Between Ontology and Hauntology: Magic Realism in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

Mei Gao


In the 2010s, Chinese independent cinema witnessed the rise of young filmmakers such as Bi Gan, Yang Chao, and Cai Chengjie who have sought alternative representations of reality through an aesthetic practice best described as cinematic magic realism. By materializing ghosts, engaging with the spectral, and complicating received notions of time, space, and identity, their films adopt and reinterpret conventions of magic realism to explore personal, spiritual, and social realities beyond those that preoccupied their predecessors. Noting the prevalence of the ghostly in recent Chinese magic realist cinema, this article critically evaluates a theoretical approach that links cinematic magic realism with Jacques Derrida's concept of hauntology through the analysis of two representative works, Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues (2016) and Cai Chengjie’s The Widowed Witch (2018). This comparative analysis will also highlight two distinctive ways magic realism is used in Chinese cinema today, namely, as an alternative form of critical realism and as a representational strategy for the previously unpresentable. As these films are magic realist in idiosyncratic ways, they not only illustrate the versatility and universality of the magic realist mode but also attest to the divergent creative interests of Chinese filmmakers today.


Spectrality; Magic realism; Chinese Cinema; Cinematic realism; Bi Gan; Kaili Blues

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Journal of Communication and Languages |  ISSN 2183-7198

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.