In the West, there is a fascination with Asia that goes back a long way (we could probably go back to the time of Marco Polo). But it is a certain idea of Asia that is the basis for this infatuation and this idea is very well represented by the current crop of big spectacle films such as The Last Samurai , Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Hero. These films have in common the presentation of an ideal China or Japan such as it exists in our imagination. And they’re all great in playing with extraordinarily beautiful visuals that reinforce this image. Zen landscapes and ideals mix with legend, temples and martial arts to present an immensely seductive dreamscape of Asia. But we have to remember that this is really Hollywood at it’s best.
I remember being in Japan at the time of the release of The Last Samurai and discussing it with Japanese colleagues. They all thought the movie was a giant joke and absolutely not representative of anything even remotely approaching historical reality. For them, this ideal vision of the Samurai never existed. They were just brutal, cruel and oppressive warlords whom’s passing nobody regrets. A common trait of Japanese and Chinese people is that they are, for the most part, forward looking people. The future is what interests them and they really don’t romanticize the past like we tend to do. I think this contributes to their dynamism but I love “our” romantic Asia and will keep watching for the next big film that will contribute to this mythology.