Digitizing the non-human: Chinese fantasy film and media in the Anthropocene

2022-present Principal Investigator, General Research Fund, “Digitizing the Non-human: Chinese Fantasy Film and Media in the Anthropocene” (Award Year: 2021/22, project number: 14601421), HKD429,209 (USD55,000), 01/01/2022-31/12/2023.

Our time of the Anthropocene is witnessed by the disappearance of landscapes such as rainforest and glaciers, and the extinction or diminishing of wild animals and plants. Paradoxically, they—along with exotic landscapes, otherly worlds, unnatural weather, fantastical creatures and non-human characters—have proliferated on big and small screens with the aid of computer graphic imagery (CGI) technology. Among this global wave of cinematic spectaculars, fantasy audiovisual works, or qihuan yingshi, have gained enormous popularity in the past two decades and are now a recognizable industry genre in China and Hong Kong. Analyzing the burgeoning and digitally-enhanced representations of the nonhuman worlds and characters in contemporary Chinese film, television and animation, this proposed project offers a new reading of fantasy media as an aesthetic experience of the Anthropocene. The proposed project contributes to existing studies in three ways. First, this project expands on recent scholarship on cinema and the Anthropocene by stressing the more-than-human dimension of Chinese fantasy cinema, which constructs or calls into question the meaning of human and humanity. It also supplements the existing scholarship on Chinese ecocinema, which tends to focus on documentaries or fictions that rely on realism as a major aesthetic repertoire. Second, by focusing on contemporary Chinese qihuan/fantasy media that engages the supernatural and the non-human, the project not only offers a discussion that complements as well as contrasts with the fantastic genre in the Euro-American context; it also offers a historically informed vision on the Chinese fantastic in the context of century-long censorship of the supernatural on Chinese screens in the name of modernity and progress. Exploring the imagination of the fantastic in the Chinese context, the project enriches the understanding of the Anthropocene, currently a predominantly Western concept that deals with periodization of the planet as a result of Western-styled modernization. Third, Digitizing the non-human delves into how digital technology, especially CGI, is not just a supportive tool but an active force influencing how we imagine our condition of the Anthropocene. In particular, it examines the cultural meanings of digital visual effects and animation in the context of the Anthropocene. 


在人類世時代,我們目睹了雨林、冰川等地理景觀的消逝,以及大量野生動植物的滅絕。然而在數碼技術的幫助下,這些消失中的風景與動植物,連同奇異世界、奇幻生物和非人類角色,越來越多地出現在大大小小的屏幕上。在這波全球性的奇觀浪潮中,奇幻類影視作品於過去的二十年收穫了大量人氣,在中國內地和香港形成了極具特色的產業類型。本研究將分析當代華語電影、電視和動畫中與日俱增的非人類角色與他們生活的環境,並將這些角色與空間置於人類世的審美視野之中,藉此為奇幻研究提供新的解讀。 首先,該研究將擴展人類世與電影的研究,通過華語奇幻影視中人類以外的維度來反觀人類與人文的意義。過去華語生態電影研究往往側重真實環境佈景的紀錄片和寫實主義的劇情片,而本研究則將數碼虛擬場景的分析引入這一研究圖景。其次,該研究關注當代華語奇幻作品中的超自然現象與非人類角色,與歐美語境下的奇幻研究形成補充和對照。人類世的概念指由西方式現代化導致的地球分期,而本研究在中國語境中探索奇幻想像,這將豐富我們對人類世的理解。同時,本研究將奇幻影視置於華語電影具體的歷史脈絡之中。一個多世紀以來,以現代化、科學進步為名對銀幕上的超自然現象的審查從未休止。第三,數位技術不僅僅是一種技術工具,本研究將探討它如何影響大眾對人類世環境的想象,以及這一技術如何形塑人類世背景下數位視覺效果及動畫作品的文化意義。 人類世作為一種媒介化的建構,其美學原則是由數碼電影技術塑造的。本研究將利用影視產業研究數據和資料,通過對影視媒體製作人、視覺效果設計師、動畫藝術家的採訪,結合影視作品的文本分析,探討人類世的媒體理論框架。