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‘I’m ugly, but gentle’: performing ‘little character’ in post-Mao Chinese comedies

Feng, Lin


Lin Feng


Stars are often associated with glamour and beauty, but in this paper I would like to question how the concept of “chou” (literally meaning ugliness) is embraced in contemporary Chinese cinema. The popularity of chouxing (ugly star) in the Chinese cinema since the late 1980s has challenged the star system in Chinese film industry during the previous decades when a male actor’s handsome appearance was regarded as an important criterion for him being cast as a leading man. Directing the public attention to a male star’s physical appearance by stressing the attributive adjective chou, this newly-coined word raises a question: how the cinematic emphasis on a male star’s physical appearance engages with the social construction of a star’s screen charisma under the transnational context? To answer the question, this article takes Ge You (b.1957) as a case study and explores the star’s impersonation of xiao renwu (little character) in Chinese comedies. I argue that the Chinese cinema’s emphasis of a chouxing’s physical appearance is a visual manifest of the character’s imperfectness and ordinariness. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the cinematic emphasis of the star’s unattractive appearance often signifies a little character’s unprivileged social status, it neither marginalises nor makes the character a social outsider. Instead, the imperfectness and ordinariness has endowed the little character with the power as an insider of the Chinese society.


Feng, L. (2014). ‘I’m ugly, but gentle’: performing ‘little character’ in post-Mao Chinese comedies. Transnational Cinemas, 5(2), 127-140.

Acceptance Date Jun 11, 2013
Online Publication Date Oct 8, 2014
Publication Date Jul 3, 2014
Deposit Date Nov 19, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Transnational cinemas
Print ISSN 2040-3526
Electronic ISSN 2040-3534
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Issue 2
Pages 127-140
Keywords Ge You, Chinese cinema, Beauty, Ugly, Star, China
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Transnational cinemas on 08/10/2014, available online:


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