Our current globalizing world is experiencing an unprecedented rate and scale of technological development and media updating. With Twitter or Facebook friends, familiar or new, in America or Asia, broadcasting diverse daily lives and sharing links to unimagined information, how might an individual brace against this overwhelming wave of information without getting swept away and losing a sense of time, identity, and direction in life in the act of easy connecting? Other than the necessary technical knowledge of codes and skills, how might a student—as a young person with much potential and promise that needs to be tapped carefully and wisely—learn to emerge out of that ocean of information and demand in order to become an ably equipped navigator of contemporary life, not merely as a user, consumer or tourist but more as an informed traveller and a capable creator of good technologies? The latter image, in my understanding, is what the official strategic plan of Georgia Tech identifies as one of our five goals: graduating “good global citizens.”
With its necessary combination of arts and technologies, the field of cinema and media studies is doubtless a highly productive place for the education of students as intelligent citizens capable of seeing through films and other cultural products as complex artifacts involving not only technology and industry but also culture and politics. On one hand, students are exposed to the most famous and aesthetically accomplished films and directors from all over the world. They learn the essential terminology/technology—e.g., narrative, mise-en-scène, cinematography, and editing—whose varied uses have created such fascinating yet diverse styles by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Michelangelo Antonioni, Yimou Zhang, and others. On the other hand, they explore questions like: why did the genre of film noir—with its nights, shadows, and rainy streets even when set in Los Angeles—happen to reach its fullest development at no other historical moment than the mid-to-late 1940s? Why in Hitchcock’s stories of murder do we tend to find images of an eye, a whirlpool, a man who knows too much and a woman who knows even better? What kind of culturally and/or historically specific understanding of architecture, space and existence lies in the long takes of Antonioni (Italy), the grid-like formal structure in Yasujiro Ozu (Japan), and the unforgettable choreography of colors in Yimou Zhang (China)? How and why did a certain director and/with a certain style happen to take form at a certain moment in world history? Obviously, questions like these demand an understanding of not only the textual details of a film, a director or a genre but also the contextual factors that informed their birth and growth. Through such guiding and training practices in the analysis and appreciation of films as organic products of culture and history, it is my goal to cultivate in the students an augmented sensitivity for form and beauty, an enriching curiosity for the fuller pictures of phenomena (whether cultural, social or natural), and a deep desire and respect for what one does not yet know or know fully enough.
Wherever their home country is (though understandably with the majority from the US), the students of Georgia Tech are being prepared and encouraged to be at home in the world […]
As a member of the film faculty in LMC, I both teach general film courses and specialize in East Asian film studies. Whether speaking about Chinese martial arts cinema, or world-famous filmmakers from East Asia, or the theoretical (yet also highly applicable) subject of space and place in cinema and media, I am committed to cultivating in the students a sense of comfort, confidence, and curiosity for non-Western cultural contents, forms, and patterns. Whether from East or West, the young adults of Georgia Tech deserve to be exposed to the very best. Wherever their home country is (though understandably with the majority from the US), the students of Georgia Tech are being prepared and encouraged to be at home in the world, being able to actively participate in its continual development as well-informed, well-prepared and healthily motivated insiders.
With that universalist educational goal in mind, in my various courses on East Asian and world cinema I tend to adopt a comparative approach. For example, in my Martial Arts Cinema course, I provide a survey of the history and theory of Chinese martial arts cinema and its international extrapolations in the context of transnational cinema. While it focuses on representative films, directors and performers from Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in a largely chronological framework, it also introduces samples from Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.. For their projects students are encouraged to bring in relevant examples from any national cinema.
I also teach Space in Cinema and Media, a course specifically developed with the goal of inspiring students to think and explore their actual relationship with the world, which ranges from their current position at Georgia Tech near downtown Atlanta, their daily environment saturated with entertainment and social media as well as educational technologies, to their imagined or tentatively constructed relationship with other places, cultures, and histories, etc.. That course uses examples from cinema and introduce students to contemporary theories of spatiality. The students and I consider the architectural, aesthetic, historical, narrative, physical, psychological, philosophical, social, and symbolic dimensions of the course subject, and examine how these might be mobilized productively to understand and describe space, its functions in cinema and media, and ways in which we as spectators, users, and critical subjects can relate to and learn from all those things.
As I have emphasized to the students in the classroom, I hope they will take the knowledge and questions thus learned and raised, continuing onto their own journey in education, work and life as curious, informed, and brave travelers. In their navigation through the competing allures and demands in life, I hope they will be able to create a most enriching itinerary or pattern—the map of their life—along which they are able to relate and contribute to the world and live their lives to the fullest.