterargument, etc.)
Have I revised my paper? Remember that it’s always best if you can have someone else read through your paper and comment on it.


Common errors (Revise!)

Unfocused thesis
Insufficient evidence to support a point
Inaccurate close readings
Poor organization
Reliance on generalizations
Lack of in-depth analysis
Too much plot summary
Sloppy writing (grammar, spelling, syntax, etc.)


I listed some SUGGESTIVE essay questions. They are intended as larger questions in the context of which you are supposed to develop your own specific argument about the film(s) you choose for discussion. The sub-questions listed in each topic are meant to indicate the range of the topic and facilitate further thought on the subject; you do not need to cover every aspect suggested by the topic. After developing your argument, present it as convincingly and concretely as you can by referring to specific passages in the film(s) you have chosen to discuss as well as to the readings, when they may be appropriate to your discussion. Also pay attention to structuring your essay carefully. Please limit your essay to 3-4 pages (double spaced, 12 font sized pages). The nature of the assignment is a close, detailed analysis of an aspect of one (or specific scenes of two) film(s). Avoid plot summary and generalization – the more tightly defined the scope of your discussion, the better, since this is a short paper.

Think about the relationship of film to history in films such as Once Upon a Time in China, Farewell My Concubine, Yellow Earth. Choose ONE film we have seen and discuss issues of historical representation in film. (what is the purpose of the film to narrate or reexamine history? who narrates? does ‘truth’ matter in historical film?…)
Women’s role in Chinese film. Choose one or two films (Judou, The Goddess, Shanghai Baby, Farewell My Concubine, Yellow Earth…) we have seen and discuss how gender issues are examined in Chinese films and how female images are created.
The portrayal of urbanization/modernization in Chinese film. Choose one or two films (A Touch of Sin, Shanghai Baby, Comrades, Almost a Love Story…) and discuss how the issue of modern/post-modern urbanization is represented and examined in Chinese films.
Think about the issue of identity-searching of modern subjectivity as displayed on the Chinese screen, such as Cheng Dieyi’s struggles in Farewell My Concubine, Coco’s in Shanghai Baby, Xiaojun’s and Qiao’s in Comrades, Almost a Love Story respectively. Choose one or two films to discuss how one’s identity (social, cultural, gender…) is defined and explored in a modern society.
Think about scenes such as Master Yip’s duel in Once Upon a Time in China, and fighting in Beijing Bicycle, and the beating as punishment in Farewell My Concubine. Choose ONE film we have seen this semester and discuss the role that violence plays in that film. What is the context of these scenes within the film? How are the violent scenes constructed? What is the effect of these scenes on the audience? How can we understand it against a broader cultural historical background?
Do you see some Chinese film as a “national allegory?” Have the films we’ve seen this semester been expressions of “Chineseness”, Chinese cultural identity in some way or other? Elaborate your opinion on the relation between CHINESES FILM and CHINESE CULTURAL IDENTITY.


The relationship between politics and film in movies such as Yellow Earth and A Touch of Sin. Choose ONE to discuss how the film represents ‘the people’ and make film ‘for’ the people, as either a positive or negative to the Communist ideology?

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