Olga Bobrowska

Follow the Demon Monkey.

Reading Havoc in Heaven (1961-64, dir. Wan Laiming) through Rick Altman’s Theory of Narrative

PRESENTATION: Friday 25.5., 13:00 @ MuseumsQuartier – Raum D/quartier21

In 2008 Rick Altman proposed an unprecedented concept in narration studies, a theory primarily pertinent to literary, cinematic and pictorial texts, yet promising and fruitful when the matters of social, religious or political nature should be considered. The extensive thematic range of its application enables the author to approach classic Chinese animated film (and indirectly also classic Chinese literature) with the set of tools developed by Altman. The purpose of such undertaking might be found in discerning significant moments of disruptions and transmutations occurring between narrative material organized and expressed for the sake of storytelling and imposed narrative patterns, intentionally designed to transmit and reinforce certain philosophical or political views.

Altman’s concept embraces two levels of analysis: 1) typological one that aims at recognition of modes of organizational and signifying practices (dual-focus, single-focus, and multiple-focus narratives and their modulation modes), 2) transformational approach based on the procedures of mapping and construction of transformational matrix. Both approaches are centered on the relationships between the characters interacting with and within created worlds, on the contrary to traditional modes and methods of narrative analysis that treat process of textual comprehension (meaning-making) as concatenation of performed actions. Illuminating and center-positioning of expression conceived from constant flow of transfigurations, alternations, reductions or interlacements, brings this theory even closer to the realm of animation, an elusive and mischievous art when it comes to established dramaturgical structures or cause-and-effect logic. The author will present typological analyses of both parts of the famous Chinese feature-length animation, as well as examples of transformational matrix that will complement typological deliberations. The major methodological question (that appears to rise into a matter of ideology critique and a problem of animated film history) is constituted by the fact that modes of single- and double-focus narrative tend to mix within the given cinematic text, provoking justified double-decoding of the animated masterpiece from Maoist era, where pivotal fight for liberation overlaps with the story of fervent pursuit for self-realization. And where the spectacular grand finale of overthrowing the Jade Emperor in Heaven by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is an invention of the filmmakers that neutralized the canonic version of the story that has been reproduced in many Chinese expressive and performative forms for hundreds of years.


Olga Bobrowska was born in 1987. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Film Studies at Jagiellonian University, Kraków, specialized in classic Chinese animated film and an author of academic articles on the subjects of Polish and Chinese animation. She is the festival director of StopTrik International Film Festival (Maribor, Slovenia; Lodz, Poland), a festival dedicated to stop motion animation, the curator of animation programmes presented at festivals in e.g. Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, The Netherlands, and China.

She collaborates with the festivals Animateka (Ljubljana), Etiuda&Anima (Kraków) and Krakow Film Festival. In 2016 she co-edited the monograph “Obsession Perversion Rebellion. Twisted Dreams of Central European Animation”.