• poverty rates in India


The continent of Asia consists of six subregions:

  • Western Asia or the Middle East (the Arabian peninsula, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria, Jordan)
  • Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan)
  • Northern Asia (Russia and Siberia)
  • South Asia (the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh)
  • Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines)
  • East Asia (principally China, Japan, Korea)

Asia houses at least 60% of the world’s human population. The continent includes six of the ten most highly populated nations in the world. China and India account for 1.4 and 1.2 billion, respectively.

The wealth of the region is concentrated in East Asia and the oil economies of the Middle East.   Of the 44 nations in the region, only Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan are considered advanced economies.  Asia’s financial centers are mainly located on the Pacific Rim. High-tech manufacturing is also concentrated in East Asia, while labor-intensive production, especially of textiles, is common in South Asia. Economies based on natural resources (especially oil) predominate in Central and Western Asia, and agriculture accounts for the bulk of economic activity elsewhere. Across the region, poverty rates have been falling since 2000, while measures of social and economic inequality have increased.

More than 50% of the population of Asia lives in poverty. Between 560 million and 1 billion people were experiencing extreme poverty in 2010. However, standards of living vary enormously across the region—with pockets of very high human development in South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israel to the middling situation of Russia, India, Cambodia, Bangladesh to very low human development in Afghanistan, Yemen, Myanmar, Pakistan and Nepal. Although each nation includes among its citizens a significant population of wealthy elites, those living in conditions of extreme poverty are numerous in the region.

The film industry that represents and entertains Asia’s diverse, multilingual population has several centers. The most active sites of film production are located in higher and middle-income nations, but films are produced and viewed throughout the region, often with substantial state subsidies. Asian viewership is rapidly expanding and in 2013 accounted for at least 1/3rd of global box office returns.[1] Major international film festivals are hosted in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Pusan, Tokyo and Goa.

The wealth and technological developments of East Asia have supported particularly active film cultures. Japanese cinema (which is relatively unique in the region in being largely organized around a privately owned studio system) is noted for its realist cinema of the 1950s and early 60s and, more recently, its animated fantasy-adventure films. Many South Korean social problem films appeared during the 1960s and 70s, with later genre films demonstrating a greater Hollywood influence.

Chinese-language cinema has three centers: Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. During the Cultural Revolution, some Chinese exiles were absorbed into the commercial film industry of Hong Kong, often making action and comedy features. Kung fu movies have been a staple in the film culture of Taiwan, but the “healthy realism” of the 1950s and the genre pastiches of the 21st century have also had an impact. After the heyday of socialist realism and the Cultural Revolution, the so-called Fifth Generation filmmakers of China became internationally successful with expressive, symbolic, and subjective films and new styles of social comment.

Indian cinema is prolific. Bengali studios (“Bollywood”) release many popular “masala” films that mix genres and create elaborate visual and musical spectacles. Art-house films in India are influenced by neo-realist classics of the 1960s (especially the celebrated works of Satyajit Ray); this “parallel cinema” often addresses social issues.

Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema was especially noted for its symbolic and allegorical style during the 1990s. Ambitious sociodramas characterized Turkish cinema during its heyday in the 1960s, and new indie voices have emerged since 2000. Films relating to regional political conflict as well as domestic “bourekas” films about inter-ethnic tension have been popular in Israel.

During the Soviet era, Russian filmmakers made many important contributions to world cinema—both in social realist and lyrical styles. After the glasnost and perestroika periods of the 1980s, a host of new realist works addressing social issues within Russia also emerged, as well as new historical films re-examining life during the Stalinist period. Fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tale adaptations have been important in recent Russian cinema, as have religious themes—including voluntary poverty and the struggles of life in the rural hinterlands.

Throughout Asia, a common trend in post-1945 cinema has been a shift from nationalist social issue films of the 1950s-70s to a more critical realist sensibility, sometimes explicitly anti-national in orientation, since the 1980s. Popular genres (action, comedy, romantic melodrama) have a strong appeal across the region. However, social problem films representing poverty continue to be significant in Asian cinema.

[1] Cinema Operator Industry (May 2014)

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