A transliteration from Hokkien to Bahasa Indonesia, kang ouw means ‘rivers and lakes’ or jianghu (江湖) in Mandarin. The series inquires the imageries in wuxia films that Widjaja grew up watching in the 1980s through bootleg VHS tapes. They were officially banned in Indonesia during President Suharto’s New Order regime (1966 - 98), a period of systemic suppression of Chinese culture.
2022. Solo exhibition at the Esplanade Tunnel, Singapore. Curated by Lynda Tay. In-kind support by ShanghART Singapore. Singapore Art Week program.
2020. Moving image and book. Commissioned by the National Arts Council Singapore and Plural Art Mag for Our Heartlands.
2018-19. Solo exhibition at ShanghART Singapore. Supported by the National Arts Council. Singapore Art Week program.
2018. Solo exhibition at the Peninsula Shopping Centre, Singapore, I_S_L_A_N_D_S. Curated by Tan Pey Chuan. Singapore Art Week program.
2013. Group exhibition at 13 Wilkie Terrace, Singapore. Curated by Yen Phang.
An online talk by Stephen Teo, a scholar and writer of the wuxia film genre, presented by the Esplanade Visual Arts Centre and facilitated by Lynda Tay.
Chief Editor Christina J. Chua of so-far speaks to the artist on dislocation, memory, and the persistence of history.
In conjunction with Widjaja's solo presentation at indie space I_S_L_A_N_D_S, curator Pey Chuan Tan chats with Widjaja on his experience of the diasporic film genre wuxia growing up in Indonesia as a young child.
“...imagined changeless China held enormous appeal to ethnic Chinese audiences around the world. They found in Shaw Brothers films a China forever in the midst of all the political turmoil and personal displacements and with which they could continue to identify despite their life in the diaspora.”
Wuxia had its antecedents in Shanghai silent films in the 1920s, adapting and experimenting with the West’s advances in camera trickery and cinematic special effects to produce strange fantasies. Though the genre was propelled by technological advances, it ironically drew a backlash from the authorities for being feudalistic and anti-scientific, purveying immoral values of superstition and sex. By the mid 1930s, censorship and war brought the drastic decline of Shanghai’s film industry, causing many filmmakers to flee to British colony Hong Kong.
In the 1960s, a new cycle of Wuxia films was introduced by the Hong Kong cinema industry. In 1965, Shaw Brothers Studio trumpeted the “new Wuxia century”, and was a key producer of Wuxia films in the 1960s and 1970s. The studio had a markedly transnational strategy right from its beginnings. It originated in Unique Film Productions, founded in Shanghai, 1924. In the same year, Shaw Organisation was set up in Singapore to capture the Southeast Asian market, which they did with spectacular success. By 1939 they owned 139 cinemas across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Indochina; and by the 1970s, the chain had grown to 230 to include the territories of Japan, Australia and North America.
Since the 1920s, the diasporic audience that Shaw Brothers films played to spoke diverse dialects. As decades passed, latter diasporic generations were more disparate in their backgrounds and worldviews, and may not even speak their ancestors’ language. Their memories of homeland were received traditions mish-mashed with new constructions such as the imageries seen in Wuxia films. The latter had to satisfy an increasingly broader spectrum of audience.
“I make movies to satisfy the desires and hopes of my audience…They miss the homeland they have left behind and the cultural tradition they are still cherishing,” Run Run Shaw pointedly spoke of Shaw Brothers’ production strategy. It was a looping relationship. Shaw Brothers produced what their initial diasporic audience wanted – a dream homeland – and these imageries of dehistoricised space and time gradually supplanted the real geography that was left behind.
Circulating through diasporic spaces, wuxia films were mnemonic material, projections of history, fantasies, traditions and ideals that indulged the nostalgia of the diaspora. Globally popular, “the genre itself can be said to be schizophrenic”1, responding to trends and mutations, crossing over media, from literature to cinema to television and video games. Wuxia has been discussed in various contexts, including historicism, nationalism, transnationalism and orientalism2.
Although wuxia films are characterised by period settings, they are often de-historicised and hence anachronistic. Equally problematic is the sense of place in Wuxia. The geography of Wuxia is un-located, and its form relies much on diasporic fantasy. Cinematically, it is achieved through the technique of fragmentary spatial collage. Diasporic cinema academic Poshek Fu described Shaw Brothers3 films as capturing the “many geographies of a place, functioning as both medium and outcome of ‘splintering, colliding, and merging’ geographies of a place.”4
In the instance of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, director Lee Ang admitted that the cinematic place of the film existed only in “his boyhood fantasies”5; conceived in the deep recesses of personal and cultural memory. The un-located geography of wuxia is nonetheless felt, believed and culturally occupied by the diaspora.
- May 2015