Love: A Cross-Cultural Understanding.

Meet the Partners

To break the ice between the group I asked the following questions which I hope for you to keep in mind as you examine our different points of view.

1.    Tell us about yourself
2.    What were your favorite films growing up (can be from any country)
3.    What recent films you’ve watched (can be from any country)

Name: 刘彬彬 (Liu Binbin)

1.I am a 2th year English major at Beijing Normal University. I am from Sandong province and now living in Beijing. I haven’t figured out what I want to become in the future yet, but maybe a translater can be a good choice. Drawing is one of my favorate things. I can spend several hours sitting in front of the table and draw a catoon character. Besides, I love music very much, especially light music.

2. When I was a child, I love to watch action films and  horror movies. I prefer Jackie Chan‘s films. He is really a wonderful action performer. As for now, I like suspense films. I think it is a bit of challenging.

3.The latest film I watched was a suspense film called EXAM, derected by  Stuart Hazeldine. It was pretty fun. It  illuminates people’s humanities.

Name: Emma Bao

1. I am an English major in Beijing Normal University and I minor in International Economics and Trade. I expect to study Marketing after I graduate. I LOVE watching American TV shows. I spend plenty of time on the shows. How I Met Your Mother is my favorite!!! Actually, I don’t like watch movies or Chinese TV shows.
2. I like 2012 and Inception.
3. The latest movie I watched is Pirates of Silicon Valley. I think it’s interesting, just like Social Network.
Name: Matt Argao
1. I’m a 4th year Physics Major/Biochemistry Minor at the College of William & Mary. I grew up my entire life in Virginia and hope to become Doctor in the near future. As for hobbies, I love to dance in a style known as bboying (popularly known as breakdancing), animated films and video games.
2. My favorite films as a child were of course action adventure films. As a very young kid, I loved Pokemon, Dragonball Z and even Sailor moon. As I got older I started to really get into Science Fiction like The Matrix and Blade Runner.

3. The latest short film I watched was a cute anime short called “Little Witch Academia”

Choosing Movies

As I sat down with my two partners in China I had a vague idea of what kind of project I wanted to do; I wanted to find some subject that was applicable to all cultures and had subtle differences only noticeable when thoroughly examined. The theme of this project was cross-cultural understanding– or, as I interpreted it, an acknowledgement of the similarities and disparities between Western culture and Chinese culture. Keeping this in mind I thought to myself “What were some things that were universal and acknowledged within all cultures?”. With no concrete answer in mind I sought my partners for help and that’s when their suggestions sparked the light bulb within my brain.

She said, “What kind of movie do you like? If you enjoy love stories, I recommend 《全城热恋》(Quan Cheng Re Lian).”

Unaware of what the film was I quickly looked it up and found it translated as “Hot Summer Days”.

(Movie poster for Hot Summer Days)

Hot Summer Days features an ensemble cast of actors and actresses with multiple plots strings, each with their own story of love. Set in a city experiencing record high temperatures, “tempers flare” and “irrational feelings erupt”– or at least that’s how the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) puts it.

‘Sounds like “Love, Actually”‘ I thought to myself. The hit movie “Love, Actually” also features an ensemble cast with multiple relationships conveyed in a similar fashion. Although technically not produced by Hollywood it features a British cast, a New Zealand born Director and is distributed by an American company (Universal Pictures) so this was truly a “Western” movie.

Love Actually (2003) Poster

(Movie poster for Love, Actually)

I casually mentioned this similarity to my partners, to which one replied, “Yes… I think 《全城热恋》imitates Love Actually. We can do this two movies..”

What. I was just throwing out movie suggestions. Oh great now I have to watch a romantic comed– wait a second.

I suddenly realized, what better subject to examine than the universal concepts of love and comedy?
In our everyday life we take these two things for granted. We all have our conceptions of love and comedy which we expect people to understand and empathize with but would people immersed in a different culture understand? Whether we’re truly capable of understanding or not, why is that the case?

And so, with an open mind and an open heart, through “Love, Actually” and “Hot Summer Days” we decided to tackle the age old question:
What is love?

Love, actually…

After watching the two movies, it turns out that love, actually… is hard to define.

Merriam-Webster aptly defines it as:

love (noun) \ˈləv\
a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (Ex. maternal love for a child) (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests (Ex. love for his old schoolmates)

But by this definition, love is static and simple. Yet, after examining these two movies that simply is not the case. Not only that, love seems to manifest itself in cultures in different ways!

I asked my partners on their opinions of the movies, which they thought was better and why. My partners responded in preference of Hot Summer Days which I thought was particularly amusing since I, myself, preferred Love, Actually. I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that despite our attempts to be open minded we still prefer that which is closest to ourselves and our own culture. I kind of expected this sort of answer which is the reason I asked “why so?”. Their answers surprised me; Emma responded by saying “It might [be] because the plot shows  the traditional concept of love in China”.

 

I’d never really thought about this point before– in western culture, what is our traditional concept of love? For me, having grown up in the age of Disney fairy tales, love almost always seemed to be of the princess and knight variety. If not a gallant knight saving a princess, then the traditional modern relationship seemed to be heavily hinged on some sort of predestined love. Soul mates and true love come to mind as recurring motifs in the Western love-consciousness. Indeed the movie “Love, Actually” seemed to have relationships that embodied that concept (esp. through Jamie/Aurelia and David/Natalie). For Emma, she believed that Western notions of love “is more likely to depend on fate”. Which I found interesting as I never mentioned those motifs of soul mates or true love in the conversation before. She immediately picked up on this idea of love at first sight or destined mate probably due to its foreignness from her own culture. In introspect, it’s actually surprising just how foreign these ideas are; I never was one to believe in “true love at first sight” and instead believe in “intense attraction at first sight” (science can be blamed for squashing that ideal) but even so the idea had to have come from somewhere. Somewhere at some time, someone believed that it was possible to have a predestined mate somewhere on the Earth whom they had no knowledge of yet still believed that when they meet that person they would know that it was “true love”.

Curious at this enlightening development I read further into my partner’s assessment of the movies. She writes:

“In Chinese romance story, it is difficult to set up a relationship. One needs to wait and sacrifice a lot for the other.”

It is only then, she later added, that the audience can consider the relationship as being “true love”. Far from the notion of predestined love, it seemed that Chinese conceptions of love are heavily rooted in working for the love. Love was not something that was inherent to relationships but rather, one that is fostered. In addition, there was a certain ambiguity to the love which made is not always obvious that the couple were in love. My partners wrote, “And Chinese relationships in the movie are veiled, unlike American movie. It might not be the same as the reality now, but it is suitable for Chinese traditional value.” The imagery associated with a veiled love really struck me as interesting as it is common in American romantic comedies to feature at least one party actively pursuing the other party. Expressing love for each other without showing love for each other is a foreign concept to me and I struggled to really understand it. To help me understand better they directed me towards A Dream of Red Mansions(《红楼梦》) written by Xueqin Cao.  In it, the hero and heroine do not openly express their love. The heroine at times feels jealous but she never directly shows her dissatisfaction. She cries in solace or composes poems to convey her feelings.

(Book cover of A Dream of Red Mansions)

So what is love then? Is it something that we have from the very beginning, fate bringing us to our destined love one? Or is it something that is worked for and fostered until it becomes “true”? Or maybe it’s simply what Merriam-Webster would have us believe, a strong amorous feeling we get for something or someone?

My partners have this to say:

“I think the notion of love is the same, since we are all human being who long for companion and someone to care for.”

Whatever you believe, it seems that the human condition across all cultures desires a companion. Regardless of how or why, we seem to gravitate towards the idea of love which leads me to believe that perhaps we don’t need to understand why and how we love– rather, celebrate that we do love.